Rocket Knight Xbox 360 Review

Publisher – Konami – Developer – Climax Studios – Genre – Platformer – Players – 1 – Age Rating – 3+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3

Where is the anthropomorphised hero these days? Skinned and draped round the latest generic space marine no doubt; the muscle head grunting and flexing, cursing at girls while blowing large chunks out of muddy environments with equally brown enemies. Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting things but the current palette trend is a trifle stale. Konami has dived deep into their back catalogue this time to rustle up some colour, enter Sparkster, one tough opossum decked out in full knight armour, an energy sword and a jetpack. With attitude to spare and humour in equally lavish servings Rocket Knight tries to be everything console gaming used to be: colourful and challenging. However despite the charming visuals the game is not without a few chinks in the armour.

It’s been 15 years since Sparkster’s last official appearance and he’s been living the quiet farming life with his family while the rest of his kin live a questionable co-existence with the original invaders, The Gedol Empire. Thankfully there is no terrible dialogue to unfold the story (watch and learn SEGA) which is easily grasped though a combination of well paced amusing in-game cut-scenes; further details are available for interested players though. If there is one thing that Rocket Knight does right, it’s the presentation. The game has been given the 2.5D treatment married with beautiful, colourful backgrounds: glowing wheat fields and trees to garbage mashers and dramatic air-ships blasting off into battle. The levels are populated by new and old enemies alike with shuriken throwing wolves, buzzing AI bombs and thankfully a return of the stompy mechs all animated with style and finesse. Not that you get to pilot them this time round. Things start off well, the new 3D Sparkster is remarkably cute and manoeuvres fluidly, making the platforming precise and satisfying. His jetpack abilities make for the most interesting aspects of the gameplay with level design often requiring accurate joystick movements and quick reflexes to pull off his ricochet skills; however they rarely show the inventive streak present in Nobuya Nakazato originals. Despite this, Rocket Knight possesses both the comic tone and occasionally darker look of the original 16-bit siblings.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a possum with a rocket on his back!

However, as you progress in Rocket Knight, its shallow nature becomes painfully apparent. The side-scrolling shooter sections between levels, while punctuated with massive airship battles and explosions, never reach the dizzy highs of the Gradius style bullet-hell fans no doubt will remember with grimacing nostalgic fondness. There is the clever addition of the jetpack drill move which allows Sparkster to smash through certain walls, but unfortunately the new tricks up Sparksters metal gauntlets are overused and rarely creatively. There is the odd impressive level event but they are few and far between; the engaging ‘set-piece linked to next explosive set-piece’ nature of the original is lost in translation instead leading to largely uneventful level bounces to the bosses. These are impressive visually but the combat in the game feels under-developed in comparison to the platforming, with the bosses in particular turning into dull slug-outs rather than an intense, skill orientated exploitation of their weaknesses; much like chasing a blue bottle round your living room with a rolled up copy of Edge.

It would also be easy to be vehement about the inconsistent difficultly level and brevity, and quite rightly. Overall though the unfocused romp through the 4 worlds feels a little too short and the online scoreboards, higher difficulty levels and achievements don’t feel like much of an incentive to return.

While impressions are at first promising, with much of the initial ‘blimey, that looks good’ and solid platforming carrying you through most of the playtime (3hrs for me), Rocket Knight never lives up to its heritage. It’s a shame because, while there is a decent game here, it could have been so much more. I am at a loss for why the innovative design that shaped the originals has been replaced with overly used tricks and a graphical overhaul. Oh hang on, modern gamers expect games to be a push over and don’t want a challenge. However, I believe that Sparkster still has much unlocked potential and a sequel could deliver an adventure to remember. Until then, I think he’s better off adorning your wardrobe rather than your shoulders. Let’s face it, fake fur coats just don’t cut it.