Review: Roogoo

With Microsoft’s new practice of removing “underperforming” titles from Xbox Live, in other words games that critics and gamers alike want nothing to do with, some have put forward the notion that this may provide a motivation for the design of more quality titles. If SpiderMonk’s Roogoo is any indication that the new procedure is working, then the future definitely looks bright for the Arcade, as this unique and challenging puzzle game deserves to stay on the shelves of the Marketplace for some time to come.

I don’t know about you, but this reviewer is always excited to see what kind of riveting narrative can be woven around the art of manipulating falling shapes and colors. As expected, Roogoo doesn’t really aim to construct any kind of cohesive plot, and why should it? On a planet called Roo, there exists falling meteors that give life to the world. However ,its ruler King Goo begins to horde the meteors for himself, causing him to take the corrupted form of King Moo. It’s up to the player to prevent the King’s son, Prince Moo, and his henchmen, the Meemoo, from taking the meteors for themselves and restore life and beauty to the planet Roo. Like I said, it’s a puzzle game story, but Roogoo actually possesses quite a bizarre yet adorable presentation reminiscent of Katamari Damacy, and that’s not bad, despite being odd.

Although Roogoo is very cute and adorable, it is deceptively so, hiding challenging gameplay that puts an original spin on the age old puzzle game cliché of falling geometry. The meteors mentioned earlier happen to be the pieces of the puzzle, coming in shapes such as squares, triangles, and stars. These meteors must pass through a series of descending circular tiers that contain holes whose shape corresponds to those of the falling pieces, and look strangely familiar to those mechanisms we all used to squeeze Playdough through as children. The tiers can be rotated left or right by hitting either of the bumpers on the 360 controller so that the shapes may pass through the correct slot. The A button is also used to speed up the pieces, which will come into play when bypassing the many obstacles the game throws in your way.

Once enough pieces of each type of shape has passed through all the tiers, the stage is over. The player is then rated on how many pieces were accumulated and the accuracy in which this was done. Now that may all sound pretty simple, especially with only using three buttons on the controller, but more meteors and other complexities are soon added to make Roogoo a challenging and extremely addictive puzzle game. No matter how many times you fill up the game’s “lose meter” and see all your work come literally tumbling down, Roogoo keeps you wanting more, even if it means discovering a new way to incorporate the word “meemoo” with F-bombs.

The game starts out easy enough with just three different shapes, but quickly adds others and begins to drop more than one at a time, forcing you to juggle the pieces to ensure each goes into its appropriate slot. Eventually, a myriad of obstacles are put in your way, such as enemy meemoos blocking shape slots, lids that will seal slots, and even tiers that will flip completely upside down. The fact that Roogoo continues to throw in new obstacles and enemies over the course of its lengthly campaign keeps the gameplay challenging, but most importantly fresh, an aspect that most puzzle games don’t get right.

As I said earlier, Roogoo is simple in its design, but tosses so many tweaks into the mix that stacking blocks never gets too old, or too easy. Upon first seeing the manipulation of circles and triangles in such a darling atmosphere, the game may look like remedial kindergarten, but let me assure you that these simple shapes will give you the most intellectual stimulation they have since your preschool days. Roogoo may not look it, but it is a hard core puzzler, and things don’t stay calm for long until it attempts to simply melt your brain, like any good puzzle game should. After getting to the fourth or fifth level, you may even be tempted to retreat to the “casual” mode if you aren’t able to handle anticipating the moves you must make by glancing down at lower tiers, making for one hell of a mental balancing act.

Once you do conquer the campaign, there’s still some good multiplayer modes to be found, although their integration with the game’s online component could be better. There are two different modes, the first being race, where basically each player is given the same stage and the first to collect each set of all the shapes wins. Pretty basic, but the real star of Roogoo’s multiplayer is the Party mode, which functions as a sort of cooperative game where up to four players partake in tackling the same puzzle.

Each player takes turns manipulating a tier to make sure the shapes get through, and then passes the following tier off to the next player. Here, tensions and tempers can quickly escalate, and God help the guy who happens to be the one that makes the final screw up, causing the whole team to fail. Now after I have just gone into so much detail regarding the fun that can be had on the couch in Party mode, I must quickly slash away some joy because sadly, that experience will have to remain fixed in your living room alone. When going into either a quick or custom match, the only game type that seemed to be available was Race, which is disappointing because Party is where the real fun resides.

Graphics-wise, Roogoo is certainly not the game that you will gaze upon and realize that 50-inch HDTV was really worth the bounced check, but will look pretty on it. The adorable Japanese kind of presentation is charming, and all of the many colors presented are very rich. Avoiding another puzzle game trap is the variety of environments, which always keeps you in the same layout but does mix up the settings, which range from outer space, grassy plains, and scorching volcanoes. The game sounds just about as precious as it looks, with cheerful rhythms that might do well to soothe those nerves when getting your ass handed to you by sword-wielding meemoos.

In the ongoing tirade of poor arcade games, which Microsoft is promising to stop, Roogoo not only proves itself to be above the average level of expectations, but is an incredibly addictive puzzler that successfully nails the old gaming axiom: “easy to learn, hard to master.” The game possesses a very soft and fuzzy exterior, but underneath lies a perfect prickly challenge that will have you throwing down the controller one minute, yet masochistically returning for more. In the days of such prevalent online interaction, a more beefed up online component would have been a welcome addition, but even without it, Roogoo is easily one of the best puzzle games available on XBLA.

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