Ah, falling shapes. They're at the center of some of the best and most addictive games of all time. Roogoo offers up a fresh take on the concept that's extremely simple, but don't let that keep you away. While games don't get much more basic than Roogoo, it still provides a compulsively enjoyable and surprisingly challenging gameplay experience.
Roogoo kicks things off with a series of cutscenes that establish the game's story. Apparently the peace-loving, generically cute Roogoo of the planet Roo have always relied on falling meteors that radiate joy to sustain them. One day, King Moo started channeling the power of the meteors into building cities on the lush green planet, but this selfish act turned him and his followers into evil, only slightly less cute Meemoo. Now, as one of the remaining Roogoo, you've got to help the falling meteors reach the planet's core and keep them out of the hands of the king's son, Prince Moo. Or something. Really, it's best not to worry too much about the story. All you really need to know is that this is a game about falling shapes that you have to guide safely through a series of platforms.
Although Roogoo may look like a puzzle game at first glance, in fact, it's essentially a very simple game of precision and quick reflexes. You don't have any control over the falling shapes themselves, and you don't use the thumbsticks or the D pad at all. Roogoo is played primarily using the shoulder buttons on the controller. As shapes fall, they must pass through a series of platforms, which conveniently have holes in them that match the various shapes. Your task is to use the shoulder buttons to rotate the platform as the shapes are approaching, so that the falling shapes are lined up with the corresponding holes. If you fail to rotate the platform into the correct position before the shapes hit the platform, they'll get knocked away. If you lose enough shapes, it's game over. That's really all there is to it. It may sound easy, and although it certainly starts out that way, Roogoo actually gets quite challenging as you progress through its 45 single-player levels. Things ultimately get downright ludicrous, requiring robotlike speed and accuracy on the game's default difficulty setting. Thankfully, the casual setting makes things considerably easier, but it's perhaps a bit too easy. A setting that fell somewhere in between the game's two options might have been ideal.
While your fundamental objective remains the same throughout, Roogoo does a decent job of keeping things interesting by frequently introducing new elements that make your job a bit more complicated. Initially, there are only three shapes to deal with, but the game soon bumps that up to four and eventually five. Stacks of shapes also start out falling one at a time, but eventually, they fall in rapid bursts containing many different shapes, forcing you to rapidly rotate the platform back and forth to keep them all. You'll also have to cope with shutters that open and close over the holes, as well as platforms that periodically flip end over end, requiring you to time when your shapes pass through the platform by pressing A to speed up their descent. Additionally, nefarious Meemoo will stand on the platforms. You'll need to bump them off with fast-falling shapes, sometimes in a specific order. Some platforms automatically speed up all shapes that pass through them. Occasionally stacks of falling shapes will have two shades to them, and you'll need to press B to alternate the shades so that like colors are touching when the falling stack lands on a stack you've already set down. All of these elements can make for a great deal to keep track of, and when the action is moving quickly, the game can get positively nerve-wracking. Completing a tough level is really satisfying, and the kind of frustration that results from failing is typically the best sort of frustration a game can cause: the kind that motivates you to try again because you know that, while difficult, the game wasn't unfair. You simply screwed up one too many times.
At least, that's usually the case. There are times where the game doesn't provide you with the best view of the action, making things unfairly difficult. Sometimes the camera is simply positioned too far away from a platform, making it hard to tell if you have the falling shapes lined up with the corresponding hole or not. At other times, your view of the holes on a given platform is obscured by stacks of shapes you've already set down. Still, for the most part, the visual presentation in Roogoo, while very simple, is bright and clear. Each shape also has its own vivid color, which can help you identify them when things are moving quickly. You probably won't spend much time looking at the various backgrounds, but they have a clean, cheery style to them that fits the game well. The music in the game mostly consists of light, upbeat electronic tracks that make for a good accompaniment to the action. The relatively few sound effects there are, such as the mewling of Roogoo and Meemoo, also go hand-in-hand with the game's cute, colorful visuals.
The single-player game has 45 levels, which offer plenty of challenge on the default difficulty, but those players who opt for the easier setting will probably breeze through them quickly. Going for each level's par time, which is typically very difficult to achieve, will provide added longevity for those who really want to master Roogoo. There are also a few multiplayer options available.
Online multiplayer offers a one-on-one competition that plays out exactly like the single-player game, except that each player also has a power meter, which fills up as shapes are guided safely through the platforms. When the meter is full, pressing Y sends some evil Meemoo to stand on your opponent's platform. The game works really well for this kind of competitive face-off, but unfortunately, very few people are playing Roogoo online, so unless you've got a friend on Xbox Live to play with you, finding an opponent may be difficult. Roogoo also has local multiplayer, which, in addition to the competitive mode, offers a pretty fun cooperative party mode in which control of the platforms alternates quickly among up to four players.
Roogoo demonstrates that a very simple game doesn't have to be a shallow game. In fact, Roogoo's simplicity is something of an asset, making the gameplay accessible to just about anyone but requiring tremendous skill to master. While 800 points is perhaps a tad steep for such a fundamentally simple game, Roogoo's fast-paced, challenging twist on the old falling-shapes concept is absolutely worth a look.