Retro remakes and re-releases are becoming increasingly popular this generation thanks to the combined forces of Steam, XBLA, PSN and the Wii's Virtual Console. I've hit upon this subject in past reviews (see Final Fight Double Impact for the most recent example) and I even ran a retro games blog for a while before having to abandon it due to personal reasons. Well that and the fact that no-one ever read it.
These remakes have been a bit of a mixed bag. In the rush to take advantage of the possibility of making money from their old franchises some publishers put out some real disappointing rubbish. Even when the remake is awesome and well received (like Super Street Fighter II HD Remix) there's still that vocal minority who have a good old moan about how the game has been ruined, as if the studios have tied your childhood memories to the rail-road tracks while twirling their moustaches.
Konami and Climax Studios have attempted to sidestep all this by making Rocket Knight a sequel rather than a straight up remake. By continuing on from the two Rocket Knight Adventure games that originally graced the Megadrive it allows for the series to be revisited without the "pressure" of "ruining" the original game. Not that it has stopped that small amount of whining I would imagine.
Rocket M... Opossum?
So it's 15 years after the first two games and the anthropomorphic opossums are now living in harmony with their old enemies the pigs. The city of Zephyr is at peace and the Rocket Knight Sparkster now lives with his wife and son on a farm away from the city. Then all of a sudden - wolves! An invading wolf army forces Sparkster to put on his old Rocket Knight armour and save the Zephyrans once again.
So like its predecessors, Rocket Knight takes the form of a 2D platform romp. It's cutesy and colourful - proper blue-skies stuff. Of course instead of 2D sprites it's now all 3D graphics allowing for some nice incidental features like enemies jumping in to the play area from the background and extra large bad guys to beat up on. During busy periods there can be a decent amount of slowdown and a little tearing but it never really gets to the point where it's distracting or detrimental to the game play.
Truth be told, the slowdown only really seems to affect the sections where Sparkster takes to the skies and the game temporarily becomes a side scrolling shoot-em-up. Which is just as well too, because during the platform sections you're soon tasked with navigating sections with insta-death pits and moving laser beams to avoid. These sections come around pretty quickly as Rocket Knight is a fairly short game. To give you an idea of the length my first play-through took just under two hours and there's actually an achievement for completing the game on hard in under an hour.
So it's a good job that Rocket Knight is fun to play while it lasts. Sparkster is a very kinetic little opossum thanks to his rocket pack and sword. With just a little practice you'll be boosting around and defeating enemies with flair well for as long as his armour's energy holds out of course. It soon recharges though so although it adds a strategic layer to the combat it doesn't get in the way of the action. In truth it's likely there just to stop players maying their way through the game by spamming the rocket boost attack. There's some well thought out sections as well with a ice level that stops your energy from recharging unless you're in the radius of flaming torches is probably my favourite. By the end your platforming skills are really tested with obstacles such as leaps between the aforementioned laser beams while still battling enemies. Thankfully Rocket Knight falls short of presenting the player with the bane of 90's platform games - there are no leaps of faith. Never do you have to jump blindly in to unknown, and even then with Sparkster's rocket boost dash there's always a life line for those death pits.
The difficulty in Rocket Knight never gets anything beyond mildly challenging. The bosses tend to prove quite sharp difficulty spikes but even then it's just a matter of learning their attacks, a little practise and on you go. The hard difficulty setting is another matter altogether, selectable from the start it throws the more advanced enemies at you right from the beginning of the tutorial level. To add a challenge you have to find each bosses' weakness to continue. Just beating the boss is not enough, and failure means you have to start the boss level again. Thankfully you can unlock the hard levels in normal mode.
There's also a free play mode to check out as well, but that seems to just be for score and time attack purposes. There's a leader-board for each level but beyond that there's no other reason to bother. It's good to practise a level without having to play through I suppose.
So what we have is a relatively short, but sweet little platform game that tries to cater to both the hardcore "bring me death" gamers and those of us who just want something that won't punish us for being less than perfect. This has been done with some degree of success as well and while I would say Rocket Knight isn't an amazing game it's certainly fun enough and I doubt you'll feel that you wasted your 1200 points (or €12.99 on PSN). Konami can be proud to put this along side the rest of the Rocket Knight Adventure games.