While cruising the PlayStation bargain bins at a local CD store, I came across a familiar-sounding title: Roll Away. The game didn’t stand out because I’d played it before; in fact, this was probably the first time I’d ever seeing it for sale or rent. The name caught my eye because Roll Away earned much critical acclaim upon its release, but, judging by its bargain-bin status, that success was obviously not matched at retail. This is a real shame.
Developed by Game Design Sweden AB and published by Psygnosis – of Wipeout, Colony Wars, and G-Police fame – this gem of a puzzle game somehow snuck under nearly everyone’s radar when it appeared in 1997. It really is the kind of game that must be played if it’s ever to be fully appreciated and understood. Try to imagine a cross between Pac-Man, Marble Madness, the ascending challenge of Tempest, and the level design of Descent. You control a ball that rolls around the outside of a three-dimensional maze, collecting gems, keys, coins, and other items on your way to finding the level exit. Sounds simple enough, but the game really forces you to forget what you know about the real world.
Think of yourself in a world where gravity is always below you, no matter which way you are oriented. If you were to stand on your head, you’d fall up. This is where Roll Away becomes a work of creative and intellectual genius. Sure, there are some levels that will frustrate you no end, but when you finally figure out how to get from point-A to point-B, you’ll be suitably impressed with yourself. There’s nothing quite like a game that rewards you for being creative and bright.
Manipulating gravity’s origin is essential to reaching all the places you’ll need to go in the game. By rotating around the outside of the maze walls and working your brain a little, you can figure out all of these levels over time.
Control is relatively simple, largely utilized through the directional pad and only one button. Anyone can pick up and play this game in minutes, but it will take some time to master the harder levels. The music keeps things peppy and fresh, and sound effects adequately represent the on-screen action.
As you progress through the game’s 200+ mazes, they grow more and more complex, adding new obstacles, and do their best to generally confuse the heck out of the player. Stick with it, though. It’s truly one of the most rewarding and satisfying games I’ve seen in a long time.
Roll Away is proof positive that in an age of high-budget cinematics, voice acting, and photo-realistic game worlds, a simply designed little diversion that refuses to play by the rules can entertain just as well – or better – than the big dogs. Start checking through eBay, the used videogame stores, and the bargain bins to snag yourself a copy of Roll Away immediately. Soon you too will find yourself addicted, whether you’re young or old, male or female. You can thank me later.