Looking back, I feel as if I didn’t give the 2010 Rocket Knight reboot a fair chance. Rocket Knight Adventures is, after all, one of my favorite games on the Sega Genesis as well as the 16 bit era in general (here’s an old review from Video Games Amino that I wrote last year). Perhaps I went in expecting too much, as some tend to do when one of their favorite franchises gets a current-gen makeover. Thanks to the Xbox One’s expanding backwards compatibility list , I went ahead and gave it another go after shelving it for a few years.
Rocket Knight, like its predecessors, is an action/platformer with a few distinctive mechanics. Sparkster, the protagonist, can hop around and slice up his adversaries the same as any other character in a sidescroller. More importantly though, he’s equipped with a jetpack that doubles as both a means of attack and a way to reach areas that’d otherwise be inaccessible. A fuel gauge assures that this move can’t be exploited, so knowing when to use it over the traditional leap or sword slash becomes a vital in making progess. Sparkster’s even learned some new tricks since the 90’s, such as a sort of hover move that isn’t fuel heavy and a drill attack that allows him to chop through certain obstacles. The jetpack mechanic is just as fun to use here as it was in the original. And, since the game tallies up all the secrets you find at the end of each board (many of which demand careful use of the jetpack to locate), learning to use it skillfully is more important than ever.
Like Adventures, you’ll encounter a shoot ‘em up stage every now and then to serve as a diversion to the platforming. These were never the highlight of the game for me, but they weren’t necessarily terrible either. There’s nothing distinguishing these segments from any other 2D shooter, but they’re soundly designed and have their moments.
Rocket Knight, like a lot of reboots of its time, ditched the pixel graphics for 3D models. This means the action takes place from a 2.5D perspective. I wasn’t fond of the presentation when I first played the game several years ago. I had wished Konami had just stuck with the formula they used for the Contra and Castlevania Rebirths previously released on WiiWare. At least they get the job done…for the most part. There’s a few sequences in which it becomes a little difficult to identify what’s a platform and what isn’t. It isn’t game breaking, but it does make a few of the later levels a bit more annoying than they should have been.
There’s a few boss fights in the mix as to be expected. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere near as enjoyable as the platforming and shm’up stages. Most of them have incredibly basic patterns and lack the creativity and engagement of the numerous boss encounters of the original. Also disappointing is the fact that there’s no mech fight with Axel Gear, Sparkster’s rival, like there was in every other game in the franchise. Those were always the most enticing boss encounters the series had to offer in my opinion. I would have been all for another round of rock ‘em sock ‘em robots wedged somewhere in between some of these generic skirmishes.
I REALLY wish a fight like this would have been included in this reboot.
Gripes with game’s presentation and weak boss fights aside, I did find Rocket Knight to be an enjoyable experience. As mentioned before, the platforming and jetpack mechanic are both loads of fun. A few added wrinkles such as new moves and ice stages that lock up Sparkster’s jetpack from recharging after use help differentiate the game from its older brothers. Secret areas containing even more pickups and extra lives incentivize repeat playthroughs and exploration. While I haven’t gotten to them just yet, there’s also a Hard and “Golden Sparkster” mode to tackle (which should make the game a little less of a breeze for platform veterans or fans of the franchise). I only wish the same proficiency found in the level design was found in the boss fights, which are fortunately far and few in this case.