App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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Back before I owned an iPhone, I remember Rolando being touted by mobile game enthusiasts as a shining beacon ushering us all toward a future of amazing, premium game experiences we would all carry around with us in our pockets. A lot has happened since its release over 10 years ago, including a traceable decline in enthusiasm for phone games thanks mostly to a storefront that uncaringly rewards developers who design games to exploit their audience, and diminishing crowd of stalwart mobile evangelists calling for the return of quality titles to the App Store. Here, in 2019, it seems like folks are finally listening. Gameclub has launched in early access, Apple Arcade has been announced, and Rolando has made a triumphant return in the form of Rolando: Royal Edition, which is a charming little platformer, despite the fact it feels a bit dated.
Rolando: Royal Edition is a completely re-worked version of the original Rolando as opposed to being a sequel or spiritual successor. This fact could have eluded me if it weren't for the press releases stating so (I never had the chance to play the original Rolando back in the day). This is to say that Royal Edition is a great looking game that clearly had a lot of love and polish poured over a beloved and classic foundation.
For those unfamiliar with Rolando generally, it's a puzzle platforming game where you roll ball-like characters (called Rolandos) around environments in their quest to save their kingdom from invasion. In any given level, you have one or more Rolandos in your control, and–in a sort of real-time strategy fashion–can select which ones to move when by highlighting one or more of them before tilting your device make them roll left or right or swiping up to jump. The ultimate goal of any given level is simply to find an exit and lead all your Rolandos to it without too many of them dying. It's a simple concept, but one that probably felt pioneering for mobile games in 2008.
The idea of using tilt controls for any game is usually cause for me to lose all interest in it, but I took a chance on Royal Edition and was pleasantly surprised. The game feels surprisingly tight given such a loose method of control, and each level in Rolando feels like it's perfectly designed to suit this control scheme.
This is not to say that Rolando: Royal Edition feels easy, though. This game can be quite tough at times, especially if you're trying to gather all collectibles and complete time challenges for every level. As a platformer, this game really rewards diligence and patience over rushed or twitch play. If you're able to tough it out, you'll find a lot of loving and satisfying level design packed into each of Royal Edition's 36 stages.
The fresh coat of paint and tune up work in Rolando: Royal Edition definitely makes this old game look like a modern classic, but these tricks only go so far. Despite the surprisingly snappy tilt movement, other aspects of Royal Edition's controls (specifically the drag-to-select motion), are awkward to the point that you might fail a level because of it. Also, the game features a small handful levels where you tilt your phone to move entire levels to guide a sleepy Rolando to an exit, and these are straight-up no fun.
If you have fond memories of the original Rolando I imagine it would be pretty easy to overlook these sticking points and have a ball. As someone who's first experience with the game is Royal Edition though, I can say that–at certain points–I was ready to set the game entirely, though I am ultimately glad I pushed through the experience. The late game levels in Rolando hold some of its most clever tricks, some of which hold up pretty well even today.
The bottom line
Rolando: Royal Edition does not mark some watershed moment for mobile gaming like the original game did back in 2008, but it's still a pretty solid platformer. I imagine you'll enjoy it a lot more if you happen to have warm and fuzzy memories of rolling Rolandos around from way back when, but you can still enjoy Royal Edition if you're coming to it completely fresh. It just won't necessarily live up to the hype surrounding its legacy, which is ok.