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Rocket Knight (XBLA, PSN, Steam)
Game Reviews

Rocket Knight (XBLA, PSN, Steam)

A great update to a 16-bit classic, with fantastic visuals and a fun mix of classic platforming and side-scrolling shooter action.

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Konami has been on a sort of resurrection kick as of late, as they’ve updated many of their most beloved franchises from the days of 8-bit glory with ReBirths on the Nintendo Wii console.  But while titles like Contra or Castlevania may hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many, few of their 16-bit titles have received similar treatment, and its somewhat appropriate that an upgrade is hardware was needed to bring one of their best from the era to a new audience.  Rocket Knight for the Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam downloadable services is that game, upgrading the original Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster series from the heyday of the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo for a few generation of platform fans to enjoy for themselves.  The only question is whether they’ll want to pay the price of addmission.

Some might consider the original Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster series a relic from a time gone by, when animal mascots ruled the day, but I disagree.  Mascot or not, there was something unique and intrinsically wild about the idea of a suited marsupial armed to the teeth with jetpack technology and sword, ready to take on a pack of anthropomorphized wolves to help protect his kingdom from certain doom.  Handled expertly by developer Climax (the team behind last year’s Silent Hill: Shattered Memories), the gameplay is broken into two separate parts, traditional side-scrolling platforming and shooting, and each will require their own unique styles if you plan on making it through to the end.

The platforming levels make up the bulk of the game, as they have our armored marsupial armed with his trusty sword and small array of moves to help attack and defend himself.  He’s also got a jetpack attached to your suit and and nothing is withheld.  The jetpack can be used to attack enemies by bursting towards them directly or by strategically ricocheting off walls and platforms.  Sparkster’s jetback will also consume fuel, which will slowly replenish itself over time.  The latter is really where much of the fun of the platforming moments comes from, and it will take some serious skill and some knowledge to really maximize the pack itself; thankfully a line of jewels that you pick up will give you a hand just the same.

The shooting levels take to the skies, where the backpack is now (curiously) free from having to recharge and allows full 2D movement.  While nowhere as difficult as a typical Treasure or Cave shooter, these levels are more in line with Konami’s own radius series, as Sparkster’s sword attack now burst shots, and a boost button allows for quicker movements to help evade incoming enemies.  It’s a shame these levels aren’t more frequent or more challenging, although the gigantic boss battles almost make up for their lack of difficulty – almost.

One of the most notable features in Konami’s recent remake kick has been their attention to detail to graphical detail, and this game is certainly no exception.  While the ReBirth series on the Wii have all featured new sprites and other hand-drawn artwork, Rocket Knight is more in tune with what you’d expect from HD consoles like the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC platforms.  Fully 3D characters and backdrops all look fantastic when running at a constant frame-rate, and little touches like Sparkster’s facial movements are a nice touch.  Colors simply pop in the game, and it was simply wonderful to see small touches (like icicles on his health bar during snowy stages) sprinkled everywhere.  Stuff like this help make the game fun to look at.

Rocket Knight is the type of game that encourages multiple plays to find everything that’s strewn across the levels, which is great as the actual adventure isn’t all that long.  Spotting all the hidden stuff isn’t that difficult; it’s actually snatching them up that’s the trick.  Those who love total completion in their games should have fun figuring out the right strategy to collect absolutely everything they possibly can.

While the actual game may be pretty good, what’s probably going to stop most people from experiencing it for themselves is the higher price, which at the time of this review translates to a whopping $15.  It’s not that downloadable games shouldn’t be priced so high, but honestly the adventure isn’t very long and there isn’t much to the experience once the game has been finished.  There’s no multiplayer or unlockables once beaten, other than a new difficulty levels, character skins, and some online leaderboards to help boast your accomplishments.  There needs to be more here to help justify the price, and there just isn’t.

Great visuals and fast, frantic gameplay help make Rocket Knight a solid upgrade to a true cult-classic from the days of 16-bit mascots, and one that easily holds its own against the original games.  A nice mix of fun side-scrolling platform and shooting levels keep things interesting throughout, and expanding the jetpack gameplay to the extreme helps make this an experience worth taking again and again.  But there’s no looking past its higher price-tag, which given how short the actual game is, as well as its lack of any real unlockable or bonus features.  While it’s definitely recommended for those looking for a truly updated classic, although it may be best to wait until the cost matches the experience.

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About the Author: Drew Misemer