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The triumphant return of Rolando, one of the first hit iPhone games

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A colorful adventure is back from the dead

Rolando

Back in 2008, Rolando was something of a revelation. Before mobile had firmly cemented itself as a viable platform for games, there was a colorful and charming puzzle adventure that felt perfectly at home on your iPhone. It wasn’t just a great mobile game; it was a great game, period. The original Rolando spawned a sequel and plenty of imitators, but in 2017, it disappeared, a victim of the great iOS migration from 32-bit to 64-bit apps.

Late last year, developer Hand Circus got the rights back to the franchise from its original publisher, and it started thinking about the best way to bring Rolando to modern players. “There were so many options: the most straightforward path would have been to just put it back in the store as-is,” says director Simon Oliver. “As our debut title, it’s a really important game to us as a studio. So we decided to invest time modernizing the game and applying everything that we’ve learned about mobile in the last 10 years.”

The result is Rolando: Royal Edition, which is out now on iOS. It’s essentially a ground-up overhaul of the original game. The core gameplay is the same: in each level, you guide a group of sentient balls called rolandos through a twisting maze. You use your iPhone’s motion-sensing capabilities to roll the balls through the level, and you tap the screen to make them jump. There are all sorts of twists that crop up as you progress — like oil slicks and special royal balls — and it’s just as fun today as it was a decade ago.

If you played the original, the game feels very familiar, so much so that you might miss some of the changes. “A big thing we found when rereleasing the game was that you are competing not with the game as it was, but how it was remembered, and nostalgia is a powerful force,” explains Oliver. The most obvious change is the visuals. The flat world has been given a three-dimensional depth and a lot more detail. The backgrounds shift as you move about, creating the illusion of a much bigger space. There’s also a completely revised interface, and the story has been redone to give the rolling rolandos more personality.

“On the design side, one of our main objectives was to tighten up the controls and physics to make it feel snappier and more responsive,” says Oliver. “While the original game remained super fun to play and the core mechanics were solid, at times, it felt a little slow. While showing the original to friends, many assumed it was running at half-speed. Tuning the game remained a delicate task, though. Obviously, you don’t want to mess too much with the physics of a platform game, or you might end up having to redesign huge chunks of the game.”

Prior to the relaunch of Rolando, Hand Circus had been relatively quiet for some time. The studio’s last major release was the 2014 ocean-faring adventure Seabeard on mobile. Oliver says the small team has been spending a lot of time prototyping new concepts, exploring everything from augmented reality to real-time multiplayer games. He adds that “one of those games is shaping up really nicely,” but when the opportunity to revisit Rolando returned, the studio decided to shift focus for a bit.

The mobile space has changed quite a bit since Rolando first debuted. The so-called premium games that once filled the App Store are now rarer, with free-to-play experiences now dominant. Even still, Royal Edition is a $2.99 game without things like in-app purchases. Oliver says that the success of games like Florence and Alto’s Adventure helped prove there’s still a space for these paid experiences. Going up against those kinds of high-quality games is also part of the reason the team put so much effort into the new version.

“We really needed to raise the bar with the new edition in order to really stand out in the modern mobile market and justify it being a new release,” says Oliver.