App of the week: Rolando: Royal Edition review
The first iPhone gaming classic rolls back to the App Store. Is it still fit for a king?
The original Rolando was a turning point in iPhone gaming. It put Apple’s device on the gaming map, through being a polished, smartly designed title that felt like an equal to handheld fare of the time. Rolando: Royal Edition brings the game back for modern devices, after it was cruelly snatched away during appageddon.
Actually, that’s not quite true. And that’s because this is no cynical cash-in, nor a slavishly authentic ‘remastering’ along the lines of GameClub efforts. Instead, this is the original Rolando reworked for the modern day, with swish new 3D visuals (see two grabs later in this review for an ‘old’ and ‘new’ comparison), refined mechanics, and tweaked level design. The question is whether this old-timer can cut it in a world of Fornites.
In a word: yes.
Rolando was never the most innovative game. The backstory features a flimsy ‘goodies versus baddies’ battle, with ball-like Rolandos finding their world invaded by deadly shadow creatures. Gameplay is, broadly speaking, side-on platform fare, with a smattering of puzzles. Your goal is in each level to have your rotund heroes reach an exit without being horribly killed.
The original spark in the game lay largely in its execution. It looked superb, had imaginative and varied level design, and the production didn’t outstay its welcome. Also, it felt properly designed for iPhone. Whereas Sonic subsequently arrived with iffy virtual controls nailed on, Rolando utilised tilt to move, had you draw on the screen to select characters, and enabled you to physically drag lifts and draw bridges.
These elements should perhaps feel par for the course now, but they oddly don’t. Although games like FROST have fully taken advantage of iOS, we’ve in recent years increasingly seen console ports come to iPhone and iPad, with barely improved takes on the virtual controls mentioned earlier. Additionally, Rolando: Royal Edition having a pay-once business model might be retro in an age of freemium, but it sure feels refreshing.
Having largely forgotten my way through Rolandoland, this game sparked joy in other ways during review. Many puzzles are clever and imaginative. I enjoyed a pachinko-themed level, and ones where you rotate your device at speed, as if your Rolando is a marble blazing its way through a labyrinth. Levels where you roll a snoozing, portly monarch – or an auto-trundling offspring – to an exit provide further variation in pace and feel.
There are a couple of negatives. Some levels feel unnecessarily fiddly, not least when you must lead multiple Rolandos through a set of hazards. Also, the game is unwieldy on an iPad Pro, although still feels good on an iPhone – and works well on the lightweight iPad mini.
In all, though, don’t make the mistake of dismissing Rolando: Royal Edition as a mere exercise in nostalgia. To be brutally honest, it these days perhaps isn’t a showcase for the very best iOS gaming has to offer – too much water has flowed under the bridge this past decade. But for a few quid, it’s a highly entertaining game for whiling away the hours, and a message that modern iPhone gaming could sometimes do with a little more of what made it so great in the past.
Rolando: Royal Edition is available for iOS.
An excellent remastered special edition of an old favourite – but also a playable, engaging game in its own right
Diverse, imaginative levels
Tuned to touchscreen devices
Lush visual overhaul
Some fiddly levels
Awkward on larger iPads