The App Store has been starting to see a lot of games proper recently, but most of them are old franchises being ported over, and so Rolando has the unique opportunity of becoming the face of App Store gaming, Apple's Mario, so to speak.
Development on Rolando has steadily snowballed, and after being featured in various magazines, getting picked up by Ngmoco, and acquiring a soundtrack from Mr. Scruff, it's hardly surprising that so much attention has gathered around this title. Initially, the title that was being created solely by developer Simon Oliver, until being picked up by the App Store's gaming darling and iFunded startup Ngmoco.
Many gaming titles for the iPhone feel like miniature games, and that's only fair because up till now the games for devices like MP3 players and phones have been exactly that: minigames. Snake, Sudoku, Solitaire -- the rule of thumb thus far has been that if it isn't a dedicated gaming platform like the Nintendo DS, it's not going to get dedicated game development.
It looks like that's all about to change, because the feeling you get from Rolando is the same one you get from a game that comes in a package with a manual, and one for which you paid some exorbitant price. But it's not. It's $9.99, it's digitally distributed, and it's on your phone or MP3 player.
Rolando is based on a physics platformer, in which you roll about little spherical beings known as Rolandos. As in many games, a dark and mysterious power has invaded the previously serene Rolando central, and it is up to you, the omnipotent 'Finger' to help the Rolandos win their kingdom back.
The method of control is predominantly tilt-based, moving about selected Rolandos from side to side and making them jump with a quick upwards stroke of the finger. This way of controlling seems a little sluggish at first, but it becomes quite natural in the space of a few levels, and second nature once you're into the meat of the game.
Gameplay is shaken up by the different kinds of Rolandos in the game -- some have the ability to stick to walls, some aren't able to stop moving from left to right, and some are big and not directly controllable. All these different Rolandos have individual designs and personalities, as well as dialogue that is both charming and entertaining.
The levels themselves feature a variety of touch based functions, from bridges that you need to draw with your finger, springs that must be pulled down to launch Rolandos, or bombs that you have to manoeuvre into the correct position. These functions combined with the many different Rolandos allow for an endless variation of levels with a finely tuned mix.
Essentially, all you are trying to do is get your Rolandos from point A to point B. At the end of that, a high score is calculated and medals awarded according to jewels collected, Rolandos saved, time spared, that sort of thing. One of the best things about Rolando is that you're not punished for going over time limits or ignoring the jewels, but the challenge is there if you want to take it.
Although it's got replayability, Rolando already offers quite a sizeable chunk of gaming for its asking price, with 36 levels that are neither too challenging nor too simple. For $9.99, this game is setting a precedent in content-for-cash that may send a shiver down the spine of other game publishers working off the iPhone business model.
Essentially, Rolando is a charming experience, from its menu comprised of a small sandbox of the game itself -- expanding slowly as you play -- to the cute, crispy visuals that evoke a fun and funky atmosphere complemented almost perfectly by the soundtrack.
Rolando sets a high bar for premium games on the App Store and for the first time offers some credence to recent claims by Apple that the iPhone can now stand alongside heavyweights such as Nintendo's DS as a true gaming platform.
Sam Gwilym is AppleInsider's iPhone Apps editor and Rolando is just one of dozens of iPhone applications and games he's been covering over on our iPhone Blog (RSS). Publishers looking to contact Sam about future and current iPhone titles can reach him at sam (at) appleinsider (dot) com.