If you like 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games but wouldn’t mind the super speed being toned down in favor of more platforming, Polyroll will offer you an engaging time.
It’s a sidescrolling platformer with the heart of Sonic the Hedgehog but substantial Mario structure. It is challenging but never too difficult and is built of varied platforming designs from different series. As a whole, it is its own unique and highly enjoyable experience.
Your character, a roly-poly or pill bug, jumps, spins, and dashes just like Sonic. There are also speed boosts and ramps that send you flying upwards through the air, long falls and high jumps, and spikes.
This isn’t a fully-fledged Sonic experience, though. You do not constantly run and, thus far, I haven’t encountered standard Sonic elements like loops. Polyroll is more contained than that. You spend most of your time carefully jumping between platforms while dodging obstacles. Think Sonic, but blunted.
There are also powerups. One draws a spike circle around you that makes you invincible to spikes, another places magnets around you that attract gems to you, one has feathers that allow you to fly, and another lets you to drop bombs below you. Like the hats you could don in the original Wario Land, these count as an extra hit point if you have one on. You can keep a powerup from one stage to the next, retaining it until you die. Acquiring and using them will help move the experience from super difficult to very doable, so keep an eye out for them and don’t lose them.
As you play you’ll travel through worlds like “Widget Island” or “Marble Palace.” You’ll navigate to each level from an overworld, like in Super Mario World. New worlds are blocked by gates that require a certain number of special gems to unlock. There are 3 of these in each level, hidden in secret or hard-to-reach areas. Think the large coins in New Super Mario Bros. You can unlock multiple gates at a time and thus be able to bounce back and forth between multiple stages at a time, not getting stuck on one very difficult one.
Within each stage, as you run, jump, and bounce around, you’ll also collect smaller gem pieces. These aren’t quite like the rings in Sonic: once you pick up a certain number of them, you’ll receive another hit point, represented as a heart. At the start of the game, you have three hearts. More can be earned by completing “Heart Palace” stages. The one I did was a very difficult timed-run through a stage, but the reward is more than worth it. You’ll be glad to have as many hearts as you can get, especially when you encounter some of the boss battles. You’ll go down quickly, and even though you can respawn at the start of the boss, you’ll only have one heart.
There are frustrating moments in boss battles, but overall the difficulty is at just the right notch. Polyroll’s hard, but you never feel like the game is cheating you or being merciless.
One movement element that adds to the difficulty is wall-jumping. Imagine wall-jumping at Sonic-like speeds, including straight off of a charged dash forward. Yes: high-speed wall-jumping is fairly difficult. However, like with a lot in Polyroll, it isn’t insanely hard. I’ve gotten the hang of it such that I’ve wall-jumped too well, and once sped upwards right into a giant spiked ball.
There is one part I have not been able to figure out yet: the bonus game at the end of each level. You charge up a dash at the start of it, then let it go: next, you land on one of a series of item blocks. No matter what I do, I land at either the start of it or at the very end, missing all the bonus blocks. I can’t figure out how exactly to control the little guy’s direction, meaning whatever goodies you can get at the end of each level continue to elude me.
Bonus game quibbles aside, I have had a lot of fun with Polyroll and intend to play more. It’s a platformer made from elements of the best – Mario and Sonic – and contains a well-balanced difficulty so that, while challenging, it is not an infuriating retro platformer.
TechRaptor covered Polyroll on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher.