I face an upward battle here – convincing you that Roogoo for Xbox Live Arcade is worth your time and not an insipid, preschool edu-game. Roogoo’s core gameplay is painfully simple; colored shapes fall from the sky while you rotate platforms ensuring the shapes fall through appropriately shaped holes. You may recall doing something like this when you were about four.
I imagine this game exists through some elaborate bet. A developer came into work one day with blocks from his daughter’s preschool, set them on the conference table and said, “$20 to anyone who can make a fun game out of this!” The solution? Pile on the gimmicks and turn up the difficulty through the roof.
The trial download doesn’t help, taking you through the tutorial levels and doing little to prove the game’s depth. After the tutorial, the challenge is always just enough to keep things interesting. The game throws evil bears, spinning platforms, trap doors, and even ninjas in your path. As time goes on it combines each of these elements. Guiding a large stack of blocks through four or five platforms, having them pulled up two levels by bats, stacking more blocks to bypass the bats, and then finally losing the whole stack to a closed trap door is one of the more frustrating experiences in gaming. I’m reminded of platform games where you must traverse a multilevel tower, only to miss a simple jump and fall all the way to the bottom.
These tense moments are what make Roogoo great. When you do make it by the skin of your teeth it’s quite satisfying. The game constantly pushes you to stay focused. Stacks must be made larger to progress and since a single mistake can kill an entire stack, the tension builds with each step through a puzzle. My heart was racing by the end of many puzzles, giving way to some euphoric relief and a desire to move to the next challenge.
A few challenges, scattered at random throughout the list, cause major roadblocks. This uneven difficulty is poor design, a danger to controllers and any objects in the vicinity, but ultimately not game-ruining. If things ever get too tough you can drop it down a notch to “casual” difficulty. Though, as the kind of masochist who takes a reasonable challenge in stride, I found some of the really crazy moments in this 45-level gauntlet exciting and addicting.
I did find two issues particularly frustrating; poor color contrast and sloppy collision detection on spinning platforms. For the most part, these issues are relegated to a small portion of levels. The color issues are early on, in the snow levels where the cursor telling you where the blocks will land blends in with the snow. Thankfully, later levels offer much more contrast. Spinning platforms come up a lot later on, and on several occasions I lost a rather large stack to what looked like a well-timed drop. If you’re extra careful in these sections you shouldn’t have a problem.
Roogoo is not going to turn heads or even be remembered a few weeks from now. It has a few quirks, the graphics are nothing special, and the online matchmaking is already a ghost town. However, it is a solid puzzle game, offering up a unique combination of shape/color matching and twitch gameplay. There are better puzzle games out there, but for those looking for something short, tough, and satisfying that they can finish in a couple days, it’s hard to go wrong dropping $10 on Roogoo.