To the general public, Rollabear (Free) must look like a pretty tough sell. At first glance the concept of country bears rolling around to knock down some pins sounds incredibly lame. That is, until I actually played it for myself.
Yes Rollabear is, at its core, a bowling game. But it’s the way that it combines various facets of the platforming and action genre that makes it special, and almost like you’re playing an early iteration of Crash Bandicoot. Oh, and it totally has a super weird cast of bears that transport into other dimensions by way of crawling through washers and dryers — yep, totally normal stuff.
At first, you’ll launch your bear of choice into into a level choosing your initial trajectory. From there you’ll have the ability to control their rolls by way of tapping the left or right side of the screen, passing through various obstacles as you make your way down to a bunch of lumberjacks stacked as pins. Standard bowling rules apply, including two rounds, strikes, spares, and so on. In that regard, it’s very straight-forward stuff.
The early stages are no more than straight lines, with boxes along the way to supply you with a time-rewinding power-up. But it very quickly turns into something a bit more involved as ramps make their way into the fray, as well as obstacles like broken trees, mushrooms, and other hazards. The level design is where the game really shines, as nothing really feels unfairly placed, and should you feel a moment of frustration, all you have to do is swipe down to enact the time-rewind mechanic. It’s not just a few seconds either, as you can cancel it at any time, placing yourself back into your desired position as early or as late as you want.
In short, Rollabear is a ton of fun. It’s very simple to pickup and play for minutes or hours on end, the levels are well designed, and there are a lot of stages and unlockables to play around with. Most of the time I would grab my device and expect to only play one or two rounds, but the addictive nature of the game and the ability to quickly move on to new stages had me sitting down for much longer than I intended.
Once you’ve had enough of the massive story mode, you can tackle a “10 Round" gauntlet challenge, as well as a Survival mode that forces you to earn a strike or a spare to move on to the next level. Neither of these are as interesting as the story mode, but they serve as decent side distractions should you want more. As a side note, there are no IAPs to speak of here, and I hope free content updates are in the cards, as the later level designs are fairly intuitive.
I had really low expectations going into Rollabear, but after a fair amount of people convinced me to try it, I’m glad I gave it a shot. It changes up the traditional bowling formula to a rather large degree, and it has its own special charm to boot. While the prospect of rolling around an insane pack of bears in a magical wonderland may not seem enticing, some things are more than they seem.