This is the most difficult review I will ever write. Don’t get me wrong—I know exactly what I feel about Rocket Knight, the long-awaited new adventure for one of the 16-bit generation’s cult heroes. It’s just that I’m struggling to express that without degenerating into torrential swearing, baseless claims about the developer’s mothers, or just EXPRESSING IMPOTENT RAGE THROUGH AN ALL-CAPS ORGY OF AAAAAAARRRRRRGGHHHH I HOPE THEY DIE I HOPE THEY ALL DIE.
See? It’s happening already.
I’ll ruin the entire review in advance now—this game is going to get a one out of ten. Not because it’s among the worst games ever made, because it isn’t. Not because of some insane personal bias towards the developer, because I don’t have any. And no, not because of blind Sparkster fanboyism, because I’m not in possession of that. Keep reading, and all will become clear.
Like its predecessors, Rocket Knight is a platform game featuring copious use of a rocket pack. However, unlike its predecessors, it is almost entirely free of surprise, intrigue, invention, humour, adrenaline or pacing. This is a game that misses the point so hard it gave me a dead arm. It takes everything good about the original series and removes it.
How am I doing so far? I know that last sentence seemed a bit over-the-top, but it’s true, I tells ya. Remember how Rocket Knight Adventures featured a breathless parade of over-the-top boss battles and insane scenarios, that sense of heart-in-your-mouth pressure and the transcendent elation that followed your conquering of demented odds?
Yeah, that wasn’t for Climax. Not their thing. They favoured entirely pedestrian walkabouts, arbitrary collectable gems that do nothing, levels that feel like they go on four times longer than they should, and rooms that lock you in and force you to kill identical enemies for two minutes.
There’s an attempt at variety with some shmup levels, in which Sparkster takes to the skies to shoot down some awesome giant mechs and take part in dynamic, thrilling dogfights with wolf and pig alike! Just kidding. You actually spend 95% of your flight time shooting floating mines. Stationary floating mines. Sometimes I just want to reach into the screen and grab little Sparkster, yank him out into the real world, lament his piss-poor homogenised redesign and then set him free, send him far away from those who ruined him, who tarnished his excellent older efforts with their grubby little fanbase-exploiting hands. And maybe, in time, help him to regain his lost innocence.
I feel as though I still haven’t adequately explained why this game deserves a 1 out of 10, despite my claims that it’s not among the worst games ever made. Before I get to that, I’ll just list a few more of its basic flaws and baffling failures. First, you can’t play hard mode from the off. That’s kind of standard for a Sparkster game, to be fair, but in this title you have unlock the hard mode for each level individually by defeating the bosses in specific ways. This means you have to refight the bosses unless you figure it out first time through, which is unlikely. For a start, the bosses aren’t fun, so fighting them more than once—actually, screw it, more than zero times—is not an appealing prospect. Second, what the heck? Why not just unlock the hard mode when the game is beaten? The secondary methods of boss dispatching are invariably tedious longeurs, aimed at padding out the game’s meagre playtime of—and I swear I am not making this up—an hour and a quarter.
Yep. That’s one hour and fifteen minutes, folks. First time through the game, normal mode, no idea what was coming. Hell, I even took the time to seek out all the gems on each level—I wasn’t even in a hurry. Now, for those not interested in collecting everything (and I’ll advise you now not to bother, you don’t receive any reward for doing so besides an extra life, which the game isn’t hard enough to require) we’re looking at a sub one hour experience.
This game costs 1200 Microsoft Points.
It lasts less than one hour.
I’m spacing these lines apart for emphasis. I’m sure you can tell.
1200 MSP. Less than 60 minutes gameplay.
You know what you can get for 1200 or less? Banjo-Kazooie. Castle Crashers. N+. All these games are full-fledged experiences and offer far more than Rocket Knight’s abortive unlockable skins. One measly hour is not worth 1200 MSP. It’s not even worth 800. It’s not even worth 400, for Christ’s sake.
Less than an hour for 1200 MSP. That’s a fucking insult.
But, that’s still not why this game gets a one out of ten.
No, Rocket Knight gets the lowest score (besides zero, which is impossible to grant to a game that functions) because of what it represents. What it means. Rocket Knight is taking a trusted “brand” (Sparkster, who has only featured in excellent quality games to date), riding on the back of prior successes and respect, then throwing it all back in the faces of gamers, fan or otherwise. It takes what is not broken and breaks it. All this game had to do to succeed was to feature the same kinetic spontaneity as the existing entries in the series. Climax can do kinetic—they developed the brilliant Contra 4, after all. However, they clearly didn’t give a shit about Rocket Knight. It is a game made by people that, seemingly, hate the series. Why else would everything that makes them worth a damn be deliberately removed? Why would a foolproof template be sabotaged for any other reason than malice? These are competent developers capable of so much more, so why settle for this?
Why should this nothing game receive a four, or a five out of ten? Why should people so clearly capable of better be rewarded for mediocrity? And that’s it. That’s the problem.
Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequel Sparkster were never mediocre. Everything they did, they did with gusto. They experimented. They went outside the box. Sure, some of their myriad styles were less successful than others, but at least they tried.
Rocket Knight doesn’t try. Rocket Knight settles for less, because it doesn’t matter. It’s a new Sparkster game! They’ll buy it, they all will. Even if it sucks.
Don’t. Don’t be like Rocket Knight. Don’t be like Climax. Do not accept this apathy, this contempt for you as a consumer and as a gamer. Vote with your wallet, and leave it well alone.
It’s not the worst game ever made, but it is among the most contemptuous. Climax have taken a beloved series and neutered it, and have done so knowingly. Do not reward them for this.