Rolo To The Rescue
If I had to sum this game up in one word it would be “cute”. Considering this 1992 Genesis game was produced by EA, a company more commonly associated with the sporting genre, it makes it all the more surprising that they produced this slick, child orientated platform game. From the super sickly storyline, through the chunky cartoon characters and finishing with some of the jauntiest music I have ever heard coming from a 16-bit system this screams “for under-10’s” only. But look past that initial cute and fluffy exterior and you’ll find an engrossing and challenging game that is definitely not just for kids.
Our eponymous hero is an elephant named Rolo. At a tenderly young age he was stolen from his mother and forced to perform in McSmiley’s circus. But Rolo rises to the occasion and promptly escapes, his task is to now track down his animal friends and release them from the cages the evil Ring Master has locked them up in.
Rolo’s obviously a popular little pachyderm as there are hundreds of animals for him to rescue scattered around tons of levels. Each animal type has different skills and once rescued you can take control of any rescued animal type to help all the other animals make it to the end of each level. There is cute little mole with a hard hat who specialise in digging. A lovely squirrel who can climb. A darling little bunny who can hop great distances and finally one of the nicest beavers you could ever hope to see who can handle the water sections.
So the basis of the gameplay is fairly simple. Starting with Rolo, you must bounce on the head of the Ringmaster on each level and acquire the key that will let you open all the cages on the level. The animals you rescue will follow you in a line, unless you switch control to another one. The animals act as shields’ so if Rolo gets hit he loses an animal. If Rolo gets hit with no animals in tow he exudes a rather sad trumpety sound and expires. Once Rolo makes it to the end of the level, all the animals hop into a transporter and Rolo carries on to the next level.
As you unlock levels a map builds up similar to that of Super Mario World. You can re-enter these completed levels to look for secrets. The first few levels are straightforward enough, but in later levels you must carefully use the skills of each animal to plot a course to the end-of-level transporter. So the beaver, being water resistant can be sent to collect a raft to get the rest of the creatures over a river safely. Later levels can become brain-mashingly frustrating and this is mainly due to the games one serious flaw.
There is no way to save you progress in this game and no password system to allow you to access later levels without having to replay the early ones. So to finish the game you need to play from beginning to end in one session. Also there are only a few continues on offer and if you can’t find yourself enough extra lives, you’ll find expiring in the final levels and being forced to restart from the beginning maddening. It is a real pity that more experienced gamers who could handle this are likely to be put off by the extreme cuteness of the presentation. Younger gamers are similarly likely to quickly become bored with the constant restarts and occasional unfair deaths due to some slightly unpolished controls on the part of Rolo (he has a tendency to skid off the end of platforms).
But if you do decide to persist with the game, it does reveal itself to be a fun and imaginative gaming experience. The graphics are sumptuous, some of the best I have ever seen on the Genesis. There is smooth parallax scrolling and all the enemies and heroes are drawn in big and bold colourful sprites. The music to as I mentioned earlier is a delight. It feels very “circusy” and elephantlike, as if a teeny-weeny tuba player is sitting in your console. The marching band style persists with variations on the main theme all the way though the game and I never grew tired of hearing it.
Solving problems on later levels can also reap rewards when you revisit earlier ones. For example, early in the game Rolo can be killed from a touch from the baby hedgehogs that zoom around on the ground and are had to spot. Later on, he’ll find mummy Hedgehog. So if Rolo sucks the nearby (trapped) baby hedgehog up his trunk and blows him over to the mummy, she will be overjoyed. Now all the baby hedgehogs will be your bestest friend! Awwww.. You can also inflate Rolo with Helium and float him around to rescue more animals, which is deeply funny. Bosses take the form of other members of the Circus. For example the Strongman, who you can defeat by jumping on his balls until he explodes (stoppit! I’m talking about the balls from his barbells!).
Overall Rolo to the Rescue is a fantastic looking and sounding Genesis platform game. The use of a team creatures to solve problems and negotiate levels brings a higher element of tactical planning than your average side scrolling platformer of the time. However, the lack of any way to save the game or skip completed levels after the death of the main character is truly annoying and impacts considerably on the games final mark. Although it seems like a bit of fluffy fun for the younger gamer its actually a real sod-of a game in places that would tax the skill and patience of even the most hardcore platform gamer. For me the sheer charm and sense of fun the game has kept me replaying until I reached the end. But I suspect many others would give up after the twentieth restart and I can’t say I would blame them. A real shame.