[7 September 2008]
PopMatters Associate Multimedia Editor
Puzzle games represent a form of video games that are both the easiest to identify and yet one of the most difficult to judge. How do we gauge the quality of a Second-Person experience, one where the game design controls all elements and everything else is secondary? Should we rate the quality of the victory chime? The cuteness of the graphics? What about challenge? Or perhaps a much simpler standard can be applied: how malleable are the game variables to the kind of game experience I want? This is no easy feat of game design, and Roogoo manages this deftly by simplifying several puzzle game concepts while adding a variety of challenges to sustain interest for a little while.
The game is essentially a matter of getting the right shape into the right hole. These drift down a series of platforms at varying speeds, with the player rotating each platform so that the shape corresponds with the hole it’s headed towards. A variety of obstacles, most of which depend on timing, are placed to keep the levels interesting. Some platforms rotate every couple of seconds, others have sword-wielding Roos that must be bopped off, and some rely on the shape’s rushing speed for difficulty. The game’s 45 levels combine all of these various obstacles in a variety of ways. It’s essentially a lobotomized form of Tetris where the player knows where the block needs to be placed and is instead challenged by getting the block to properly fit.
The way the game keeps these puzzles fresh is by offering a variety of difficulties and goals to be reached. You can race yourself against the clock, which does not cause you to lose a level if you lapse but gives point rewards if you shoot under it. You can go for the ever-disturbing perfect score. The game also comes with various difficulty settings like casual (blocks move at a slow pace) or more advanced settings for those seeking a challenge. The point is that you can either make the game a relaxing session of “distract me and make me happy” or “challenge me and make me feel like I accomplished something”. The sustainability of the latter option is somewhat impaired by the lack of Achievements (present in the Xbox Live Arcade version), which have a value all their own to some people, but generally the most important variable of a Second-Person game is present here: the ability to adjust difficulty in a variety of ways.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t create random levels on the fly like Bejeweled or other puzzlers, so it doesn’t really sustain itself after the campaign puzzles unless I want to amp the difficulty. Therein lies the problem. Because the game design relies on sustaining itself by optional difficulty as opposed to random creation, it requires me to adjust my experience rather than continue at my own plodding pace. A random generation feature or simple Roo-on-the-fly option in these games is important for sustaining their single-player lifespan. I wouldn’t normally indulge in the obnoxious ‘but this game does it this way’ argument except that I can’t understand why Roogoo doesn’t have a random level generator, or even a map-maker for players to design their own levels. The game has numerous levels, and some of them are clever, but there is nothing here that could not be made with several slips of paper, a hat, and a good shaking. The enormous community benefits and options for both PCs and the vibrant Microsoft Live community would add enormous value to a game that otherwise runs its course after a couple of hours depending on how compulsively you play.
Multiplayer is where these kinds of games also get a chance to extend their lifespans, and the game design creates a great two-player experience. You throw obstacles at one another while you race to get all the blocks to the bottom holes, still dodging the same barriers and rotating platforms as before. It all comes together nicely into an exciting two-player race. What is of some concern is the lack of online multiplayer in the PC version. I get the impression from the Xbox Live reviews that this is where the game takes on near-Dr. Mario levels of quality, so if you have the option, go with that version. As it stands on the PC, multiplayer consists of two friends sharing a keyboard. If that’s something you, your friends, or significant other are willing to accommodate, then Roogoo‘s life on your computer could extend indefinitely.
This ties in with the limited number of levels in the game, but as part of the explanation behind the 45 levels, the game has a plot. It’s a great excuse to have cute art and put a positive spin on putting blocks into the right hole. The thing is that unlike the one-sentence plot that tends to provide the minute justifications these kinds of games run on, Roogoo makes you dig through several long pages of introduction. There are the peaceful, nature-loving Roos. There are the evil, corporate Roos. One faction wants to use up all the natural resources on the planet, another wants to live in harmony and play with butterflies. If that sounds a bit heavy-handed and politically charged, that’s because I’m giving it way too much credit. The problem is that having a one sentence plot, or no plot, is fine in a Second-Person game. However, Roogoo decided to jump right in there and mix in some children’s literature with vague moral overtones for an extended intro. And once they get that ball rolling, they then immediately go into puzzles and stop mentioning any of this again until the end. The complaint is this: if you’re going to do a plot, then do it right. There are enough half-assed stories in games without adding to the pile.
In its PC version, Roogoo is a well-designed puzzler that opts for passive play and easy mechanics,which challenges players to be observant of their environment rather than their reaction times. It’s fun and will keep you entertained for its 45 levels. Unfortunately, if you want a better time with co-op and competitive play, then you should opt for the Xbox 360 or the upcoming Wii version. Yet, such console considerations are not always appropriate for a review, particularly when Roogoo is admirably capable of running on even the lowliest of student laptops. If you need a quick distraction that’ll last you a while in between breaks, then I can’t think of a cuter or more pleasant way to pass the time.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/roogoo/