Review: Rocket Knight

Back in the ’90s, spunky mascots were a dime a dozen. These loveable yet snarky critters ruled the roost. Luckily, this trend did tend to die out over the following years, but the enduring classics live on; particularly, an endearing and memorable title known as Rocket Knight Adventures. An impossibly adorable yet suave marsupial armed with a jet pack and the attitude of heroes three times his size captured the hearts of lucky Genesis owners time and time again. The awesome opossum known only as Sparkster makes his triumphant return in Rocket Knight, an Xbox Live Arcade revival that jams a lot of style and gloss into an exciting little downloadable packet.

The original Rocket Knight Adventures didn’t stray too far from the formulaic path of a typical mascot adventure. Little Sparkster would zip through each level, mowing down every nefarious enemy in his path with his sharp, yet somehow kid-friendly sword. This friendly yet wholly formidable little guy meant business. Along with the wholly exhilarating qualities of the useful jetpack on his back, he proved that with a little tweaking that the platformer could become fresh again. The Xbox 360 redux builds upon these principles in an impressive manner that both pays homage to the original and is accessible to players who weren’t fortunate enough to experience it on the Genesis.

Sparkster’s unceremoniously called back into active duty at the onset of Rocket Knight Adventures, and as he dons his familiar blue armor, we know we’re in for a treat. Beyond his standard bag (or would that be pouch?) of tricks, he’s packing some intuitive and quite useful acrobatics to aid in reaching the end of each frenzied level. Sparkster may hover to dizzying heights, hang upside down pipes, and fire off projectiles in order to keep those who would stand in his way quivering on the sidelines.

There are plenty of challenges to overcome within each action-packed level, although continually plowing through the same farm animal-type baddies can truly grate on the nerves. You’ll also sense a pattern to each level, despite how brilliantly designed they are. Propel this way, hang that way, and jump up onto this platform. Whip out Sparkster’s sword a few times, and toss a few projectiles that way. It’s engaging to a point, but also quite simple at first.

Luckily, the jet pack tricks more than make up for the fact that Sparkster can’t “truly” jump. You’ll often use the walls surrounding you in order to reach alcoves that you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. It can get a bit technical, especially in the game’s later stages, which hurl some admittedly more difficult puzzles at you at an unforgiving pace. These later levels make up for the beginning’s innocent and childishly paced adventure, even tossing in a few schmup flight levels for good measure. I found these to be some of the best times I had with the game simply from how well-made they actually were. Less of an afterthought and more of a fully-realized concept. I found myself wishing there had been more than three over the span of the game’s fifteen level campaign.

As a collection of what feels like a hodgepodge of ingenious boss levels that truly steal the show, entirely familiar and accessible platforming levels, and a smidgeon of flight missions that wouldn’t be out of place in a title like R-Type or Ikaruga (albeit less difficult), I can’t quite condone charging $15 (1500 MSP) for a downloadable title such as this. It possesses slick graphics and fantastic, catchy tunes to follow Sparkster on his mission to defend Zephyrus, and as a whole it’s most certainly a formidable update to a beloved classic, but it’s not fifteen dollars worth of game. It’s brimming with quality and that nostalgic charm that you can only find in true-to-style updates, and it’s most certainly worthy of your time, but unless you’re desperate to check out this brand new adventure with Sparkster, perhaps you should wait until it’s on sale.

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