I have been around long enough to see “-killer” apps and carbon copies come and go in a really troublesome way. Maybe this bugs you, too. Who here remembers when Aion was supposed to put World of Warcraft in the ground? How about when Haze and Killzone were slated to be the death knells of the Halo franchise? How about when Gex and Bubsy tried to overshadow the cultural influence of Sonic the Hedgehog? Tell me: how did that work out for them? Is there enough space on the market for games to inspire one another without the drama?
While each of these titles has a place in the history of gaming, one thing is clear: these titles were inspired by another game to take a winning formula, get risky, and try something new or to push some envelopes. While today’s review does not claim to be a killer or replacement, its adherence to the source material has us rather conflicted over what to really think of it. This is our review of Polyroll for Nintendo Switch.
In case you have not heard of it, Polyroll is a 2D platformer that was released on iOS in 2012. Since there was a void left by the Sonic franchise during this time, the development team sought to introduce the formula to a new generation. What is that formula?
Take a critter, give them a teenage attitude and a posse of friend that gets kidnapped for a nefarious do-badder with the title of some repute. Send that critter on a crazy quest through psychedelic color scapes filled with robotic enemies to impede their process, but make sure there is something shiny (gems, coins, etc.) to collect along the way. Throw in some thematic bosses, plenty of moving platforms, launchpads, as well as some swear-inducing extra level that give a perk or two and you almost have the foolproof video game format.
While my assessment of the Sonic formula is heavily laden with sarcasm, it is rather true to form. In Polyroll, instead of playing as a blue hedgehog, you play as a bug – a pill bug (or roly-poly) to be exact… hence, the name. This difference can also be felt in the way that the character Polyroll interacts within the space. While still having a spin dash, with his exoskeletal shell, Polyroll can bounce off the walls!
You still jump on or roll into enemies to kill them and there are shields that you can collect along the way that assist you in your journey. Bomb shields let you drop bombs on enemies and destroy otherwise indestructible boxes, spike shields allow you to walk on spikes, magnet shields attract gems, and feather shields make you float.
If you get hit by an enemy, you will love your shield. If you do not currently have a shield if this misfortune occurs, instead of losing coins (or gems in this case), you lose a heart. You can, however, regain hearts by collecting ten gems. While you begin the Polyroll with three hearts, you can unlock more along the way, so long as you have collected enough of bigger gems to unlock the special (and aforementioned swear-inducing) levels.
This is where Polyroll starts to divert in a really good way from the Sonic franchise. Outside of the opportunity to grow strong through your progression, there is an overworld that you can return to at any time, allowing you to return to a previous level. This comes in handy because some levels require you to be equipped with one of Polyroll’s special shields to access a specific area… mostly to acquire one of the big gems.
Boss fights are quite unique in Polyroll as well. Gone are the “find the hitbox” on a Dr. Robotnik contraption and in their place, encounters that are thematically connected to the levels. One encounter has you damage a series of boss parts while another requires you to play a game of avoid-the-morning-star-of-doom to juggle a ghost into the light. Each encounter Kaiser Kiwi throws at you has a learning curve that can be challenging to figure out. Polyroll does go ease on players in this regard: boss rooms serve as checkpoints, so if you die (and you likely will), you will start at the beginning of the encounter.
While Polyroll is a mobile port, it does seem to struggle a bit on the Switch in docked mode with performance that is a bit sluggish. However, in handheld mode, it excels as a classic platformer on the go!
There is an old Hebrew saying that, when translated into modern English, say this: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Polyroll threads a very fine line between drawing influence from an intellectual property and being a carbon copy. There are moments where it feels like more of the same. The overall design and gameplay mechanics are very grounded in the Sonic formula. While there are moments where it feels uninspired, the development team took some risk to make it their own love letter the source material.
COMPARE TO: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bubsy
Note: A Switch code was provided for the purpose of review.