Action games are notoriously hard to nail down on mobile, but you can get a long way with a distinct and stylish presentation and design. Roto Force has got to be one of the coolest-looking games I've played this year, but I never quite got sold on how its action feels using a touchscreen. With a controller, Roto Force's unique design clicks into place, but without one, it looks far cooler than it feels.
Rounds of rounds
Roto Force is a retro-styled twin-stick shooter where you play as an intern for a fighting force that wants you to venture in to dangerous locales to take down bosses for a variety of tenuous reasons. Each of these environments is comprised of wave-based challenges that take place within an enclosed arena that you are mostly glued to the wall of.
To make it through these waves, you need to shoot and kill all the enemies that appear using any one of the unlockable weapons available to you. Beyond simply strafing and shooting, you also have access to a dash move that can launch you across the open space of the arena, protect you from certain kinds of projectiles, and pop bubbles containing powerups.
The most appealing thing about Roto Force is definitely its overall presentation. Its pared down use of colors, especially when applied boldly to each in-game location, makes its pixel art stand out while also keeping the hectic action easy to follow.
Roto Force is also quite a clever game, with some wry humor in its sparse writing and some fun mechanical surprises that are best discovered without being spoiled. Don't take any of this to mean that Roto Force is as light an experience as it appears, though. The game can be quite tough in spots and--in fact--measures your performance one each environment based on how many times you died across its checkpoints.
Floundering for feel
As cool as Roto Force looks, though, I found myself wanting it to feel just as slick when actually playing it and found that nearly impossible without using a bluetooth controller. Even with the variety of control customization options--and even some accessibility tools that let you adjust game speed, damage, etc.--I couldn't quite find a setup using touch that prevented me from making accidental dashes or other errors that hampered my experience.
I realize this may not be true for other folks who pick up the game, which is why it's such a good thing that Roto Force is available as a free-to-try title. Players can try out the first world of the game completely for free before considering the $ 4.99 purchase to unlock the full nine worlds to fight through.
The bottom line
I really like the concepts and design decisions that went into creating a game like Roto Force. I just don't think it quite fits on mobile all that well. Of course, there is a way to make the game feel good using a controller, but that still limits the appeal of buying the game on the App Store.