No Goblin’s unique open-world puzzle-driving game has plenty of quirky charm and unique gameplay that make it a compelling proposition, but technical deficiencies and repetitive ideas keep it from greatness.
World-building & Story
Georgio Manos is a limousine driver trying to make a name for herself in the city of Roundabout, except she’s a little different – rather than moving in a straight line, she only knows how to drive her vehicle by constantly spinning it. After acing her licence exam, she sets about travelling from location to location, picking up fares and becoming increasingly involved in a series of surreal events that will change her life forever.
Without a doubt, Roundabout is one of the silliest – but also funniest – games I’ve played on the Vita. The events Georgio gets herself entangled in range from chasing an eagle and subsequently massacring a group of poachers (not quite as dark as it sounds) to taking a drug and hallucinating a skeleton who then guides her round an obstacle course. Everything about this world is larger than life and every character you interact with is some ridiculous stereotype (from an unintelligible Swedish tourist to a businessman who cares about nothing more than status).
In fact, there’s a huge air of surrealism to the whole thing – you might take a young man on a date with a woman only to meet up with them later where they get married in your limo; ask for a lift to the airport for their honeymoon and pop out a baby (doll) on the way there. Some of my favourite moments involved bizarre cut-aways, like a baseball coach exclaiming that his students don’t seem to be playing the right sport (cue a short video of children playing cricket) or the park ranger pointing out the rare eagle you’re chasing, which is actually just a sparrow. I’m unashamed to say that I burst out laughing on both these occasions.
Roundabout is helped by its actors, who all seem in on the joke and display varying levels of commitment to the cause (one really hams it up which I enjoyed, another looks constantly lost and wondering what she’s doing there). The title is clearly inspired by 70’s and 80’s TV shows as demonstrated by its grainy intro that could be right out of that era and this design isn’t something you see often in videogames, so it’s something I really appreciated here – even if it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
Unfortunately, characterisation is where the game sets its first foot wrong. See, Georgio is a mute protagonist which works in the game for comedic effect – she never does much more than sigh or stare at people who interpret her thoughts, but it makes her a somewhat limited character who never reaches her potential. The side cast are somewhat more interesting, ranging from a mechanic named Mickey who helps you out to a love interest named Beth whose upbeat personality is a treat, but for a game that focuses on FMV cutscenes throughout I’d hoped for more than Roundabout has to offer.
The central plot sees Georgio encounter a rival rotating limo driver named Ronaldo and have a face-off with him that ends in disaster, only to come back and try to redeem herself at the end – which is completely bonkers in the way it’s told, but is engaging enough to make it worthwhile seeing through to the end. Ultimately, that makes the game a triumph – it’s not a story that’ll blow your socks off, but it’s unique and interesting.
Presentation & Sound
Between its campy live-action cutscenes and colourful palette, Roundabout is often a visual treat – although this Vita port suffers from some terrible optimisation that really drags things down.
So let me start with the obvious – the story is told through FMV which is almost straight out of the 90’s camp of ridiculous, cheesy nonsense, but there’s an undeniable charm to it all. The quality is superb – everything looks crisp and bright and the characters are all dressed in ridiculous outfits that make them memorable (particularly Georgio herself). There’s also some comedic scenes showing various things happening in the game (car crashes, baseball games etc.) and these are fleeting but again well-edited, always making sure to hammer home the humour.
Unfortunately, in-game graphics don’t hold up as well. The basics are all there – the city is viewed from an isometric perspective and it’s a fairly well-designed place place, full of other cars, pedestrians, buildings and collectables which help give it a feeling of life. The problem comes down to the minute details – the game stutters regularly when you’re doing things like driving through a garage, groundwork textures are abysmal (looking stretched and lacking any detail) and certain walls can be driven straight through which give the whole thing a somewhat unfinished feel.
Menus are also a little busy and difficult to get to grips with and there can be long loads between sections of the city – but overall, it’s not a disaster, just lacking polish. At least the voice acting here is all solid (including the yelps of citizens as you drive like an idiot past them) although there’s nothing particularly memorable or exciting on the soundtrack.
Gameplay & Content
Mixing puzzle gameplay with an open world to explore, Roundabout is a unique hybrid that’s full of good ideas – unfortunately not all of them are executed perfectly, but it’s a solid effort all the same.
So it would be worthwhile me explaining the basic gameplay first – as the driver of a constantly rotating limousine, you’ll have to carefully weave your vehicle around obstacles not dissimilar to the cult classic Gameboy Advance title Kuru Kuru Kururin. This is a case of timing your movement so the limo slides around the edges of things like roundabouts, other cars, sharp corners and even aeroplanes – failure to do so will damage your car and after four hits you’ll be forced to respawn at the last checkpoint (which are thankfully quite plentiful).
It’s far more challenging than it sounds and you’ll regularly die to ill-timed movement, obstacles you didn’t expect or just plain clumsiness. You have some extra tools at your disposal, including a handy slow-down-time feature that’s invaluable early on, but mostly you’ll just have to learn how to get used to the mechanics as well as you possibly can. That is, until you unlock the ‘jump’ maneuver (it makes sense in this crazy game world) which makes things quite easy in the final stretch, which is a little disappointing.
Surprisingly, rather than taking place in a series of linear levels, Roundabout offers a fully open world (well, three of them in fact) that you can explore at your leisure, picking up jobs from the citizens that inhabit them. These range from gathering collectables, reaching a certain point or escaping a pursuing police car to more abstract things like chopping down crops by driving over them or mowing down civilians for a skeleton (who you visualise on a drug-induced rampage) – they do manage to stay varied, but repetition sets in a little towards the final few chapters.
Thankfully there’s plenty to do beyond picking up missions – the open world is full of things to see and collect. You can pull off jumping tricks to gather ‘sick jump’ tokens, collect cash bounties or grab new horns which you can play with circle while driving – they’re all well hidden and worth tracking down. There’s also a real estate sub-game going on where you can use your cash to buy properties which in turn generate money for you which you collect from them – a virtual ecosystem, which is used to buy aesthetic changes for your limo among other things. It’s far more in-depth than I was expecting and an impressive addition to the title.
Unfortunately, once you’ve explored the first city, the second and third places you’ll visit feel rather same-y (even if they are aesthetically different – the first area is a suburb, the second is a thriving city and the third is a snowy mountain town) in that you’ll still just be driving around, picking up jobs and collecting items. The base gameplay doesn’t quite seem varied enough to be worthwhile – the most fun I had was just going completely off the beaten track and finding some bizarre hidden areas that were rewarding to get to, but the un-intuitive movement mechanics directly contradict this.
Aside from this, Roundabout at times feels quite glitchy and almost unfinished – you’ll clip through walls, cars will spawn and de-spawn at random, you’ll drive past the splatter of blood (usually achieved from hitting civilians) with no-one on screen etc. None of this is game-breaking – I’ve played buggy titles before and still enjoyed them – but it’s a shame when stacked up next to the rest of the game that feels like some brilliant ideas which just needed a little more time and effort to make them fully come together.
In terms of content, the main story will take 3-4 hours to complete if you blast through it just picking up the main missions, but if you’re looking to complete everything here (i.e. find every collectable) then it’ll take considerably longer and there will be a massive challenge along the way – so it’s a good title for completionists. And let me stress that I did have fun with Roundabout – it’s a good game that has had a lot of heart put into it, just a little more time in the oven would have made it into a true classic.
The creators of Roundabout clearly had a glorious time making it (between the ridiculous live-action cutscenes and the campy 70’s-inspired tone) and there’s some solid gameplay ideas here that riff on everything from Crazy Taxi to Kuru Kuru Kururin all wrapped up in an impressive open-world, but it doesn’t quite gel perfectly as a whole – still, it’s one of the most unique title’s on Vita that’s worth a look if you’re after something a bit different.