When faced with a menace of ghouls, goblins and other creeps, there is only one thing to do. Yes, we need to bomb them. Johnny K and his team return with another chapter in their "kill the evil smileys" series, Roly-Poly Monsters. Armed with a Halloween theme and the best graphics the series has seen yet (note that it is slightly grotesque with animated blood splatters and grisly monsters), this might be the most polished and yet most controversial entry to Roly-Poly-dom.
Not to be confused with Nitrome's Roly Poly, where you rotate a level to help a critter through a maze, this Roly-Poly is all about destruction. In the original game you shot cannonballs at little smiley-inspired monsters, timing the explosions and trying to use the most conservative number of bombs to do the job. The sequel followed the same idea but included good guys that cost you a penalty in points if you hit them. Then Roly-Poly Eliminator changed the game plan: instead of shooting bombs, you had to remove blocks from the level in the right sequence and timing in order to kill all the round smileys.
In a way Roly-Poly Monsters is a mixture of everything that came before it. Ghouls and worse are roaming the neighborhood, and you have to destroy them. The bombs are back, but instead of using a cannon you drop them from the top. This combines the subtle timing mechanics of both Eliminator and Cannon: bombs have to be dropped in the right sequence and at the right pace, because you have a limited supply. At the start this is fairly simple, but soon you have to suss out the nuances of a level, knowing exactly when to drop a bomb for the perfect killing spree. With the right chain reaction, those monsters quickly return to the bloody pulp of myths.
Analysis: Roly-Poly Monsters is remarkably different from the series, not only with its gameplay style but also in how it looks and sounds. The music is very catchy, despite the same cheery track constantly looping. The little characters are far more animated than previously seen, reacting to bombs near them in unique ways. Sometimes they just do stuff while loitering, such as the vampire who changes to a little round bat from time to time. It is also considerably more macabre, thanks to cartoon graphics showing people hanging from trees, not to mention the Rolys that explode with a splatter of blood. The game is not outright gory, but it has its moments. Visually it is a huge leap from the previous games, but that new look and feel comes at a price...
The ante is raised every level. The most common method is to use props like chains holding bombs or monsters, rolling stones that can shunt characters, moving platforms that require timing for hit-or-miss moments and more. Timing is another such trick — some levels let you drop bombs at your leisure, only worrying about the timer reducing your score, while other levels require you to release them at a specific pace. It might be to time the drop of a monster or bomb, or it could be to catch a platform at a specific moment. RPM's levels tend to vary a lot, though the overall complexity never really takes a leap up. That said, it is not frustrating and quite engaging.
It's not clear if the physics engine was upgraded between Roly-Poly Monsters and previous games, but there are some lag issues on lower-end machines. Turning off the sound helps smooth things out, but RPM is definitely demanding in its fidelity, causing a marked slow-down if you are low on system resources (or simply have an inadequate rig). Given how accurate the game wants you to be in both speed and drop precision, this can become a frustrating issue. A clear browser with few additional windows open gave no real issues, but you probably won't sneak this one into a power-surfing session.
Another problem lies in the level design. You get point bonuses for every bomb you do not use, but often a level has a very specific sequence that ensures success. The margin for error is very small and sometimes the physics engine works against you. Characters simply might not roll in the right direction. Obstacles might not slump correctly. In one case the perfect sequence went asunder as two colliding characters managed to roll out of a bomb's blast radius, forcing a level reset, yet the next time using the same sequence the level cleared perfectly. This might be due to the lag or it's just a small random charm in the design. But know that sometimes things just won't go the way you want. No level is so spiteful that you couldn't move on, but in some cases luck seems to have a lot to do with getting a good score.
Still, Roly-Poly Monsters deserves a lot of patience for two reasons: it looks good and it is a clear evolution in the series. Johnny K and his team could just have made a prettier version of Ragdoll Cannon or Eliminator, but instead they mixed the two up and added what counts as far more than just a coat of paint. There are some optimization issues and the next upgrade ought to be a serious revamp of the physics code, but if your browser doesn't get the stutters and you have the patience for trial-and-error, give it a try.