Charm is hardly ever a full feature of a game. That’s one of those aspects that tends to subtly enhance rather than overtly swing a full mood one way or the other. Charm is the thread that sews everything together, except in the case of Roundabout. Here, well, charm is everything.
Half full-motion video, half continuous obstacle course, there is nothing out there quite like Roundabout. Imagine if the hype and culture of the late 90s – a time when FMV was considered the next wave of entertainment – applied to a larger version of Crazy Taxi. That’s more-or-less what’s happening here with the team No Goblin behind the wheel.
That wheel is constantly jacked to the left or right, of course, and not just in the literal sense. Because traffic laws. And zeitgeist. Your limo chauffeur is trying to make her way in the world while picking up friends and strangers. She and her limo are constantly spinning through the A-to-B paths that are as unconventional as they are somehow built for just this type of rotating daredevil.
The wacky world of Roundabout is set up with pathways that include moving glaciers just as much as simple city streets. Because you are a force of angular motion at all times, your tasks mostly stay to timing your movements in association with some time-altering powers. You’re trained early to care only about objects that can stop your movement because of satisfying feedback as you plow through the rest. Humans, animals, fences, and other meaningless pieces are encouraged to become the juice in your automotive blender.
Jumping is a life-saver that makes collectible hunting far more manageable. A crapload of spending money and other unlockables litter the environments high and low outside of the fares themselves. I’d always feel the tug of desire to grab a few more icons moreso than the extra fares due to accessibility. The included map helps you prioritize your next move and quickest gain per RPM and becomes a surprising necessity as the core concept runs its course.
One big ol’ reason for that seepage is that Roundabout has a terrible sense for respawns. Your limo will eventually blow up from smacking structures and an instant respawn awaits – a nice touch on paper. The execution is far more questionable as your limo falls into impossible-to-escape spaces that blast you to pieces again. And again. I’ve had one respawn chain run 4 deep before I got a break I could do something with. The ratio of times this happens is far too high and can end up costing you some time trials all-together.
Trials are faced by the driver of this twirly bird – the silent Georgio Manos – throughout the experience. She ends up being centered within a story of redemption, love, more love, and skeletons – an absurd equation on its own. The camp of the whole experience is naked in the FMV sections that hardly ever show so much as a real set behind the actors. Georgio almost never has anything more than a nod and an awkward glance to add to a conversation, yet that somehow translates into full sentences to the listener.
This is fantastic, by the way. No complaints here. It’s just a gag that never gets old alongside the idea that she’s some savant driver to the congo line that comes through her backseat. Roundabout embraces the silliness and marries it on the spot in an Adult Swim style that hides how minimal everything is with how much effort clearly went into making it worthwhile. One moment around the halfway point of the narrative had me in stitches with an unexpected visual gag.
Roundabout is great for those interspersed chuckles and guffaws, but other jokes between are duddies. With a 4-hour commitment all it takes to see pretty much everything, I didn’t mind the story’s inconsistent humor. Gameplay is a bit more annoying while the game trips over itself more times than it should. No Goblin didn’t exactly fly to the moon with a tank full of charm, I guess is the summary. It’s a shame as what Roundabout brings to the table is undoubtedly best when charm’s the one behind the wheel.