Developer: Climax Studios / Publisher: Konami / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Cartoon Violence) / Played on: PC / Price: $14.99
Pop quiz! Which rodent from the Sega Genesis can move at high speeds while trying to save woodland creatures from certain doom and has a brand new game for the current generation? Score zero points if you answered Sonic the Hedgehog, but 11 out of 10 if you remembered Sparkster, the rocket-powered opossum from the classic Rocket Knight Adventures on the 16-bit system. The jetpack blasting and gem collecting return in Rocket Knight, a 2.5D platformer/adventure hybrid for the PC. The variety of levels and familiar feel for veterans make the game fresh, but the high price point and short story mode reign in the praise for this fun retread
Rocket Knight has a 2.5D style similar to Super Street Fighter IV in which the characters, enemies, and backgrounds are all rendered in full 3D, but the game still runs on a 2D plane. It works out well, creating a very vibrant world that’s as fun to look at as it is to play in. The backgrounds in each stage have moving parts and animations–like dueling wolves and opossums–and even enemies moving in from the background to your plane of play. Some of the environments in each level actually have an effect on the game, such as the second world: The ice-covered landscape and cold temperatures cause havoc with refueling your jetpack until you stand next to a burning brazier to heat it back up. The character models themselves shine with a bright hue and Sparkster sports the same blue armor seen in his older games. The blasts emitted from Sparkster’s jetpack, with flames and smoke shooting from it after each use, are packed with detail.Rocket Knight doesn’t blind you with the graphics you’d see in a major AAA release, but as a downloadable game it surpasses most peers.
It’s all about the action in Rocket Knight and there is plenty to go around. For the most part the game is standard action adventure fare: you complete each level with a limited number of lives and health, reaching checkpoints until you take on a boss encounter at the end of each section. It’s in the execution of this format that Rocket Knight stands out. You come equipped with a sword to take care of enemies at close range and you can blast enemies from afar with your jetpack in some later levels. As the title suggests, the biggest gameplay punch comes from your jetpack. Sparkster uses it to propel himself in all directions, even breaking or bouncing off walls to reach new areas, and taking out enemies in the process. The jetpack is your most vital tool and needs constant recharging. You need to explore to collect gems and health, but it’s not required to complete each level. Some levels function as side-scrolling shooters where you have unlimited jet fuel and fly through the sky taking out enemies while advancing to your objective. They are a fun change of pace and add variety that keeps the action from getting stale. The end level boss fights are special in their own right, showcasing huge enemies that require precise control if you’re going to progress. From mechanized wood cutting machines to another jetpack wearing opossum, the boss fights are very engaging and fun.
A Free Play mode lets you can tackle each level one at a time and a harder difficulty opens up after beating each stage, but that’s the extent of the options. Some extra skins and Achievements might keep the most hardcore players around a bit longer, but you can expect to get a solid six or so hours out of Rocket Knight.
The controls take effort to master, and with no way to change them or map them to a controller, that can prove frustrating. It’s not that the game is unresponsive but it’s sometimes hard to hit each button in succession. I chose to use the arrow keys to move, and used the Z, X, C, and space keys to perform my actions and found it hard to be effective at first. There is support for USB gamepads that certainly help with the confusion of controls but some getting used to is still required.. Regardless, a small learning curve on the controls might make some people turn away from the start.
Many sound effects are repeated throughout the game, which is plain boring. The same buzzing and crackling emanates from your jetpack each time you use it, and it gets old fast. Background music plays in each stage and is different for each world or boss, which does help create a more dynamic atmosphere. Some of the songs are an homage to the older games in the series, but don’t enhance the game. Overall the sound is perfectly functional and similarly forgettable.
If you can get past the low-rent shortfalls, like the lackluster sound and control, then Rocket Knight is a decent but short game. The action sequences, various styles of gameplay, and boss battles make Rocket Knight a weekend diversion. At $15 it may steer some people away, but those willing to commit will get an average yet fun game out of Rocket Knight.