Rocket: Robot on Wheels

a game by Sucker Punch Productions LLC

Platform: Nintendo 64Nintendo 64

Genre: Action

We'll admit, it's had us intrigued. But, after the risible Tonic Trouble and the good-looking but average Rayman 2, the thought of another Ubi Soft platformer didn't exactly fill us with Christmas cheer. Fortunately, developers Sucker Punch have come up with a cracking little game.

What's most surprising, though, is that Sucker Punch are first-time developers, so, if Rocket is anything to go by, they've got a bright future ahead of them. A game in the mould of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, Rocket is inventive, imaginative and stuffed full of rewarding and enjoyable activities. The levels are fairly small and compact, yet contain a wealth of fun: the first level alone lets you race a computer car in a hot dog mobile, activate a huge mechanical dinosaur, play noughts and crosses with a robotic chicken, create your own rollercoaster and ride it. Brilliant stuff.

And there s more, whilst ti tickets are collected to open up new levels, picking up 'Tinker Tokens' allows resident mechanic Tinker to equip our mechanical hero with a plethora of new moves and abilities. The best of these revolve around Rocket's tractor beam: he can pick things up with it, throw them, smash them, and even use it to swing from platforms. Moves and abilities must be linked together for Rocket to overcome certain obstacles, making the game an enjoyably flexible affair.

Rocket himself, though, can be a little tricky to control at times. Although Sucker Punch have developed a pretty impressive physics system - things actually fall, move and bounce in a pleasingly logical manner - jumping can be frustrating, especially in the game's platformy sections; it's really hard to see where you want to land, and when he does actually land, Rocket skids slightly. And the camera, although manually controllable via the C-buttons, often can't keep up with the action - it's the same problem that Banjo-Kazooie, and even Donkey Kong 64, encounter.

And yet, these quibbles aside, there's loads to enjoy in Rocket Everything has been geared towards providing a fun experience, and the things you have to do in the game reflect this philosophy. The second level, 'Paint Misbehavin' (arf!), is a fine example. To reach the vehicle on this level, you have to catch some sheep and then throw them onto a vine-covered podium. They'll stick there like velcro, and can then be used as stepping stones. And the vehicle itself is armed with a paint gun - colouring things (statues, even yourself!) is essential to progress. Each level also contains its own special - and unique - vehicle. As well as the aforementioned hot dog mobile and paint-splattering hover- cannon, there's a 'Finbot' (a Dolphin-styled submersible), Donkey Kong-style minecart rides and, best of all, a flying bike.

Perhaps the finest moment of the game, though, can be found in the 'Pyramid Scheme' level. Brilliantly, you can switch between 'light' and 'dark' versions of the level, each of which is recognisably similar to the other, but also radically different, and each with its own objectives and things to do. Tremendous stuff.

This game is a joy to play. Rocket is slightly reminiscent of Silicon Valley, in that it's wildly imaginative, slightly surreal and gloriously geared towards having a good time. Even the music's splendidly cheesy. Most importantly, it's a rarity in that it's actually learnt from the lessons Super Mario 64 taught, and it's as far removed from Tonic Trouble and Rayman 2, and all the other copycats, as it could possibly be. Although not as technically accomplished, at times Rocket can even be as enjoyable as Banjo-Kazooie, due mainly to its often wonderfully original activities. Sucker Punch should be proud; it seems, finally, that it's not only Nintendo and Rare who can produce excellent 3D platformers. And that's about as good a recommendation as any.

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