Simplicity is sometimes the best enigma.
Let’s not beat around the bush here; there are a lot of puzzle games on Xbox Live Arcade. So many in fact that the clones are beginning to receive clones that are in fact clones of themselves. If that is confusing than just try to keep track of all the different block-busting titles on Microsoft’s service and you will begin talking in riddles much like I just did. Thankfully not all developers feel confined to think ‘inside’ the box. SouthPeak Interactive and developer Spidermonk have taken the classic block-dropping mentality, added a sickeningly cute coat of graphical paint and created one of the most entertaining puzzle games currently on the service. Fans of the genre will be pleased, once you get past the excessive amounts of cuteness pouring from every direction.
Roogoo is best described as the bastard child of archetypal puzzle games mixed with a bit of shape matching. The premise is simple; there are various shapes that fall from the top of the screen while the player spins different platforms to allow them to pass through their corresponding shapes. Sounds simple enough right? At the beginning it truly is, in fact you only use the shoulder buttons to spin the platforms and the A button to speed up the falling shapes to earn better times. This is at the beginning. Once the game gets ramped up more shapes are introduced (five in total), blocks begin falling faster, and a host of other obstacles begin to block your way.
While the simple idea of matching shapes becomes addictive the game starts you off nice and easy and the difficulty curve is near perfection. Just when you feel you have mastered the game, it throws another variable into the mix creating a sense of addiction not seen since the like of Columns and the granddaddy of them all, Tetris. There are a total of 45 levels spanning six worlds and is easy to become so engrossed in the game that you can clear ten stages without even noticing it, and that my friends is the sign of an addictive game.
Let’s break down the core gameplay in simple terms. At the beginning you are greeted with three basic shapes and corresponding platforms to maneuver them through. If you fail to line them up correctly they will fall to the side. Miss enough and it’s game over for you. This lasts all of about three levels as the further you progress the more the game begins to throw your way. Eventually you will be faced with five shapes, all coming down at break neck speeds all while trying to avoid obstacles and losing enough blocks. On the default setting the game is an intense challenge in the later levels and unfortunately the easier, casual setting is a bit too easy, making the game feel unbalanced in the later half of it. It feels like the developers created an easy and hard setting and completely forgot about normal.
Some of the obstacles found in the game can be quite challenging. For instance in some of the later levels not only will you be matching shapes, you will be trying to manage multiple drops at one time. Then the game throws shutters over the holes requiring you to master the timing, and eventually you will have to deal with platforms that flip vertically thus creating some of the most challenging endeavors I have ever encountered. There are also Meemoos and butterflies to contend with. The Meemoos will stand on your shape holes and force you to slam the blocks on their head with the A button to remove them. The butterflies will grab your blocks and take them back up different platforms forcing you to invert your thinking.
Finally once you get into the deeper part of the game you will have to contend with multi-shape blocks that require the quickest of reflexes. Tapping the B button will cause the shapes to switch position allowing you to drop them in the correct spots to match up. By the end of the game Roogoo becomes one of the most intense and nerve-wracking experiences I have ever played, but it is also one of the most rewarding because losing is never cheap and it drives you to become better.
As I mentioned at the beginning Roogoo is a palette of colorful goodness. The art style will be the first thing you notice as it is over-the-top cutesy and chock full of vibrant colors. The frame rate can stutter at times in the more intense levels, but never enough to hamper gameplay and the backgrounds are bright and cheerful, though you will rarely have time to enjoy them once the action picks up. There is a story here, but it comes across as a catalyst to plaster the cute characters across the screen. The sounds are typical electronic melodies that are easily forgettable and a lack of sound effects isn’t a bad thing, though the completion of each level gets you a crazy chirp from your Roogoo that is simply adorable and infectious.
In addition to the single player game Roogoo does offer some online and local multi-player that is worth checking out. While online only offers adversarial, which is basically the same as the single-player game but with the ability to drop Meemoos onto your opponent once your bar is full, local is where the game shines most. Here you have the aforementioned adversarial contest along with a fun co-op party mode that supports up to four players. Here the game randomly assigns control of the platforms between the players creating a frantic diversion that is certainly unique. Neither mode will keep you playing for months on end, especially considering the online community is a virtual ghost town, but they are a nice addition to an already solid package.
If you are a hardcore fan of puzzle games do not let Roogoo’s cutesy demeanor throw you off. Underneath its kiddy exterior is a truly deep and engaging game that thrives on the idea that simplicity doesn’t have to mean shallow. While other games are always trying to be the next Tetris or Zuma, Roogoo stands tall on its own merits. That said if you have 800 Microsoft Points to spare and are a fan of the genre, I strongly urge you to give this title a go. It is well worth the price of admission.