While Rolando 2 has only been out for a few days, an official review of the game seems to be more a formality than a necessity for much of our audience. It seems clear that fans of the original title scooped up the new release the moment it arrived, and the early response has been overwhelmingly positive.
The strength of the original Rolando title was clear. It was one of the first original iPhone-native platformers designed specifically for touch and tilt controls. Rather than mapping existing controls to some strange virtual D-Pad equivalent, Handcircus sat down and imagined how a true iPhone-platformer might play, and... they did it with style.
The most striking part of the game, however, is the level of polish and production of the entire title. The style, music, and humor that is delivered adds as much to the experience as does the gameplay. The Rolandos will frequently address you at the beginning of each level to progress the plot, and you will genuinely feel bad when one gets killed.
Rolando 2 takes all that was great from the original and expanded on it, making it bigger, better, and Rolando-ier. The same charming art style is preserved while adding a modern flare with some 3D level-effects. Mr. Scruff returns to provide a wonderful soundtrack that is also available for individual purchase via iTunes. The game offers larger levels and expands on the individual Rolando characterization while introducing new Rolandos throughout the title. The overall package results in an amazing experience that rivals franchises on other platforms.
Rolando 2 also adds a number of new elements to the gameplay with the introduction of underwater scenes, vehicles, new weapons and new Rolando skills. Weapons include the bow/arrows, laser beams and the all powerful "boom finger". Levels are larger, and in many instances, you have to coordinate a large squad of Rolandos to successfully navigate each level.
Based on our impressions, the gameplay of Rolando 2 seems slightly easier than the original. As best as we can remember, there appear to be the fewer purely dexterity-based levels which required avoiding a number of enemies while navigating around treacherous levels. Understandably, these levels could cause some frustration for more casual players, so we suspect this shift was intentional. Simon Oliver had told us at WWDC that other design changes had been made to make it more accessible to casual players. This includes the ability to choose to a number of different levels at any given time as well as the ability to skip particularly frustrating levels.
While there are puzzle elements to the game, it'd be hard to call this game (or the original) a real puzzler. It's unlikely you'll find yourself stuck not knowing exactly what to do next, as most level solutions are pretty straightforward. The long term joy of the game does not come in the difficulty of the levels, but in your ability to navigate them completely and speedily.
Ngmoco has integrated their Plus+ network into Rolando 2 which offers global leaderboards as well as a nice new system to challenge your friends. I've always been of the opinion that online components to games are what make them the most interesting, and this online head-to-head competition adds a lot of long term value to the game. In addition, Ngmoco also announced in March that Rolando 2 will receive up to 20 more levels in subsequent free updates, much like the original.
In terms of negatives to the sequel, there are very few objective ones. There have been reports of Rolandos getting stuck in certain parts of the level requiring a level restart. While a few other minor bugs reported here and there, nothing that greatly impacted gameplay. As in the original, there can still be some control-system frustration with the Spikey Commando when navigating sideways and upside down, though, again, less-so in this sequel.
All in all, we are really impressed with Rolando 2 which does justice to one of the few classic iPhone originals. Like the original, the art, style and music come together in a wonderfully immersive package. And with the addition of Plus+, you'll find yourself working to perfect your scores on individual levels in order to challenge your friends.
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