Wot I Think: Roundabout

Roundabout is a very silly game about a limousine that is constantly rotating. No, that’s not quite right. Roundabout is a sweet and surreal love story about the driver of a limousine that is constantly rotating. Closer.

Whatever else it is, Roundabout is the greatest example of the importance of a remarkable theme and visual style that I’ve seen this year.

I knew I’d played something very like Roundabout as soon as I saw the first trailer but I only found time to play No Goblin’s driving simulator this weekend. The game I was thinking of was Kuru Kuru Kururin, in which a spinning stick must be maneuvred through a series of mazes. Roundabout is built on precisely the same principle. Object spins, locked to the centre of the screen, and you guide it through obstacles that are designed to allow passage but to make you rue the ceaseless rotation.

Beyond the basics, everything that Roundabout does feels almost entirely unlike anything else in gaming. The music is driven by slap bass and funky rhythms, the story is told through short live action cutscenes starring intentionally awkward costumed non-actors, and the bodycount is enormous but there isn’t a mean streak in sight. It’s a cohesive comedic package, which never made me laugh but kept a very happy smile on my face throughout.

There’s a hint of Wes Anderson’s self-conscious artifice in the cutscenes, which repurpose stock footage for their best gags, but feel like the contents of an alternate reality’s cutting room floor throughout. If there’s a tightrope above the Zany Canyon, Roundabout is undoubtedly teetering across it but it’s far more in control of its passage than you’d expect given that it’s a game about a rotating limousine.

Let’s address that. The car spins, whether it’s moving or not. The game acknowledges that this is happening – it’s a major plot point and almost every character addresses the fact – but mostly to point out that it is an awesome thing for a limousine to do. It’s intentional, the spinning – driver Giorgio Manos arrives at Limo Training School and ploughs through every obstacle in her path, rotating all the while.

Her instructor is surprised but he gives her a pass. Most of her passengers are delighted, if a little confused at first, when they see the eyecatching means of motion. Later, an evil businessman sees the spinning limousine as such an ingenious innovation that he figures he’ll make millions if he steals the concept for his own uses. He’s part of a cast that includes a skeleton called Jeffrey, a moonlighting baseball coach and the two most unenthusiastic enthusiastic children in the world. ‘Yayyy’, they mutter, as if the icecream had fallen out of the cone right before filming began.

There’s plenty to do, although all of it revolves around revolving. Story missions lead you around the fairly small map and you’ll be able to drive through the lot in a couple of hours if you don’t get distracted by the minigames, high score chasing or unlockable upgrades, paint jobs and hats. Yes, the car can wear a hat. Remember – we’re above the Zany Canyon.

I found it impossible to proceed without trying to gain every available star in some of the early tasks. Perfecting the game would take a great deal of effort and repetition. Stars are awarded for finishing levels within a certain time limit, for collecting every available star, for building bonus multipliers, and for managing to take a passenger from A to B without exploding en route. There’s a lot of exploding in the game, as the limo can only take a limited amount of damage before the flames start to roar under the bonnet, but the punishment for fiery extinction is light. Explode during a mission and you’ll be taken back to a checkpoint, very close at hand, and if you happen to be roaming the open world when disaster strikes, you’ll respawn nearby.

There are modifiers in the game’s menu that allow for instadeath to be applied, meaning any slight mistake is fatal, or for Big Head or ‘non-violent’ mode to be activated among other things. The first has a real effect on the game, as do several others, but the cosmetic changes are simply that – cosmetic. I’m glad that non-violence is an option, as the squirts of blood, garish and cartoonish though they are, didn’t seem right in Giorgio’s weird world. At one point she goes on a date, driving through a mall and obliterating everyone and everything in her way, and I felt much better about the prospects of continued romance when I didn’t have to imagine the body parts clinging to the windscreen wipers.

The layouts of the roads and parks, which form the levels and puzzles of the game as it were, are probably less diverse and fiendish than Kuru Kuru Kururin’s maps. I couldn’t say for sure and the less abstract form of Roundabout obscures some of the design, making a direct comparison tricky. There’s plenty of satisfaction in mastering the limo’s timing though, as well as the various power-ups that are unlocked throughout, and performing a perfect run is a source of glee.

But it’s everything that happens around the puzzles that makes Roundabout such a delightful thing. It doesn’t even feel like a puzzle game because the open world and narrative structure disguise the fact so well. The performances and the visuals are like an act of legerdemain, designed to fool people like me into enjoying a game that they would have dismissed if it had simply been a construction of lines and shapes. A minimalist design might have made sections easier, or allowed developers No Goblin to create terrifyingly complex suburbs to navigate, but Roundabout is a game about a lady called Giorgio who drives a limousine that is constantly rotating.

It’s a very silly game indeed but there’s a sweetness at its centre that would put even the finest fondant to shame. Through all the raised eyebrows, ill-fitting costumes and fluffed lines, Roundabout has a sincerity that makes me happy to recommend it to anyone, even if it did fool me into playing a puzzle game.

Roundabout is out now.

58 Comments

  1. Hex says:

    Darn. I was kind of hoping the game wouldn’t be that fun, since the whole “No Goblin” thing is kinda rude and pretentious.

    • Melody says:

      I must have missed something: what is the whole “No Goblin” thing, and why is it rude and (one of the words I hate the most) pretentious?

      • Slouch says:

        No Goblin is the name of the studio. Perhaps the OP is offended at the lack of punctuation? No, Goblin? No! Goblin! No… Goblin. No? Goblin? No: Goblin.

        Or perhaps he just learned the word pretentious.

        • Chalky says:

          Yeah I have no idea what this guy’s problem with the studio name is either. I feel like I’m missing a joke or reference somewhere.

          Game looks really good, I had no idea what to expect from some of the screenshots I’d seen of it but after reading this and going to watch the trailer I’ll probably go and buy it now.

      • OfficerMeatbeef says:

        Developer Dan Teasdale formed No Goblin with the tongue-in-cheek mission statement of making mechanic-driven games without omnipresent game tropes like generic fantasy races, giant robots, etc. Thus, the humorous studio name and their first game being this crazy thing about a constantly rotating limousine.

        This daring light-hearted statement of “hey maybe games don’t need more orcs and such for a while, kinda been covered” had him labeled an “asshole” in a (hopefully) similarly tongue-in-cheek PA Report article when he founded the studio, and quite sincerely by various gamers who saw the article because game culture and industry is just the absolute worst.

        Of course, the context for all this nonsense is difficult to discover now since the article is completely gone, along with everything else on the PA Report, because those guys are apparently also completely crazy. Unless I’m missing something, anyway.

        • anon459 says:

          So, people think the developer is pretentious for trying to make unique games? Sounds hilariously stupid. I like fantasy as much as the next guy, but I’m not about to condemn someone for saying they aren’t going to make generic video games.

      • Hex says:

        Is it the word you hate, or the thing?

        Hmm. I could have sworn I read the article somewhere on RPS, but I can’t find it. It may have been on the PA Report. If I recall correctly, it was about the origins of the name. They apparently don’t care for fantasy tropes, so the name is literally a declaration of what they’re not going to do — no goblins. Which is fine, but I think it’s in bad taste to define oneself by decrying that which others enjoy.

        • poetfoxpaul says:

          Same here. Like I don’t think anyone should go around defining themselves as anti-torture or something, I mean the people who enjoy it have a reason to right?

          . . .

          Poor analogy aside, defining oneself can only happen in response to others self-definitions. There is no reaction-free creation. Even if you think the name “No Goblin” is somehow pretentious and offensive (?) there is nothing wrong with making a statement to that effect. You might be surprised but fantasy tropes are boring and stale to anyone that isn’t a teenager or stilted shut-in. The best fantasy-based games of the past ten years were not great because they had goblins but because of their game design and fun mechanics. The use of fantasy as a setting is passable, but if the game isn’t anything fun then the setting will absolutely never keep me playing.

          I believe ‘Played Out’ is a good way to put it.

          • Hex says:

            That is a poor analogy, because for one thing if someone has, for instance, a good time being dominated or (safely) tortured, it’s none of your business and it would be inappropriate — or at least in bad taste — for you to label your snackfood company “BDSM Customers Not Welcome.”

            Moving on: it’s also inappropriate — or at least in bad taste — for you to imply that I (or anyone who likes fantasy tropes) is a teenager or a “stilted shut-in,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

            Also, I think you made my point, a bit — I don’t care if something is set in the real world, in a sci-fi future, a fantasy past, whatever. I’ve enjoyed games with good game mechanics in all of these settings, sometimes despite the fluff.

            If the mechanics of a game are the most important bit — which is something I agree with wholeheartedly — then the inclusion of orcs or exclusion of same is totally immaterial. To go out and make it not only your mission statement — but your company name — to be exclusionary about an innocuous ingredient in some games that presumably you found distasteful, why should I take you seriously?

            Clearly the goblin-games this guy doesn’t like must have had poor gameplay. Okay. Name yourself “No Shitty Mechanics.” That I can get behind. It’s ridiculous to state that a game is poor because it includes goblins, or guns, or blocks, or ponies.

          • pepperfez says:

            Oo! Oo! I’ll join the Bad Analogy game!
            No Torture Brand’s not like a snack food company telling off torture enthusiasts, it’s like a pornography label (I’m so sorry No Goblin! I mean well!) specifying that they will not feature any torture in their products, because they and their intended fanbase don’t want to see it. Being sick of an extremely common genre feature isn’t really that aggressive a stance.

          • Hex says:

            >>> You might be surprised but fantasy tropes are boring and stale to anyone that isn’t a teenager or stilted shut-in.

            The more I think about it, the more this statement bothers me. Blood Bowl has a fantasy setting. Are only teenagers and “stilted shut-ins” allowed to appreciate it? Are they only allowed to enjoy so long as theu chuckle condescendingly at the setting?

            You may just as well say “space marines are boring and stale to anyone that isn’t a teenager or stilted shut-in.” I know plenty of people who play Warhammer 40K. Some of them are teenagers, and some are probably what you’d call “stilted shut-ins,” (again, whatever that’s supposed to mean). They’re also people.

            I also know attractive, socially engaging, and highly entertaining people who like WH40K. Really, the only common theme I can identify among my acquaintances who enjoy or have enjoyed WH40K is that they tend to be pretty smart.

            It’s not nice to pick at a demographic who enjoys any one thing — be it goblins, dwarves, or space marines — and say “the media you enjoy relating to those things is suitable only for teenagers and shut-ins.” Teenagers and shut-ins are allowed to enjoy whatever they chose, and so am I. And so are you! Nobody is saying you can’t have goofy puzzle games about spinning limousines. And to the best of my knowledge, nobody is making a company called “No Goofy Limousines” whose mission statement is to make games which stick strictly to every genre stand-by they can co-opt.

          • Hex says:

            @pepperfez

            If you think the best way to market your magazine is to make to and about solely the people who are not your intended audience, you’re doing it wrong.

          • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

            Hex, there is a difference between ‘fantasy tropes’ and ‘a fantasy setting’. Blood Bowl specifically avoids (or at least repurposes) fantasy tropes by placing them in the context of a high-stakes modern sports championship. You’ll find that most fantasy games that are succesful nowadays either avoids or repurposes the fantasy tropes in some way (even if it’s something small like Dwarf Fortress focusing solely on dwarves and their lives, and even that has elves that consider cannibalising enemies defeated at war to be an intrinsic part of their culture) or is directly directed to either Tolkien or D&D, who started using these tropes before they were tropes.

          • Hex says:

            Which isn’t really the point, but thank you for contributing.

        • honuk says:

          I would ask you how any of this is supposed to be pretentious, but it’s pretty clear you don’t know what words mean. Which might explain the whole “reading PA Report” thing.

          • Hex says:

            I would reply by saying that the guy is attempting to suggest that he’s more culturally astute than the “stilted shut-ins” to borrow a phrase from a commentator above by deriding fans of games that include goblins. Which is essentially the definition of pretentious.

            And yeah, I stopped reading the PA Report shortly after I started reading the PA Report. I had to actually read some of it to form an opinion such as “Maybe I should stop reading the PA Report.”

            Way to be a dick.

        • Melody says:

          I hate the word, as used in “games culture”. Rather, as overused and misused in games. Most people who are labelled pretentious are just trying to be creative, original, innovative and/or they are trying to make games with more artistic value than the norm (or less of a focus on pure entertainment value), but the pervasive anti-intellectualism of “games culture” has chosen that word to accuse them of… something?

          I usually love most of the game devs that are commonly labelled pretentious, for the exact same reasons why they are called pretentious in the first place. And now that you told me the story, which I didn’t know, I appreciate this dev as well. I guess that means I’m pretentious too =)

        • Synesthesia says:

          Well SOMEONE didn’t like sharing his toys!

          Listen. They chose the name for the reasons explained above. As a design imperative, for them, not as a personal insult to you, or anyone. Jesus fucking christ. Go back to 4chan, or 8chan, or wherever you stunted fucks live.

      • El_Emmental says:

        “I must have missed something: what is the whole “No Goblin” thing, and why is it rude and (one of the words I hate the most) pretentious?”

        Because people love to read a lot more into someone’s words, and what started as a little joke “No Goblin” (which sounds like a TV Tropes entry), is now a declaration of war against the fantasy culture and its community, no less (see: PA Report).

        Let me see…

        Human Head Studios (Prey) <- insensitive exploitation of gruesome decapitations.

        Insomniac Games (Spyro, Ratchet & Clank, Resistance) <- shockingly belittling the gravity of insomnia – would you play a game made by "Cancer Games" or "Leukemia Games" ("Bleeding Edge Gameplay !") ?! No, if you're a decent human being.

        AmnesiaGames <- see above. Disgusting.

        Lionhead Studios (Black & White, Fable) <- shamelessly promoting hunting endangered species. Oh and it's pure coincidence it's picking the Lion, symbol of the African continent, sure…

        Rage Software <- anger management issues are sure a funny thing…

        Riot Games (League of Legends) <- *sigh* victims of riots must be happy to know these violent disturbances are funny and entertaining.

        Running with Scissors (Postal) <- somebody think of the Children !

        Amanita Design (Samorost, Machinarium, Botanicula) <- associating a life-threatening mushroom with games, smart plan.

        Cyanide (Pro Cycling Manager, Blood Bowl) <- very thoughtful and considerate for all the people who died from that poison.

        Splash Damage (Wolf: ET, ET: QW, Brink) <- as a member of the Church of Direct Hit, I'm terribly offended and wish these developers could make an effort to not make my life a living hell.

        Wildfire Studios (BoS) <- oh yeah, good idea to name yourself after a natural disaster. The families of the people who burned to death surely appreciate your efforts.

        Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, The Hunter) <- *sigh*

        Epicenter Studios <- …

        Facepunch Studios (Garry's mod, Rust) <- good, promoting physical violence, what a nice name for a company selling games to children.

        Frozenbyte (Trine) <- play on words with "frostbite" (which is also the name of a game engine – further proves the gaming culture is indeed completly toxic and hurtful, made of sadistic psychopaths). I guess the founders were missing a few brain cells here, maybe from froztbyte.

        Gearbox Software (Borderlands) <- 1 240 000 deaths by traffic accident in 2010, but I guess naming yourself after a major element of such deadly machines is too cool for a video game company, the families will just have to suck it up.

        Supergiant Games (Bastion, Transistor) <- *sign* yet another shameless oppression of small people, who apparently can't be super.

        Let's not even talk about game titles…

        link to en.wikipedia.org! – and it even got a sequel, madness! >:O

    • MrXenophobe says:

      Guys, I think everyone needs to cut Hex some slack, it’s really hard for them to do things like walk around, type, and form their own meaningful opinions with the crippling condition they have of having their own heads firmly wedged up their own ass.

  2. Rizlar says:

    It sounds like a very roundabout way to present a puzzle game. Sign me up!

    • Terragot says:

      Here he is!

    • noom says:

      Personally I think I’ll be steering clear of this one

    • Rizlar says:

      Erm, that comment was never supposed to be a pun. It seems a bit of a stretch to call it one. Someone flag down a moderator to chauffeur these jokers away!

      • Dilapinated says:

        It sounds like you’re trying to take the mods for a ride to me. I’d quit your spin-doctoring before things explode out of proportion.

        • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

          Round up these people making bad puns and drive them off the site!

    • Tellus says:

      This is getting tire-ing fast.

      • noom says:

        I’m exhausted. Still, my opinion has turned around. Think I’ll give it a spin after all.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    This was one of the surprises of the year for me. I bought it expecting it to be a one-note joke (the deliberately camp FMV) and not much else but I had a splendid time with it, and I usually hate this kind of precision avoid ’em up game.

    Sod it, I’m going to play it again now.

  4. BarryK says:

    I’ve been enjoying this for a few weeks, I’d play some more of it to see some more of the awesome FMV cutscenes but Tron 2.0 randomly appeared on Steam this week so I’ll be playing that. A lot.

  5. Haphaz77 says:

    Random connection: the person who edited a lot of the FMV for this game also does the Ironman Impossible series at XCOM: link to beaglerush.tumblr.com Try some of his earlier Season 1 videos to see where the awesome video that this game apparently has comes from. I may have to try this ‘puzzle game’ thing out too.

    • DoughburtCakesworth says:

      He’s also Dan Teasdale’s (the creator of Roundabout) younger brother and an all around funny dude. I like his XCOM stuff too but his ARMA 2/3 ShackTac vid’s are where it’s at. Cool to see a fellow Beaglerush fan out here in the wild!

    • AyeBraine says:

      Beaglerush? Oh wow, so THAT’S the project that he mentioned recently?

      I love Beaglerush. I’ve never watched Let’s Players, still don’t, but I watch everything he does. I hope he returns to his tightly edited, incredibly funny game videos now.

    • Jericho says:

      John “Beaglerush” Teasdale didn’t just edit “some” of the game’s FMV; according to his own admission, his brother game him about 6-8 hours of footage of all of the different actors’ line deliveries and a finished script and tasked him with constructing the entirety of the game’s FMVs. He was also responsible for finding and picking all of the stock footage used. He talks about the process quite a bit during the 4+ hour stream of the game he did upon its release, viewable here:

      link to twitch.tv

      (unfortunately the first 30 minutes are muted due to Twitch’s ridiculous copyright policies)

      Also, Beaglerush has been actively producing videos again. Recently he has been doing an Ironman difficulty playthrough of the “Long War” mod for XCOM Enemy Within. The first video of that is here:

  6. Tin_man_Tex says:

    They missed a trick with not letting the player choose Georgios (awesome) reactions. Even if it didn’t really affect anything it would be a little bit of expressive fun.

    • BTA says:

      Each reaction is actually a unique shot (taken with what she’s reacting to in mind), so I don’t even want to think about the amount of trouble they’d have to go through to have several of them for each thing she’s reacting to…

  7. Nixitur says:

    I’m fairly certain that Giorgio is repeatedly referred to as male by the narration. He’s just portrayed by a female actor, nothing more. Remember, Zany Canyon.
    He’s also a silent protagonist in a story that is told through live-action sequences, which is probably my favorite part about the character.
    Also, there’s a “made” missing in “It’s a cohesive comedic package, which never me laugh”.

    • DrMcCoy says:

      Nope, I don’t think so. From what I’ve seen, Georgio is never assigned a gender at all in the game. They never even use a personal pronoun to refer to Georgio, only “Georgio”, “this driver”, “this chauffer”, etc..

      • DrMcCoy says:

        “Georgio never stopped revolving. As a kid, Georgio learned to move with the spin instead of fighting it. People, small obstacles, nothing could stop Georgio from twisting and turning. Well, except for buildings, lamp post, you know, tihngs taller than a limousine. But against everything else — unstoppable!”

      • Amun says:

        It’s so deep to not refer to gender in a video game or novel. It’s a wonderful stand in for talent, like writing in 2nd person or not using the letter “e”. Troll post, away!

      • Vorrin says:

        Relevant to this, Giorgio is an italian name, and an unmistakably male one, Giorgia is the female version. Afaik it works so in all the cultures that adopt the name (all latin I’d say).

  8. Buemba says:

    The game I was thinking of was Kuru Kuru Kururin

    SOOOOLD

    • ulix says:

      Yes! I played the game, but completely forgot about it. Even after seeing Roundabout trailers, it somehow completely slipped my mind. Game was great though. Now did I play it on Emulator or actual GBA? I really don’t remember…

  9. malkav11 says:

    Huh. I vaguely recall seeing previews of this about the idea of the constantly spinning limousine, but I had no idea this was accompanied with ludicrous FMV. I think it is definitely past my “must buy this” threshold now.

  10. golem09 says:

    OMG. There has never been any game before or after Kuru Kuru Kururin that made me quite RAGE LIKE IT GODDAMIT I SHOULD HAVE PASSED THAT, STUPID GAME I HATE YOU.

  11. racccoon says:

    I would of thought it was plainly simple. you get to point & then you get that point again. those were the days.. not many kids get to experience them anymore. but, once they reach adult hood & start working this process does happen till they die.

  12. oyog says:

    “Stars are awarded for […] collecting every available star…”

    My brain hurts.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    Am I the only person who thinks Giorgio bears a striking resemblance to Gillian Anderson?

  14. hprice says:

    Mungrui … see here: link to youtube.com