If Rolando–one of our favorite iPhone games of all time–was a very tough act to follow, making a new game to surpass Rolando 2 will be next to impossible.
This sequel trumps the original in every conceivable way: story, gameplay, graphics, sound, online, everything. It shows what a talented development team can do on this platform when given the right resources, and it should leave Nintendo and Sony sweating. Once is a fluke, but twice is a trend. The iPhone’s signature game is now a flagship franchise.
Welcome to the Temple.
Basically, Rolando 2 is to Rolando as Super Mario Brothers 3 was to the original Super Mario Brothers. Many sequels just concentrate on giving fans of the series more of the same–a difficult enough task by itself–but this one set out from the beginning to grow and improve in all directions at once.
It’s ambitious to the point of being foolhardy, frankly. The further you reach, the worse it looks when you fail to pull it off. But Hand Circus and ngmoco know better than anyone that six months on the App Store is like two years on other platforms; making a game that would deliver the same impact as the original Rolando in July 2009 takes an exponentially more ambitious effort. And they delivered a real quantum leap.
The game’s story is still simple–a crew of Rolando adventurers must make their way to a far-off island to search for a cure to their diseased Sages’ infection. But once things start rolling, you’ll see that the writing has been kicked up several notches.
Much more attention has been devoted to giving the Rolandos individual personalities, and playing them off one another to comic effect. The Rolandos comment and crack jokes in the middle of the action, adding to their characterization.
For instance, a fancy-pants Rolando sporting a monocle winds up with a vulgar ex-pirate, resulting in a hilarious Odd Couple. They start the game by insulting one another, but their banter gradually turns to camaraderie as the game rolls along.
There’s a pair of child Rolandos in the crew, a couple of big dumb lugs, two Royal Spikey Commandos who stick to walls, and the intrepid explorer at the helm of the expedition. They all have different personalities, as well as varying attributes that are exploited to switch up the gameplay.
Smaller Rolandos float on water, while big ones sink, making for some interesting puzzles in Rolando 2′s new water environments. A friendly savage Rolando encountered early in the game swells up and floats when he eats peppers, allowing him to navigate vertical levels.
And the Jungle.
And the explorer often winds up by himself, confronting levels full of crazy, Indiana Jones-style deathtraps… including the infamous rolling boulder.
These gameplay switch-ups are one of Rolando 2′s best attributes. There are puzzle-like levels where you have a whole crew of Rolandos to work with, and you must systematically use teamwork to navigate through a maze. There are also fast-paced levels that put your platforming skills to the test, and “Spirit Quest” levels that play like traditional ball-rolling mazes, where you control gravity by tiling the phone.
These changes keep things fresh, and show off different aspects of the game to great effect. Many new machines mix up the gameplay even further, like bow-and-arrows, “boomfinger” stations, bomb trees, and vehicles. If you don’t like a level, you can skip it entirely using collectible Golden Idols that are hidden throughout the game.
The easy touch-and-tilt controls work just as well as they did in the first game. We did notice a few odd camera and physics glitches–for example, if you’re manipulating a machine at one end of a level, and your Rolando rolls away, the camera will confusingly zoom all the way out–but they’re fairly minor.
Rolando 2′s graphics have received a major makeover. The new 3D engine adds layered backgrounds and subtle camera movement to the visual equation, and it looks fantastic. Championship-level DJ Mr. Scruff returns with a bunch of awesomely funky new tunes that you can buy right off of iTunes. A few of the vocal pieces seem out of place, but they’re hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.
From the new script, to the new gameplay elements, to the many new achievements, to the inclusion of ngmoco’s Plus+ online challenge system, Rolando 2 is a revelation. This is a platformer that puts the competition on the App Store to shame, and can easily roll with anything the other consoles have to offer.
We’re guessing that you didn’t need to wait for our endorsement to buy this game, but just in case you were–go for it. It’s a hell of a ride.