Game Music, Reviews

Blasting Forth Again: Sparkster Returns in Rocket Knight (Review)

June 6, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Blasting Forth Again: Sparkster Returns in Rocket Knight (Review)on Twitter

I have really fond memories of Rocket Knight Adventures on the Sega Genesis. While I never owned the game, I had a friend growing up who had a massive collection of SNES and Sega Genesis games, and I always found myself playing Rocket Knight Adventures when I visited his house. Interestingly enough, I don’t really remember many of the details about the game other than it being a solid platformer with a fun jetpack gameplay mechanic, but hey, what better way to refamiliarize myself with the Sparkster universe than with Konami’s latest retro revival title, Rocket Knight?

Rocket Knight was recently released on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, and is intended to appeal to the nostalgia that older gamers may have for the past titles. What you have here is a pretty standard 16-bit platformer without a whole lot of bells and whistles, but I went into this title expecting just as much. With updated graphics and a soundtrack provided by Pit Stop Productions, is Rocket Knight worth your attention?

Find out in our review after the jump.

As I mentioned, the main hook with Rocket Knight is the jetpack gameplay mechanic. You basically control our opossum hero, Sparkster, jumping and rocketing through the game’s expansive levels and slashing your way through the evil army of wolves who have invaded Sparkster’s homeland. While you can perform a variety of attacks with your trusty blade, I found the rocket-propelled thrust to be particularly satisfying. As you make your way through each stage, you can blast your way in pretty much any direction, picking up gems and various other items along to way and doing battle with a boss at the end of each stage. While this formula could potentially get boring really fast, in part thanks to the rather uninspired level designs found throughout the first half of the game, there are side-scrolling shooter-like stages that are interspersed to break up the monotony. Once you complete a stage, your gems and items are tallied up, giving you a final grade that can unlock harder versions of each stage as you progress, and there’s also a global scoreboard to see how your platforming skills compare with others around the globe.

Unfortunately, that’s basically all there is to Rocket Knight. There are a few twists thrown in, including an ice level where your jetpack freezes, requiring you to find a heat source to thaw it out before using it again. While the earlier stages are a bit straightforward, requiring you to simply run, slash, and rocket your way from point A to point B, the later levels work in some really clever puzzles using the jetpack that were a lot of fun, and the bosses (especially the final boss and the showdown with Sparkster’s rival, Axel Gear) are occasionally challenging and fun to take down. There’s also an awesome Metroid-esque escape sequence at the end of the game that I really got a kick out of. I quickly became frustrated, however, with the lag that occurred when too many enemies were on the screen as well as the boring level design for the first half of the game and short length overall.

To their credit, the team did do a great job with the graphics. They’ve gone for a 2.5D style that works really well with the super vibrant color scheme that is reminiscent of past Sparkster titles. Sparkster actually looks pretty hip, especially on the game’s introductory splash screen (seen above) and on the side-scrolling shooter stages. The original games sported a similar style, and the team has done a great job updating the visual style to today’s standards.

In terms of music, I mentioned that Pit Stop Productions handled the audio. I’d never heard of this group previously, but apparently they worked on SEGA’s House of the Dead: Overkill. While I really liked the classic “Konami Logo” jingle at the beginning, the game’s music is pretty typical “adventure” music, and doesn’t stand out for the most part. It’s epic enough for a game that focuses on the whole jetpack mechanic, but particularly in the early stages, the music matches the monotony of the levels themselves. Towards the end of the game, however, you enter a futuristic lab area that sports some funky electronic tunes that not only fit the location, but are also fun to listen to. It’s a shame that wasn’t more memorable music like this. Right in line with the classic Konami logo jingle, the sound effects are tastefully retro, including a classic pause sound effect. I also dug the sound effects for the wolf warriors, who let out a frightening howl from time to time.

The Verdict
While Rocket Knight may appeal to hardcore fans of past Sparkster titles, there’s not a lot to draw in new fans. While the jetpack is a lot of fun in the beginning, and is used in creative ways throughout some of the levels, it’s not enough to keep players coming back for more, which is a shame given the short duration of the game. I enjoyed the game’s vibrant visual style and the fun electronic tunes found towards the end of the game, but overall, from the majority of the game’s music to the gameplay overall, it felt rather stale. The price tag for Rocket Knight is also a bit steep at $15, so even those who are mildly interested in checking it out may hesitate to do so. This is one of those classic franchises that just may have been better left to my memories.

Score: 6.0

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