Rolando: Taking iPhone Gaming to the Next Level

Rolando has arrived, amid murmurs that it may be the best game out for iPhone and touch. And with compelling gameplay, awesome artwork and foot-tappingly funky music, it’s certainly my favorite game of the year.

Alongside being the season for frivolity and festivity, it’s that special time of year when the game industry ramps up the release schedule and hustles all the latest would-be hits out their studio doors and on to our computer and console screens.

Looks as good as it plays (cartoon finger not included)

Looks as good as it plays (cartoon finger not included)

This year, sat next to the DS and PSP, a new contender has joined the handheld race: with the iPhone being touted as a proper platform for gaming, the App Store is bursting at its digital-seams with fresh-faced gaming delights.

One of these bright young things to arrive at the App Store is Rolando, a puzzler-cum-platformer created by London-based game studio HandCircus. The publishers, ngmoco, seem to specialize in releasing weird, wonderful and compulsively fun gaming experiences: the kind of games which play just as good as they look, and they look appetite-whettingly delicious.

Immediate Fun

Opening with a clever playable menu screen, Rolando starts showing you the ropes — and letting you twist, turn and touch them — from the very start. And, as you progress through the game, the main menu grows, becoming more vibrant, adding new toys and revealing characters hidden in the shadows. A seriously smart and considerate move by Hand Circus, in that fun pervades the traditionally mundane menu screen.


The visual design, by Finnish artist Mikko Walamies, is a joy to behold, surpassing the mass of half-baked twaddle prevalent in the App Store. The characterization is particularly accomplished. It’s as if the little guys and gals always existed and you’re just dropping in on their ice-cream colorful world to help out. The good guys are amusing, smart and yet vulnerable. The bad guys are dark, horrid, grumbling beasts.

Tilt ‘n’ Touch

Big Puzzles and Big Bad Guys

Big Puzzles and Big Bad Guys

Each level is a blend of physics-based puzzle solving and traditional platforming, rolling up the most effective features of other games — Lemmings, Katamari Damacy, Mario.

 Across the ‘net there have already been utterances of Rolando’s similarity to Sony’s flagship PSP-title Locoroco. If anything, this is somewhat flattering for both parties: Rolando’s actual control and gameplay mechanic is a leap beyond that of Locoroco’s, integrating the latter’s simplicity and rendering it more so intuitive with touch commands and tilt control.

Conveyor belts, bombs and diamonds at the fireworks factory

Conveyor belts, bombs and diamonds at the fireworks factory

And for all it’s simplicity, the controls actually achieve a satisfyingly effective level of versatility; tap and drag to select a few Rolandos, tilt to get them rolling and then swipe up to make them jump. And just touch an object to interact with it, such as tapping the button on a cannon to release a bomb or cranking a lever to open a gate.

A typical stage will have you aiding your merry band of Rolando’s across spikey pits, through mechanical doors, past slidey gates and over rivers of gunk, and possibly escorting Rolandoland’s snoozing King.

Scruffy Tunes

Manchesters Mr. Scruff

Manchester's Mr. Scruff

Not only am I from the UK, I’m a Manchester lad. I’m from the city that brought you The Smiths, 10CC, Autechre, Joy Division (and Factory Records too) and Jim Noir.

I’m exceedingly proud of the musical heritage of my hometown and particularly pleased to tell you that the music for Rolando was provided by Manchester’s very own Mr. Scruff.

Plucked from Scruff’s own back catalogue, the soundtrack fits the game perfectly — like the last piece of a funky jigsaw. Taking away the sound, the game is an outstanding specimen compared to its piers — colorful, joyous, moreish — ngmoco and HandCircus went above and beyond the call of duty by incorporating Scruff’s sounds, bringing even more polish to an already gleaming gaming experience.

Summing Up

Turning the Cogs

Turning the Cogs

Not all of you will share my immense enthusiasm for Rolando.

Not everybody may thrill at the occasionally devious and frequently challenging puzzles or reminisce at the retro joys of hopping, skipping and jumping through dark caverns and over perilous spikey pits.

Nor will everybody grin giddily when the good guys get cheeky and the bad guys mutter their comic threats and I’m afraid that not everyone will groove along to the soundtrack, despite it’s ear-wormingly catchiness.

Cheeky Rolandos

Cheeky Rolandos

But, fortunately, I know that most of you will: you’ll thrill and reminisce while grinning and grooving all the way through Rolando.

You’ll also pick up on many more of the multitude of delights which I failed to mention here (both because an article should only be so long and because it’s such a pleasure to discover these things for yourself).

At the end of it, you’ll tell your friends, you’ll tell folk sat near you on the bus, you’ll tell everyone with an iPhone in earshot, because this is the kind of game that makes you feel good. And because what we have here is the benchmark for what a complete iPhone (or touch) gaming experience could be and, furthermore, should be.

Rolando ($9.99) is available now on iPhone and iPod touch at the App Store.