Roto Force review – a frantic twin-stick bursting with imagination

Roto Force review - a frantic twin-stick bursting with imagination

Bullet Hell games break into wild new territory with this hectic arcade treat.

Here are a few compliments about Roto Force that may initially seem like backhanded compliments, but are actually about the biggest compliments I can give. First. Roto Force is a twin-stick shooter that doesn’t look like a twin-stick shooter. It’s new and weird and – at first – rather claustrophobic. Rather than being given an entire arena, you get the arena but are glued to its interior walls. So you can loop, left or right, aiming to spawn bubbling horrors inside, but they get most of the freedom. It might seem unfair – all that space for the bad guys, but it’s off limits to you. Not so. You can also use a trigger to traverse this space by aiming a straight line from one part of the wall to the other. It’s so fast you almost feel like you’re teleported. It’s great and there are a lot of nuances to how it works.

Roto Force Review Publisher: PID Games, East2West Games Developer: Accidentally Awesome Platform: Played on PC and iOS Availability: Available now android, Apple And computer.

Second. I guess Roto Force was born in a game jam, and the finished game retained that jammy energy. It’s polished and brilliantly crafted, but it has the raw skin and lively enthusiasm of a sketch, something on paper and surprisingly, improbably brilliant. I think it’s incredibly difficult to maintain that level of energy when you take something small and turn it into something a little bigger. Roto Force has made the transition beautifully. It’s a beautiful profession, but it also has this mania for something that is thrown at a deadly speed.

The third. I realize now that I didn’t see much Roto Force on my first playthrough. I don’t want to say that I skipped any chunks or missed entire levels. It’s just that everything is so fast, so frenetic, that my poor confused brain could only respond at the level of mechanics. I learned to distinguish bullets that I could safely pass through from bullets that would still hurt me halfway through. I learned how some enemies and even power-ups come with little bubbles that make them immune to firepower and have to be hit with that dash first. I learned that you can shoot the checkpoint marker that rotates through the game after each round and it will then spawn a weapon selector so you can switch things up for the next furious burst of action. I learned how some enemies swarm while others stick to the walls to prevent you from dodging everything by running mindlessly. I learned all that, but I didn’t see much. He left in a friendly blur.

Roto Force trailer.

I’ve been back there now and I can tell you that Roto Force is as visually ingenious as it is hectic. Here we are in the world of Game Boy Player 8-Bit: four colors and big sprites with frayed edges. You’re playing some sort of slug thing, I think, and enemies come in all shapes and sizes from many worlds. There’s a level where it’s all about birds – penguins spawn and throw fish(?) at you, while the boss fight takes place in a nest. There’s a level that talks about…slime…I guess? In which the plants sprout from the ground and release poisonous gases and the boss is this sort of bubble of mud that emerges from the wall itself and chases you.

These are just the first levels. Keep going and you’ll find sandworms sprouting from the dunes of a desert that was once a museum, and a triangular city of electricity where you blow out light bulbs and sockets. It’s so fast, so deadly, so punishing – and so creative! It reminds me a bit of the margins on old medieval documents, those little drawings that are initially hard to see among all this text, but when set right will reveal an upside-down world of three-headed kings and evil rabbits. Like marginalia, there is a strange spirit in the creatures Roto Force conjures up: the more you look, the more there is to see. Unlike marginalia, however, all of these can kill you.

Roto Force - Boss approach message displayed on screen

Who doesn’t love a game with unlockable modifiers? Roto Force lets you mix things up, such as limiting your movement to dashing or only reloading weapons halfway through. | Image credit: Accidentally Awesome/PID Games/East2West Games

And amidst the visual chaos, there is so much to learn. When to rush. When to do the super dash move which is charged by excess health and allows you to damage any baddies you hit. How to best position yourself to get away from a multi-wave boss or an evil mini-boss. Pay attention to the changing shapes of the arenas you ride in: you may end up on the wrong wall and unable to hit your current target. Ignore shifting color combinations that are there to dazzle and unsettle. Focus on what’s trying to kill you, what’s sticky and keeps you from moving all of a sudden, and the empty space that means something new is looming.

That would be too much, I think: a double stick that shoves you into a food processor and closes the lid. But it’s divided into waves and there’s a generous checkpoint system. Additionally, each level gives you a new weapon to choose from. And here Roto Force started to remind me of Treasure, of all developers. Gunstar Treasure, where each weapon is both a new toy and – in a way – a new level of difficulty.

There’s a wild ingenuity to the weapons you unlock, and each requires learning. You’re not just learning the controls, which often change from weapon to weapon, but you’re also learning how to get the most out of that new gadget you’ve been given, which at first can leave you undocked in a game you suddenly don’t understand.

Roto Force - crocodile boss attacks

Roto Force - a defeated boss

Roto Force - frenetic action in a circular screen

If you’re playing on a phone, expect touch controls which, to me, work pretty well. You can also use a tampon. | Image Credit: Accidentally Awesome/PID Games/East2West Games Roto Force accessibility options

Accessibility Aids: Players can modify game speed and damage dealt and can activate immortality. They can toggle if achievements unlock with assists. Game supports button remapping, simplified backgrounds, disable dynamic color changes, disable/disable screen shake

The main weapon – I think it’s the first anyway – is rapid fire. It’s quickly joined by the option to switch to a homing shot, which travels slower and also won’t hit some enemies with armor in certain spots, and a ricochet shot which can be charged and released and leads to some vibey disco carnage when all those straight laser lines suddenly bounce off walls improbably. Moving on, there’s a bomb that can bounce that sees you pull the trigger until you want it to explode, and there’s stuff like the short propeller and electric charge and flame whip. The last one is great: real power coupled with short range. It’s pure treasure.

Marginalia, food processors, the Treasure back catalog. Roto Force is one of those games that challenges you to understand its different moods and components. Ultimately, however, it left me thinking of one of those Jack-in-the-box toys, tightly coiled and squeezed into this impossibly small space. And then you press the big red button and everything explodes outward.

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