rollaway1.jpg['Bastards of 32-Bit' is a weekly column by Danny Cowan that focuses on overlooked, underrated, and inexplicable titles from the era of the PlayStation, Saturn, and Nintendo 64. This week's column covers Roll Away for the Sony PlayStation, published by Psygnosis and released in the United States in November 1998.]

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin'

Looking up information on obscure titles can be a chore sometimes. When entered into a search engine, a name like Roll Away, for example, will yield tons of pages promising "1000'S OF CHEAT CODES!!", few of which apply to the game in question. This is only slightly less helpful than the search results that tout themselves as being "the ultimate Roll Away resource," but offer only a single paragraph review of the game, at most.

In this case, it's not until you search for the game's European title, "Kula World", that you begin to get some useful results. Though the game flopped in the United States, it became somewhat of an underground hit in Europe, where the title was lauded for its 3D take on the single-screen puzzle genre of yesteryear.

rollaway2.jpgCall it "quirky" and I'll punch you.

Roll Away was developed by a Sweden-based design team of roughly a half-dozen people, and the game's premise was the result of an idea one of the graphics designers had during a dream. In the game, players must guide a gravity-defying beach ball through a rotating, 3D labyrinth in order to collect items needed to exit each level.

The game closely follows the example set by classic "find the key/find the exit" puzzlers like Solomon's Key and The Adventures of Lolo, and the constant shifts in perspective give Roll Away its own unique brand of challenge.

The beach ball will cling to any solid surface, so much of the game will be spent rolling along walls and ceilings. Trying not to become disoriented is where most of the challenge comes from, though there are a number of obstacles in each level that can get in the way or deflate your beach ball, forcing you to start over. Roll Away becomes difficult quickly, and later levels require both twitch reflexes and the complete mastery of your beach ball's limited abilities.

Collect enough fruit and you'll get to the blood and pea soup bonus round.The Internet has good things on it, too.

As addictive and fun as the game may be, however, it's no mystery as to why Roll Away never achieved the popularity it deserved. The title received little in the way of magazine coverage, and advertising was practically nonexistent.

Even the back of Roll Away's jewel case seems clueless at how to make the experience sound appealing; the gameplay summary includes the phrase "the world's coolest beach ball," and "Pick up coins, gems and fruit," is actually listed as a bullet point.

Following the release of Roll Away, developer Game Design Sweden AB soon changed its name to PlayCom, and has made a name for itself in its achievements in Shockwave-based gaming. Roll Away itself, in fact, has been successfully cloned in the fan-made Shockwave game Frenzirynth.

Though consoles rarely see the release of puzzlers like Roll Away in today's market, the genre has found new life on the Internet and mobile platforms. Perhaps these are the new gaming frontiers to watch, for those who remain fans of the "fruit-collecting beach ball" brand of puzzle game.

[Danny Cowan is a freelance writer hailing from Austin, Texas. He has contributed feature articles to Lost Levels Online and 1up.com, and his writing appears monthly in Hardcore Gamer Magazine.]