Roundabout is that one kid in high school. You know the one, tells jokes that are pretty funny to anyone in earshot. Problem is that they know their jokes are funny and that makes them cocky and obnoxious. Enough people laugh that the kid starts saying dumb things, punching down instead of up, referencing memes, trying to sell you that their Christopher Walken impersonation is the best one.
Now let’s not misunderstand one another: Roundabout is hilarious. I chuckled my way through the game, sometimes laughing aloud at the nostalgia-tinged FMV cutscenes and the game’s bizarre, parodic cuddling of ‘70s culture. You play as Georgio Manos, a silent chauffer in 1977, whose limousine is constantly revolving. The objective of Roundabout is a strange fusion of Crazy Taxi and Operation (yes, the board game): pick up your passengers and then swing yourself around town, hitting checkpoints, until you reach their destination. Your passengers are eccentric characters with great, nonsensical dialogue, like a priest who wants to skip town and an environmentalist who wants to protect a rare species of eagle (revealed via FMV to be a common redbird) to the point that she encourages you to run over hunting advocates. Sometimes the game will change things up a bit: you’ll be picking up hallucinogens or “racing” someone, but it’s all still about going from point A to Z while avoiding obstacles. These obstacles are usually lampposts, giant rocks, houses, statues, trees and oddly parked cars.
Roundabout, unfortunately, is not so much a puzzle game as it is a trial and error game. Since the limo can only take four or five hits, death is a common occurrence, and you’ll often find yourself trying to get through the same forest about ten to fifteen times before you make the right Hail Mary maneuver and graze the rim of the next checkpoint. In those moments, I felt a slight rush and sense of achievement but was deflated when I realized I had only gotten past those obstacles through sheer luck and not skill. Roundabout wants us to laugh at our fatal mistakes even though much of the time it’s not the player making the mistake but an incompatibility between the game’s central revolving mechanic and the obstacles it throws in the player’s way. I have no issues accepting when I screw up in a game and must be fairly inconvenienced for that mistake. However, Roundabout earns my ire because it’s constantly asking me to put a square peg in a round hole and then laughing at me when I can’t.
Initially this isn’t too big of a deal. The first hour and a half are funny enough that the game’s worth pushing through just for the cascade of jokes, but then the last act promptly drops most of the good gags and absurdly ramps up the difficulty. Again, perhaps it’s supposed to be hilarious that simply traveling to the other side of town to reach a mission marker is harder than the actual mission itself. Maybe it’s supposed to be funny that my limo revolves over a rock that blends into the environment, I explode, and then I’m teleported back to a checkpoint or (ugh) an auto shop far away from my destination. I can’t help but find those bits more annoying than anything else, though. In that last hour the game trades most of its goofy humor for mean-spiritedness conveyed solely through its flawed design. That’s a shame.
When the credits rolled I was relieved. The final part of Roundabout was agony, a funny game that had overstayed its welcome and told all its jokes four times over. I wanted to go read something dull and despairing to wash away the game’s stupid bright colors and its obnoxious insistence that its humor could more than make up for its fundamentally flawed game design. I read some Vonnegut, went to sleep, and then got up this morning to make some coffee and start my day. Funny thing: I kept thinking about some of Roundabout’s charming gags, particularly those involving a skeleton named Jeffery, and couldn’t help but chuckle. Slowly, bit by bit, my ill will is fading, being swallowed up by the shadow of Georgio’s spinning, leaping limousine once again on the precipice of bursting into flames.
I guess the joke’s on me after all.
Roundabout was developed and published by No Goblin. Our review is based on the PC version. It is also available for Xbox One.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.