Platformers can be a mixed bag on the mobile platform. Some feature heavy amounts of IAP, wonky virtual d-pads and buttons, and uninspired designs that basically just rip off Mario or some other high profile title. But Sugar Roll (Free) is more unique than meets the eye, featuring an odd looking hero constantly rolling on top of a ball.
What seems to be a adorable little adventure is actually a bit more morbid, as your character needs to escape from Sugar Island — a realm ruled by intelligent animals hell-bent on capturing people (kind of like a human zoo). All of your foes are cute and cuddly of course, but you’ll want to roll away from them on sight!
The controls are very simple — you’ll move your character on a 2D plane by way of tilting your device left to right. This is non-negotiable. I really wish there was a controller option or an alternate scheme available, but you get used to the motion based controls eventually, and due to the momentum of the ball you’re rolling on, it feels natural over time.
At first, Sugar Roll starts off as an unassuming platformer. The first world is pretty basic as far as level designs go, offering up a few secret paths, multiple heights to climb, and lots of different hazards and gadgets like springs and spikes. Visually it’s not as stunning as some of the other platformers on the market, but it hosts a variety of bright and vibrant colors that really jump out on the screen. The soundtrack deserves a special mention, as it evokes themes of a whimsical day at the circus.
Once you clear the first few levels though things start to get interesting. Fairly early on in the game you’ll embark on stages that feature a hang glider, as you soar through the air and pick up stars. This portion is controlled by way of tapping the screen to fly up and down, and it works wonderfully. Another bit is kind of like an endless runner in a circus, tapping the screen to jump through fiery hoops. World 2 features new concepts like gravity, and the final two realms are basically the same way. Different weather conditions and a night and day cycle can make stages look and feel different, which is a nice touch.
The core concept behind Sugar Roll are power-ups in the form of lollipops, similar to Mario’s Fire Flower. You’ll grab a few over the course of a normal stage, but for most of them you’ll need to buy using in-game currency. You can stop the game at any point and augment your character with an ability like an “extra hit" or a “higher jump." For the most part you don’t need these powers to complete a level, but you will be required to purchase some to grab all the secrets.
This system can get problematic, because the game simply doesn’t give you enough coins to consistently buy some of the better powers. It’s basically a way of getting you to purchase more ccurrency by way of IAP, but then again, since the game can be completed without them, it’s not a deal breaker. It also helps that the game is free to begin with.
To that end, Sugar Roll is a very difficult game. At some points, the levels are built around having the “extra hit" ability, and since you always die in one hit, some of the craftier puzzles can get very frustrating. There are checkpoints, but they cost a ton of cash and are not viable for consistent use. Getting through a long level, dying at the very end, and going all the way back to the beginning is a very common experience.
I didn’t initially expect much from Sugar Roll but came away pleasantly surprised. It has a decent amount of charm, a soothing soundtrack, and some superb level design — especially later in the game. If you can deal with some particularly difficult stages and resist the urge to buy power-ups via the IAP system, you’ll get along just fine.