Genre: Platformer Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami Players: 1 Released: 1993
I can remember that as a Genesis fan, I was quite jealous of NES owners for a few years. They had what my friends and I called the Magic Duo: Capcom & Konami. Konami especially hurt Genesis owners in the beginning. TMNT, Contra, Castlevania; all were games that everyone loved, no matter which system you owned. We were all quite elated when the big K (no, not K-Mart) decided to publish for our cherished console. Who would have thought that among such franchise gems as Bloodlines, Hardcorps, and Hyperstone Heist, the Genny would receive one of the sweetest exclusives of the 16-bit era in Rocket Knight Adventures.
As platformers go, RKA stands tall among the crowd, looking down on most. That’s no mean feat considering the level of quality the Genesis has in this department. Many people made the mistake, however, of casually dismissing the game as another Sonic clone. They could not have been farther from the truth.
RKA is a one player trip through everything that made the 2D platformers of old so successful and fun to play. As Sparkster, the leader of the courageous Rocket Knights, you must seek revenge against the corrupt Black Knight, Axel Gear, who disabled your former leader and has now attacked your kingdom and abducted the princess (bet you didn’t see that one coming!). Use your sword and rocket pack to battle through seven multi-tiered stages and end Gear’s evil plan.
One of the things that makes this game so memorable is the comedic tone used throughout the story. Your enemies are pigs and hardly look threatening (do video game swine ever look threatening?), providing many moments of humor. One look at your foes and you’ll be convinced that there’s no way these guys can actually win.
The best games are usually the ones you can jump right into, with simple and effective control, and RKA provides easy access. Attacking and jumping are the only things you need to do and holding down the attack button will charge your jetpack, giving you a limited boost to reach ledges and goodies such as 1ups, life fruit, and bonus gems. A neat twist to this is that boosting at an angle into a wall will bounce you up to higher levels not accessible otherwise. Many of these points are identified with arrows on the wall, so don’t worry about getting lost.
Sparkster’s prehensile tail also comes in handy, allowing him to hang from branches and swing up and around. Many items are precariously placed at the end of said branches so you need to be pretty careful about how you hang about. Swimming is another of our hero’s talents and is key in several stages.
To be truthful, I was shocked when I first saw this game in motion. It was one of the first games that I can remember using the new shading technique that allowed Genesis games to be more colorful than ever before. The environments in Rocket Knight are gorgeous and lively. Sprites are large and well animated, with little details such as enemies running away in fear when their devices are destroyed. It’s just too funny for words. The looks of shock on their faces when bosses are beaten is priceless!
There are also little in-game cut scenes to move the story along, usually diving right into the next stage without missing a beat. Seamless and entertaining, they play up the kidnapped princess cliché for all it’s worth. Sparkster is so loyal that he literally leaps before he looks, realizing too late that he’s in over his head. Just watch his expressions when bosses appear!
The kicker here, is the awesome effects used throughout the game. The reflecting water (used here first, I believe), heat warping effects from the lava cannon, and the ability to switch between background and foreground in some places add to the “wow!” factor greatly. There is parallax aplenty and it all just screams quality. There is some slowdown, usually during one of the big explosions, but it’s nothing that detracts from gameplay. You’ll be too busing concentrating on the multi-jointed bosses and scores of angry pigs heaving everything at you but the kitchen sink to be worried about it anyway.
I’m of the opinion that games must be judged by what was out at the time and not by current technology. Everyone knows that the Genesis was not renowned for its sound chip, but even so, it was possible to make Sega’s little system sing. Rocket Knight’s soundtrack is excellent and very worthy of downloading. Tunes are clear and well orchestrated, without any of the tinny sounds that make most gamers cringe when they think of a Genesis game. There are plenty of songs (over 15) that go on for quite a while before they loop and this is one game where stereo sound makes all the difference. You’ll need to play with a decent sound setup to truly appreciate it.
While there’s no speech, the in-game sounds are great. Booming explosions and shots compliment the action nicely and Sparkster’s little yelps when he gets hit or is in trouble are cute and funny at the same time.
Without a doubt, you must own Rocket Knight Adventures if you own a Genesis. It is not only one of the system’s best titles but also one of the greatest platformers ever made. Given the game’s cheap price (I got mine mint and complete on eBay for a cool $5), there’s no reason for holding out. The sequel, Sparkster , wasn’t really able to retain the magic of the original, but sequels seldom do. I cannot recommend RKA enough. Besides, how many games let you play as a sword-wielding, rocket pack-wearing, armored possum? Thought so.
SCORE: 9 out of 10