Rocket: Robot on Wheels
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.
Download Rocket: Robot on Wheels
If there's a system that doesn't need another mediocre 3D action/adventure, it's the N64. No, Rocket isn't terrible, but it lacks the stuff great games are made of--like an enjoyable main charac-ter/story, interesting level design, great music, etc. Don't get me wrong--the game has some innovation. For example, the character Rocket has a cool grabby ray thing which allows you to pick up objects and move or throw them around (sounds simple, but it ends up being a major part of the gameplay) and a number of vehicles you can control in some of the levels (like this wacky hot dog car in the first level and a paintball-firing chariot in another, among many others). In addition. Rocket's filled with a slew of mini-games. Some are ho-hum, but others are quite interesting. For example, in one instance you have to build a roller coaster in a particular way to hit five checkpoints. Once it's built, you can hop on and go for a ride. And there are many more examples of this sort of thing. But all of these good things just aren't enough--the game just doesn't grab you. Besides, the camera and control aren't very solid either. The camera often isn't smart enough to move around Rocket for a better view of the action...and you don't have much control over it. And control can be quite tedious around platforms/objects.
Rocket has got to be the weirdest and coolest concept for a game I've seen on the N64. It's straight-up action/puzzle with a lot of variety and truly braintwisting levels. The camera is what's holding this game back--it forces its will on you, and there are no options for a camera that follows you. This leads to situations where you're fighting with the camera for control. It's rare that a game like this comes along that challenges and makes you think.
It's fairly cute, reasonably well thought-out, has more than adequate graphics, nicely thought-out puzzles and a sprinkling of humor (I like the smack-talking chicken)-but at the end of the day, what does it offer? The N64 really doesn't need another game with the above list of attributes. Sure, this has some nice little mini-games and some interesting ideas--but it's such an 'also-ran' game. For my money I'd go with Rayman 2 or wait for DK instead.
I could see how some gamers could get into Rocket, not me however. It reminds me of another "wacky" puzzle/adventure game called Glover. The difference being, Rocket tries to be funny via strange characters and bizarre mini-games while Glover is just weird. Solving puzzles in Rocket is a mixed bag of tricks--some are interesting and some are, uhh... just plain 'ol stupid. If you're a puzzle fan and not turned off by the cute stuff--give it a rent.