Rocket Knight acts as a sequel to the Mega-Drive game, taking place 15 years later. While the visuals have moved with the times, the core gameplay respects the classic side-scrolling 2D platformer model.
This is a game that wouldn’t work in a 3D environment because of the precise ‘Rocket Bursts’. The hero, Sparkster, uses a jetpack to blast across the screen horizontally, vertically and diagonally. Hit a wall diagonally and you’ll bounce off at the opposite angle to climb narrow passages. It’s a brilliant system that would have become woefully inaccurate in a 3D environment.
Fans of the original game on the Mega-Drive may lament the loss of the boomerang-like weapon but the rest of the action is fairly faithful to the original. Combat feels much more up close and personal this time with players encouraged to zoom in head-first and just get stuck in. It’s a good change. Rocket Bursts or the slower but stronger Burst Drill can be used as attacks or Sparkster can use his sword while standing, running or jumping. There’s a burst shot too which acts as a very weak shotgun-like weapon which you probably won’t use much in all honesty.
Pressing Circle (Rocket Burst) without a direction will spin Sparkster around in a haze called the Burst Vortex. This will allow him to dodge bullets and missiles, or if you time it right, deflect dynamite and bombs to fire them back at enemies. You can deflect with individual sword swipes too if you want to look that little bit cooler.
Some levels are flying-based with the traditional auto-scrolling format. Sparkster can fire individual shots or hold down fire for a more powerful and longer-lasting beam shot. The flying controls are smooth and responsive, but the levels themselves just aren’t as much fun as the main platforming body of the game. That’s more of a testament to the platforming than an actual criticism of the flying.
The levels are colourfully designed and feature the classic platformer staples of forests, Feudal Japan-era villages, giant wooden mills, industrial factories packed with lasers and ice caves. They’re all packed with sliding rails and platforming sections. One level forces you to get a little tactical as it’s so cold it freezes up your jetpack over time, meaning you have to find fires to recharge it. You can have great fun plodding through stages collecting items and killing everything, but they can be tackled at a furious pace if you want the bonus for beating the level’s ‘par time.’
Enemies are mostly made up of wolves with swords and guns. Further into the game they’ll get more creative with dynamite and shurikens. There’s a point-multiplier system, but it’s very hard to please on the normal difficulty setting as enemies can sometimes be sparsely placed. Play through the game again on hard and you’ll notice a considerably change in the enemy AI as they’ll attempt to dodge your bursts and attack differently. There are a lot more of them to get through as well. It feels like an actual incentive to play through the game again as it’s a different experience to the usual higher difficulties such as those found in FPSs where the only difference is that you have less health. You even have to defeat bosses a certain way in Hard Mode to unlock later stages.
There are further difficulties to unlock and you can do speedruns through individual levels. There are collectable jewels in the levels but there isn’t really any incentive to get them all apart from an extra life at the end of the stage. When replaying a level it doesn’t tell you how many you need to get or anything. Even during the level there’s no need/have indicator, you just have to wait for the tally at the end of it. The Trophies don’t seem too bothered about encouraging you to do anything extra either. Even so, it’s hard not to feel disappointed with yourself if you miss any items in a stage.
The game is pretty short, on the normal setting I managed to get through its 14 levels in just over two hours and that was with quite a lot of extra searching for items. So the £9.99 price-tag might seem a little off-putting. Saying that, as soon as I finished it, I started a new game, eager to batter the other difficulties.
- Gameplay is instantly accessible and fun
- Different modes and the AI add replayability
- Stays true to the first game while adding improvements
- A bit short for £9.99
- Trophy support is the definition of half-assed
- That’s it really. Go buy it you stingy git.
The Short Version: An incredibly fun game, that makes up for its short(ish) nature with instant replayability. This is an essential purchase for fans of traditional platforming and fun games in general.