Rotor [Review]

Jason Wersits
Senior Editor - Reviews
 
February 22nd, 2011

screenshot-flying

The Xbox Live indie game market is quite a remarkable thing these days.  Over the course of the past year, there have been a nearly countless number of independent developers releasing their original games onto the marketplace.   While there certainly have been more than a few derivative twin-stick shooters and ill-conceived platformers, it’s always nice to come across a game that manages to be a little off the beaten path even if it is less than stellar in its execution.   A perfect example of this is Rotor, a newly released title that that will offer hours of fun to some and minutes of misery to others.

Players in Rotor take control of a remote control helicopter and maneuver it around a vacant city which is more architect’s model than bustling boom town.  Set up in various locations across the miniature metropolis are challenges which can be completed to earn points and score multipliers.  A time limit is set and it is up to the player to set a high score by quickly and competently completing these challenges in as little time as possible.  It’s a simple formula, but it works.

Most players will likely find themselves fumbling with the controls at first. The RC helicopter here controls much like a real one as each analog stick controls pitch and yaw while the triggers control speed.  While it can be difficult to maneuver the helicopter around, a little time and patience goes a long way towards getting the hang of it.  Although the controls can be a bit of an obstacle, the biggest problem with Rotor lies in its overly demanding difficulty.

Each of the three different challenge types strewn about the city requires a sort of competency with the controls which can be overwhelming for most players.  From orb collecting to flight paths and checkpoint races, each challenge in Rotor is incredibly demanding to complete and most players will likely see “mission failed” plastered on their screen for the first few hours of play.  Frustration can be unavoidable at times as the RC copter requires precise movements to properly control but each challenge sets insanely harsh time limits to complete.  While this strain should encourage players to continue to practice, it really can deter gamers from trying to complete any challenge after multiple failures.

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It also doesn’t help that the visual style of Rotor can lend itself to some confusion when racing through objectives.  The spartan design of the city and the few landmarks it has can make it tough to pick out the few manageable challenges in the area from the nigh impossible ones.   The game’s color palette is always comprised of only two colors and the challenges themselves aren’t color-coordinated in any way to denote difficulty level.  Finding manageable objectives for first-time players is mostly an issue of trial and error while trying to remember where the objectives are on repeated plays.

Those players who do find themselves acclimating to the controls and enjoying the grueling difficulty may find themselves a bit turned off by the game’s aesthetics.  The world’s color palette and visual style, while initially impressive,  lacks a certain personality due to its minimalist design.  Although the game does offer over twenty palettes to choose from, most palettes make the game difficult to play and some are downright unpleasant.  It also doesn’t help that the game’s audio design is quite barren as the only sound at any time is the hum of the helicopter and one incredibly generic techno track.

Despite all these complaints, Rotor can be quite enjoyable at times.  The three available game modes, each one a different time limit, and the focus on high scores are similar to the classic arcade game Crazy Taxi.  Racing through the city and trying to rack up a significant score multiplier before time runs out can be quite fun and the game does a good job of tracking statistics out of game.  While there is no multiplier component to the title, beating your own high score has a very classic appeal for those who get past the game’s immense difficulty.

Although Rotor’s overly steep difficulty curve will present a massive barrier to many players, there are certainly those out there who will find something to enjoy here.  The focus on classic arcade-style game play is enjoyable and the fairly realistic RC helicopter controls are satisfying.  If more care was taken to the design of the various the challenges, Rotor could very well have been a must-have indie title. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable title with a few too many poor design choices holding it back from greatness.

Rotor is available now on the Xbox Live marketplace for 80 points.

Rotor
Pocket Starship
Score
3.1\5
Visuals
3.5
The game's visuals initially impressive with their crispness, but the world itself could do with a few more landmarks and perhaps some better visual cues. Getting lost in the environments during particularly difficult challenges can happen often due to the overall design of the city.
Sound
2
There's not much to be heard other than the game's single audio track and the sounds of the helicopter.
Controls
4
The controls can certainly take some getting used to and precision is key when completing challenges, but the helicopter is satisfying to control and the physics behind it are quite realistic.
Game Play
3.5
A focus on classic arcade-style game play means that this title is one for those who love setting high scores. But for those type of gamers, Rotor delivers.
Fun
2.5
Frustration takes precedent over any sort of real enjoyment to be found in Rotor. Players who manage to get used to the controls and learn to accept the game's demanding difficulty will find something to enjoy here, but most will likely turn the game off after only a few sessions.

META

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Review | XBLA

Jason Wersits is a Senior Editor for Mash Those Buttons. A lifetime resident of New Jersey and a diehard Starcraft fan, Jason spends the bulk of his time on the site working with the review staff to cover the games you care oh so much about.

Specialty: RTS