Thursday, 3 November 2016

Rollaround (Amstrad CPC review)

Developer: Mr Chip Software
Publisher: Mastertronic
Released: 1988

Rollaround is an isometric action-puzzler that was also released on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

The object is to acquire crosses while avoiding aliens, death traps and the ever-decreasing time limit. These crosses come in different colours and you must only obtain the correct amount in each level, the requirements of which are displayed at the top of the screen. Controlling the ball requires precision, as a slight misstep will push it over the edge, squandering one of your ten lives. The aliens have unique abilities, including some that home in on your direction, and others that create holes in the floor. To help, you have the ability to jump which comes in handy for quick escapes. Being used to Marble Madness (1984, Arcades), the controls here are finicky, mainly because your movements are 'block-by-block' based rather than relying on rolling momentum; therefore, it's easy to accidentally overshoot a platform and fall to your death. It's possible to adjust after extended play but rarely was I comfortable due to constant overthinking. The game can be cheap and it's possible to legitimately die by touching an enemy, only to repeatedly respawn on top of them until all your lives are depleted. It's infuriating, especially in the later levels where you're desperately trying to conserve balls. I also didn't like that some levels offer you no grace period when they begin, meaning enemies swarm in while you're trying to see which coloured crosses are required. However, it has a maddeningly addictive quality and the short level lengths result in a 'just one more go' mentality that provides the main hook for the player. Completing a level is satisfying and the fact that new enemies and mechanics are slowly introduced keeps you motivated.
With a few tweaks to the controls and gameplay options Rollaround could have been a real gem in the Amstrad CPC library. It's certainly addictive, but ends up being too punishing for its own good, and the constant need to wrestle with the inputs dampens any initial enthusiasm you might have.
Random trivia: In 1988, Mr Chip Software changed its company name to Magnetic Fields (Software Design) Ltd.

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