Originality and creativity are concepts that seem to be on the way out in today’s gaming industry, as more and more developers tend to opt for a big sequel in a well known series instead of taking a chance on a new and unique idea. Then there is the Art Style series, a collection of games that put originality and fun first and don’t try to wow you with big budget effects but instead keep you coming back with their engaging and addictive gameplay. So far there have been twelve games in the series on Wii Ware and DSi Ware, all of which have stayed true to this philosophy, with the latest being Art Style: Rotozoa for the Wii Ware service. Does this new entry continue the series’ stylish ways, or is this Style a gaming faux pas.
In Art Style: Rotozoa you control a rotozoan, a micro biotic life form floating around the primordial ooze. As a rotozoan your goal in life is to grow your body’s tentacles by matching their color with the color of the other microbes. But be warned, as your tentacles grow longer it will be increasingly difficult to match them with the right color, and by coming into contact with the wrong hue your rotozoan will take damage and eventually die. The core gameplay is all about seizing opportunities to grow your creature without becoming so large that you lose room to manoeuvre and are forced to take damage, as well as trying to reach the levels goals of expanding your tentacles by a certain amount. It’s simple, it’s addictive and it’s a blast.
The game features three different modes to play: solo, endless and snake. In solo mode you will find yourself in control of a rotozoan with a differing number of coloured tentacles (based on the difficulty setting). You have to try and grow your tentacle to the level's expressed requirements. But be warned, if you get a tentacle hit by the wrong coloured organism not only will you lose health but the damaged appendage will also shrink in size, forcing you to re-collect the broken off pieces. Endless mode is very much self-explanatory; survive for as long as you can all while growing your tentacles longer and longer. It may seem simple but, like any game in the Art Style series, that simplicity grows very quickly into maddening difficulty.
The final game mode is a unique take on the arcade classic Centipede; you control a sperm rotozoan, with a circular white head and white tail, and must grow that tail to ridiculous lengths. The forward section of your head can destroy any organism it comes in contact with, but you must be careful, because if you change directions too quickly to combat on-coming bacterial threats you just might whip your tail into enemies charging from the rear. Snake mode is a great addition to the cast of modes as it throws some unique strategy elements into the mix, forcing you to ask yourself ‘do I make my tail longer now, or do I focus on the enemy?’ It’s the type of game that forces you to think on your feet, making you to anticipate where you have to be and what you need to do, all the while throwing various challenges your way.
Like the gameplay, the controls are meant to be simple but functional. You are given the choice of either playing with the Wii Remote held sideways or the Classic Controller, personally I preferred the Wii Remote alone, but in the end it comes down to personal preference. The D-pad is used to control your rotozoan while the ‘1’ and ‘2’ buttons will rotate it counter-clockwise or clockwise respectively. See what I said, simple. No motion controls or complex control schemes to make the game feel like it has ‘depth’, because frankly it doesn’t need it, it’s the gameplay that makes Art Style: Rotozoa deep and engaging, something that over the years the developers at Skip have refined and mastered.
Like every game in the Art Style series, Rotozoa features presentation that is both trippy and beautiful. As you travel the ooze you will feel as if you are in many different locations, from a festering swamp teeming with tiny life to the inside of someone’s blood stream or organs. This is all tied together with an art style (no pun intended) that really brings the micro bacterial world to life. It’s hard to imagine the world of the rotozoan without seeing it in action, as even screenshots do not do it justice. One comparison that can be made is to the Playstation Network game Flow, but even at that Art Style: Rotozoa somehow feels more ‘alive’, with its dynamic backgrounds and colourful cast. It’s poetry in motion and it’s simply fantastic.
Of course to accompany this wonderful art direction a stellar soundtrack is needed, and in this case it’s another knockout from the Art Style composers. Using a mix of tribal, pop and electric beats to create a bouncy, yet moody soundtrack, that will have you tapping your feet and nodding your head as you play along, eventually even finding a rhythm to your actions. It’s the perfect contribution to a game that looks so good and plays so well. You really feel as if you are experiencing Rotozoa instead of simply playing a game.
Priced at only 600 Wii Points ($6) Art Style: Rotozoa is definitely worth the price of admission. Featuring the three aforementioned game modes as well as multiple levels, each with their own difficulty settings (number of tentacles) and length requirement, as well as a number of unlockables, will make sure you keep coming back for more. However, most levels can be completed quickly and you will find yourself reaching the higher stages rather quickly. Also, it would have been nice for Rotozoa to have included a competitive multiplayer mode, maybe where one player has different coloured tentacles than you, which would make your power-ups his enemies, but that might just be wishful thinking on my part.
The Wii Ware service has its fair share of great games, but it might just have its first masterpiece in Art Style: Rotozoa. You could argue that the game is too short, too experimental and too simple to be considered among the greats, but for those who want to ‘experience’ a game rather than just progress through levels on their way to the end credits, then this game is for you. It’s a beautifully executed project that not only looks good but plays just as well.