Tuesday, January 11, 2011

VGR Rocket Knight Adventures

The other day, I felt like playing through the original Rocket Knight game again.
(this review's about the original one, not of the sequels!)

Which is a good thing say I wanted to have a look at games featuring mascots and stuff.

VGR: Rocket Knight Adventures
From Konami
Played on Megadrive
Also available on /

Type Sidescrolling action platformer
Year 1993

The year was 1993.Since the launch of the 16-bit era, every brand and company was creating mascots to promote and expose their brand as I've already alluded in my Bonk review.

That's when classic game company Konami decided to challenge the competition.
Konami is, like Capcom or Namco, a long time well-known arcade games developer.
But unlike Capcom with Mega Man or Namco with Pacman, Konami didn't had a proper "face" to represent them by that point.
Mascots were mostly designed around the tropes represented by the top 2 modles from Sega & Nintendo.

Sparkster was created as a middle ground between those two. He wouldn't be the kid-friendly calm and soft tempered Mario, nor as agressive hip in-your-face as Sonic.
Sparkster would be an heroic character, with a clear purpose and goal, branding a sword in a world in peril.

Fly you silly rocket-equipped opossum, fly!

The story takes place in the Zebulos' Kingdom.

Sparkster is a Rocket Knight. He is part of an imperial guard.
In a world were fantasy clashes with science fiction, evil pigs from space (yep!) decide to conquer this opossum kingdom to have their revenge. (the King once defeated their first invasion and destroyed their original spaceship)
One day, the Devotindos Empire led by the evil king Devligus Devotindos start wrecking havoc in the country, forcing the Rocket Knights to protect the land. But the Princess Sherry gets kidnapped by a corrupt Rocket Knight, Axel Gear!
Now it's up to Sparkster, last Rocket Knight standing, to confront his rival, save the girl as well as save the day and defeat all the mechanical Devotindos war machines!!

The universe was clearly defined from the start, it's a rich, unique and colorful world!
It's rare to see a first game (and specially one from the early 90s) as much detailed.
Sure, for the more "serious" gamers it may sound "childish...but to these kind of gamers I say, go play your dumb boring GTA instead!

A sword is all you need!

The gameplay is quite easy to get your hands on, though not as simplistic as a Mario or Sonic.
Sparksteras a sword.
He can jump, like all his other "brothers" from the 90s, but can also attack with a weapon instead of simply jumping over his foes.
He can either quickly slash or you can charge up a power gauge to let a special attack make Sparkster berserk for a couple of seconds.
Also, his sword projects a little energy blast.

Now, here's this game's gimmick, he's equipped with a rocket!
By charging up the power gauge, and pressing a direction, Sparkster can use his rocket pack to projects himself from a point of screen to another!
He can fly for short distances like this, jump higher, run through enemy lines, make more damages, etc...

Also he's an opossum, meaing he can use his tail to hang up on trees or climb around, etc..

Meet Axel Gear™. Don't expect to beat him once and for all, see, his name's copyrighted!

The game is basically a fast paced "action" platformer.
It doesn't feel like those cinematic platformers like Prince of Persia nor has the same feel of the more platformer games such as Mario.
Everything goes pretty fast here, things are always happening around Sparkster!

The level isn't static, but forces you to always adapt.
There's a lot of trial and error here!
Playing with the game's initial settings and expectations from the gamer, the developers played a lot with Rocket Knight's gameplay. Not a single level ever looks anything similar to a previous one.
First you're just walking around the kingdom, getting the hang of things, then you'll be running from fire, shooting around in a more sh'mup inspired level, progressing slowly over lava, trying to survive a dangerous cart sequence that would put Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom to shame!

The game features also a ton of bosses!
Never quite using the same formula, some will escape and evolve over various screens, others in movement constantly. Axel Gear, Sparkster's auto-proclamed rival, will pop-up a few times. Each confrontation surprising you a bit more.(escalating into a fantastic fighting game parody!)

Fight for your life! Fight for your kingdom! And for the lives of all the ladies and chilfren opossum.

So the game's quite dense, offers a lot of different experience and is quite never the same around each corner.
What's the catch?

...well, strangely, there's none to be found here!
The music's incredible. Quite frankly amongst the best to play with the Megadrive's Yamaha soundcard.
The graphics are some probably the greatest Konami ever put up before the 32-bit era, easily.
The game's quite long, challenging.
There's various difficulties to play with  To see the real ending, you'll have to play with the harder difficulties.
The game contains an easy/normal mode and an hard mode, then you'll unlock a very hard and a crazy hard mode.
(note: in the US release, all difficulties are unlocked from the go, and renamed!)

The characters are great and quite expressive.
It all looks like a well done pretty animated cartoony platformer, without the uglyness and messy controls some Mario/Sonic clones are usually known for.
Sparkster himself sports quite a fantastic model, very expressive and polished sprites.

Overall, it's a beautiful game!
One of the better exemples of the platformer crazy of the 90s.

Probably one of the best Megadrive titles ever done...what am I saying...of the best 16-bit games ever produced!

Amazing, colorful, fun, long and not too simple (like games started to get after the 8-bits era).
The game was quite successful, pretty popular, even got a comic (printed in the Sonic UK magazine)
It was supposed to launch a franchise, which it did in fact with some sequels we'll discuss later on, but the flame never quite catched on after the original episode.
Sparkster was designed to be animated by the looks of his face, but not a single animation project ever survived the pre-production stage, american or japanese.

To conclude, I truly recommend to either try this game once or own a copy of it!
A must if you have a Megadrive!
(the original, as I write these lines, hasn't been re-released on the current gen. download systems)

I give it:
 3 / 3 Bruces!

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