May 16, 2010

Lazy Sunday – Catching Up With An Old Friend

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 4:32 pm

Rocket Knight
Happy as I was at the idea of Konami bringing back their heroic opossum and former mascot, I had reservations about Rocket Knight from the word go. Most of my doubt rode on the 3D artstyle, which is quicker and cheaper than the way mom used to make games, but nothing worth doing is ever easy.

After more than a few play-throughs you still won’t change my mind about the charm of the oldschool approach, but Rocket Knight looks quite a bit better than I expected. Keep in mind that the game uses a zoomed out perspective, which offers plenty of space for details to overwhelm the eyes, with characters in the background, objects in the foreground, and Sparkster himself all fighting for attention. There were times I took damage simply from losing Sparkster for the trees.

The trade off is that you never really get a close-up connection to the characters, so smaller details that make me continue cherishing platformers of the past never really come into play here.

Rocket Knight
That perspective makes it easy as hell to move Sparkster sans frustration, and Sparkster does have a bag of tricks to offer. The biggest draw is his rocketpack, allowing players to burst upward or power charge enemies with sword drawn – short bursts that feed out of a recharging gauge. Sparkster’s best trick is bouncing off of walls, but only when hitting them at a 45 degree angle to again save on frustrations – hit the burst button without a direction in mind and Sparkster is thrown into a short spin from the blast of his rocket. He can even fire a burst forward like a bullet, but it’s rarely more useful than his sword when fighting enemies on the ground.

Despite what I’ll say about finding some fun in moving Sparkster, I almost called it quits on the game before completing my first run-through. I had to take a pretty deep breathe and come back to the game from scratch before it came together.

At first sight the game feels hard as coffin nails, and without pity in the way arcade mode sends you back to the start after running through your continues – which can happen pretty quick when rushing through the stages. Taking my sweet time on the second play-through, and appreciating that there is no time limit, there was much more to be had in using the rocket to explore the gem hiding nooks and crannies.

Rocket Knight
Don’t get me wrong, I like hard games plenty, but a lot of the difficulty in Rocket Knight stems from some cheap enemy placement – the game loves sticking enemies right where your going to land, giving them blasters that make it nearly impossible to dodge while trying to get in the two or more shots needed for the kill.

At the core of that design are stages meant to be played repeatedly, to be committed to memory as challenge modes the player is encouraged to return to Ad nauseam. And that’s fine, except that it feels like there’s a constant push and pull between designing challenging levels and fulfilling the narrative that has Sparkster defending his 2D home on foot and taking to the skies in a few armada busting flight missions.

Later stages are laid out like mazes for starter lab rats, asking for a certain level of precision that relies on mastering the rocketpack, which is again fine except that there never feels like there’s quite enough space through these missions to really find the sweeter platforming spot.

A few of the boss encounters get a good grasp on using the boost attack and creating brief but fun situations, but there’s quite a bit that feels obligatory as well.

Rocket Knight
Whenever a 2d platformer comes along, I’m always looking for that nameless element that pulled so many hours of commitment out of my childhood. It’s possible I just had more time and less choice back then, but it seems like there was always more to discover. Recent entries like Rocket Knight seem to have a lot of tokens from the past and do little to really find ways to take the best of what came before in pulling fresh hours out of me all over again – but Konami has the back catalog of titles, the history to make me want to see them figure it out with continued digital releases.

Sparkster’s moves really are enough to warrant wanting more – charging through platforms to take out enemies or flying across the screen in a flash are abilities that never get old. The elephant in the room is the price point – 1200 Microsoft Points or $19.99 on Steam is some premium pricing anyway you slice it, more so after running through the game in an afternoon. Unlocking a gold Sparkster skin doesn’t even out the bill.

Bonus Note – The game will be hitting the PlayStation Network on May 18, 2010.


  1. Yeah, the price point is what stops me from a lot of the digital only releases. I’m unwilling to pay more than $10 / 800 MS Points for any digital release. I usually have to wait until games become “deal of the week” until I buy them, which kinda stinks because a lot of these games should release for that “deal” price to begin with.

    I picked up The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces (Wii) this weekend, Lamestop had “new” copies for $9.98, it’s pretty neat so far… the tutorials are pretty lame however… I felt they could have gone over ALL of the controls at once, instead of loading 9 different 10 second tutorials.

    I also started playing The Saboteur (Xbox 360) this weekend and I’m really surprised it dropped in price so soon, (I picked it up at Amazon for $18.xx a few weeks ago) because it’s a pretty good game so far! I really like the style of the game, it goes from black & white (and red…) to splashes of color and then to nice vibrant colors in areas. So far the characters have been pretty cool, and the story is good too. I guess it must have been released at the wrong time, or without enough advertising? ::shrug::

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — May 17, 2010 @ 9:27 am

  2. I’ll be sure to try The Saboteur since the price isn’t too high at the moment.

    As for Rocket Knight, you know how I buy on PSN. Once it’s on sale, I’m there.

    Comment by EdEN — May 17, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

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