Review: Roller Angels (DSiWare)

Angelic

Roller Angels doesn't know what it wants to be; it's torn between Canabalt's forward-moving platforming action, Jet Grind Radio's alt-rock rebelliousness and de Blob's sense of beautification, without really committing fully to any one of them. Maybe that's a good thing. Yes, it lacks the first's pitch-perfect mechanics, the middle one's style and the last one's unmatched sense of progression, but the synthesis of all these ideas into one "thing," in the game's best moments, is frantic enough to give you hand cramps. Good hand cramps; the kind that comes from merciless controller-gripping and over-enthusiastic button pressing. In its worst moments, it's boring. Thankfully, in Roller Angels, there are more cramps than yawns.

The game's boring moments come in the form of the first two sets of levels, which highlight all of the game's flaws before we ever get a chance to look past them. Like de Blob, Roller Angels throws you into a monochromatic world and tasks you with colorising it with spray paint; thing is, you're not really colorising the world so much as a few marked environmental objects within that world (billboards, signs, a few odd trees), and as a result the sense of beautification and progression is minimal and unsatisfying. The re are a few things in the foreground you're allowed to paint, but the lonely background stays monochrome until the second before the high-score screen pops up, and even then it's done with little flash or fanfare.

When you get to world three though, you won't even really notice this stuff. You won't have time to. You'll be busy bounding over enemies, collecting coins, spraying paint, shaking your spray-can and wall-riding billboards — all at the same time. With world three, Roller Angels flips from a game of occasional, minor thrills to one that of constant gratification. It isn't multitasking; it's complete bombardment. And it's awesome. Grinding rails while hopping over evil penguins to spray-paint a highly perched street sign and then boosting to vault up a ledge to gain more boost power is just as wonderfully exhausting as it sounds, and every one of the later levels is made up of dozens of moments even more taxing than that.

It's also at this point in the game where the distinctions between the playable characters become more meaningful than their choice of animal pyjamas and meaningless catchphrases ("You think you're bein' funny?...Pink Bunny!") Patty is great for areas with a lot of high jumps, for example, but her spray can is so weak that you'll pretty much be tapping Y to refill it the entire level, so if you find yourself somewhere with a high density of spray-able signs, Patty's your girl.

If only this game were as stylish and charming as it thinks it is. Yes, there are colourful, big-eyed toddlers skating around in animal pajamas, but Agetec seems to rely more on the novelty of it rather than capitalising on its artistic potential. The levels themselves, if you manage to stop and look at them, are really quite visually drab, and despite the game's premise it doesn't come across as intentional. Then again, maybe the art direction only seems so mediocre because the sound design does absolutely nothing to back it up. The sound effects grate after a while, and the levels repeat the same, forgettable bubble-gum pop tune over and over again.

Conclusion

Presentational and early pacing issues aside, though, Roller Angels is a relentlessly thrilling 2D platformer whose cocktail of inspirations make it one of the more unique games on the service. Agetec has proven through the years that it can create meaningful gameplay through unorthodox ideas, and Roller Angels is easily its most successful DSiWare project to date. The summer may be slim on retail titles for Nintendo fans, but here's a reminder that sometimes the biggest fun comes in small packages.