“Roundabout” Is Straight-Up Arcade Fun

Roundabout is the game that Grand Theft Auto wishes it could be. Bear with me here: whereas the early GTA games were chaotic, top-down thrill-rides (and I’ll never forget my amazing flying tank from Grand Theft Auto III), at some point, Rockstar Games became beholden to gangster films and real-world stories (most notably in the solemn moments of Grand Theft Auto IV), and even when outright parodying the gaudy lights of Miami, there was always a film of reality there to pull the game back from its inner Michael Bay.

Not so with Roundabout. Giving in entirely to the camp of the intentionally awful green-screen cut-scenes, the game focuses on Georgio Manos, the silent driver of the world’s first revolving limousine service. (And her name has to be pun on the unintentionally awful C-movie, Manos: The Hands of Fate.) The perpetually spinning limo isn’t the weirdest thing in the game, however–not by far. In her quest to earn the love of the excitable Beth, Georgio begins taking instructions from a skeleton and a mechanic who fights cop cars with special “gloves” he built out of duct tape and batteries, slaughters an entire triathlon while hallucinating, and–at some point–becomes a recluse and grows a thick beard. Occasionally, the military drops flaming cars from the heavens to block Georgio’s path, although this isn’t much of a problem considering that her car gains several powers, from simple jumps and boosts to the ability to shrink through tight spaces, change the direction of her spin, slow down time, and drive over water. 

The reason why Roundabout works, however, is because the absurdity never subsumes the gameplay–a property it shares in common with Cook, Serve, Delicious. And while Roundabout indulges in far more vehicular manslaughter than Grand Theft Auto–combos can be extended by hitting people; you’re only penalized for hitting walls–it isn’t taken to task for its gore, because the entire thing is so exaggeratedly comic that we know we’re not meant to even remotely take this seriously. Each “ride” is a comic vignette with a beginning, middle, and end, but taken to extremes: in one installment, Georgio picks up the Dating Couple, which gets married en-route to the airport (for their honeymoon). As Georgio drops them off, she also delivers baby–surprise!–and the couple happily accepts the squalling plastic dummy. Compared to a game as reckless as this, Crazy Taxi is just spinning its wheels.

Another admirable aspect of Roundabout is its difficulty. The game is riddled with generous checkpoints to ensure that even the sloppiest of spinning drivers can reach the story’s finish line. But each mission also comes with a set of increasingly challenging objectives, from speedruns to full combos, and the open world between missions is filled with hidden objects–cash dumps, purchasable properties, and various horns. There’s not only a respectful homage to Desert Bus (obviously titled Desert Limo), but there’s an eSports speedrun that chains every mission together. Roundabout may be consistently silly in tone, but also tirelessly serious in design, and it’s the latter than enables the former. To the developers at No Goblin: more games like this, please!

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