Rock Boshers DX Director’s Cut Review
With the ever increasing improvements to video games – top of the range PCs with graphics cards that are able to show realism that get closer and closer to the real thing – as a gamer you really start to question how games could get any better. Then comes along a game called Rock Boshers that shows us that the evolution in gaming of not necessarily going forward, but backwards.
Rock Boshers is very much a love letter to the ZX Spectrum gaming days. The game happily advertises that it pulls from a palette of just 15 colours and even mimics the music the old micro computers from the eighties was capable of. Rock Boshers is not the first game to give love to the old microcomputer, the ZX Spectrum still gets a lot of love to this day with homebrew games being regularly released (Retro Gamer magazine which is a popular read in the UK, discusses popular homebrew released every month). Rock Boshers is one of the few ZX Spectrum inspired games as far as I am aware that has made it to Steam and even the PS4 and PSVita (the latter being the version I’ve reviewed).
If you enter into Rock Boshers and have never experienced a ZX Spectrum (if you live outside of Europe this is very likely) you would be forgiven for being rather confused. Gamers that have some familiarity to this system or are just curious about the system will find a lot to love in this game. I was sold, straight away when first booting up the game I was greeted with an old fashioned ZX Spectrum loading screen. Fortunately the game loads instantly unlike the original system but this was a great touch by the developers. Then I was greeted by the title screen and what I heard was a soundtrack clearly inspired by ZX Spectrum games like Robocop (who’s music can be heard on our recent soundtrack episode). Before even starting the game I said to myself this was already worth the price of admission (I’d buy that for a dollar).
When you begin the adventure you are introduced to one of the most bizarre but brilliant stories. You play a Young Queen Victoria whose disguised herself a top hat and travelled to Mars in search of adventure. Soon after arriving you are captured and forced to ‘bosh’ rocks in the martian mines. What follows is a daring escape and revolution, filled with plot twists and turns with a lot of humour thrown in for good measure. The humour is very British with many of the jokes referencing scones and tea. The crazy plot very much reminds me of several games programmed on the original ZX Spectrum many of which where programmed by a very small team of developers. The game throws in several pop culture references to other games and regularly pokes fun at how other games play as well as itself.
Jumping into the gameplay Rock Boshers mostly plays out as a twin stick shooter with puzzle elements. In true retro fashion most levels are displayed on a single screen (though the ZX Spectrum did have scrolling in the majority of its games). Your character Victoria is a very small sprite. At the start of some of the levels it was difficult to find where my character was on the PS Vitas screen especially when most levels are filled with various sprites and similarly coloured objects. Most levels allow you to talk to other characters who deliver short witty lines of dialogue. The controls are very simple and its not too difficult to know where to go in the game. Your main barrier is the difficulty. While the game starts of simple enough with some basic levels to get you used to how the game plays, it quickly get challenging and failing at any point will require you to start right back at the beginning of the level. Some levels took me multiple attempts to conquer. But once I did it brought back some of that relief I used to feel when playing games from the eighties. The levels are very short each taking no more than five minutes or even less. The game regularly mixes things up and just flat out surprise you with what you will end up doing in certain levels. Out of the 24 levels you experience not one feels the same.
The developers have done a fantastic job trying to replicate the feel of a ZX Spectrum game on a console, a feat which is very difficult to achieve. The colour palette is appropriately limited, the sprites are simple and the music and sound effects are identical to the limitations of the Spectrum. The developers clearly set out for that authentic old school gaming experience (minus the long loading times and cassette tapes). Of course you won’t have the elephant skin keyboard but the use of the PSVita, PS4 controller or PC keyboard should not distract you from the experience.
There will of course be gamers that will look at this game and think it looks like complete crap but you really have to remember this is deliberately designed that way.
The game isn’t very long. There are only 24 levels but you can replay any of the levels later to find all the collectables and improve your times for the online leaderboards. When I finished the game I was definately left wanting more. This is a sensation I have not felt in quite a while with a video game. There are also four arcade games to unlock which are all also re worked with classic ZX Spectrum design. One game, Aqua Kitty, is available with more modern graphics on the PSN store and it was utterly brilliant to see it get the ZX Spectrum downgrade treatment. It would be fantastic to see the developers do more with this in future projects.
Rock Boshers is a game that really can only be rated in one of two ways. You will either love it or just ‘meh’ it. If you have an appreciation for the ZX Spectrum or have ever just been curious into how the games used to play (with the horribly long loading times cut out of course) you will love Rock Boshers. It is a love letter to retro and its genuinely impressive to see how far this game has come since its first appearance, as a game made in GameMaker for PC. Even if you have little nostalgia for the ZX Spectrum you may be impressed by just how different the game is from even modern indie titles today. For me Rock Boshers is fantastic, it felt like a breathe of fresh air, a wonderful trip down memory lane and a game I will be coming back to frequently to experience again. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got some rock boshing to do.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (Review policy and guidelines)
Having not grown up in Europe like Jam has, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what distinguishes certain microcomputers from the 80s (despite a lengthy podcast about it and Jam’s consistent reminding me), but even I know what makes a ZX Spectrum game. I have not played a lot of these games myself, but with a color palette of only 15 they are vibrant, bright, and honestly often bastardizations of the original source material (truly sorry if that line offends). Couple that with a limited sound chip and most developers on the ZX Spectrum seemed to waste its true potential, often focusing on other ports like the Commodore 64 or even Amiga to flex, but the aforementioned Robocop and several others prove that a lot can be done with a little on this delightful machine. Rock Boshers not only knows this, but has completely recreated a game that could have easily existed in the 1980s and would be on that long list of favorites that Jam mentions that I know nothing about. Thankfully it came out now and on a platform I have so I can appreciate the greatest ZX Spectrum game to release this year.
From the moment you boot it up, complete with an optional 2 minute initial load time, this game is a true testament to the days of the ZX Spectrum. I have no idea whether or not it could actually run on that computer, but the details are so precise that I would have to ask the developers to get any more insight. The story of a mission to Mars gone awry is nothing new, but the almost empty and isolated nature of the fantastic soundtrack in ZX style presents some of the best sci-fi chiptune since Metroid. Rock Boshers itself is your basic puzzle room game that slowly introduces more and more complex mechanics that by around level 15 (of 24) your focus aggressively shifts from what you are supposed to do to actually having the skill to pull it off. Along with the focus comes a heavy ramp in difficulty, but that just makes the final act of the game intense and rewarding up to the game’s very self aware last fight. Make no mistakes about it, you feel a strong sense of accomplishment as you see the simple message of the game’s completion and unlike Jam I wasn’t left wanting more, I needed a break. That’s not to say the game was bad by any means, just that in my old age my skill was tested quite enough from Rock Boshers for 2014.
It seems like every day there emerges a flood of indie games that want to re-capture the glory of yesteryear and the scene is definitely going through an iterative shift from the Atari 2600 through each console generation (which I’m sure begs a blog post). Of these games, the look is easy to nail but the feel is a hairier task, and only a select few each year do a good job at capturing it. While the indie scene is currently knee deep in the 16-bit era it’s refreshing to see a team like Tikipod jump into one of the more obscure worldwide platforms, remain blatantly British, and come out with something any gamer can enjoy. Rock Boshers is that accomplishment and anyone who considers themselves a retro gamer needs to take a sneak peek at a generation forgotten – and the case of the US, completely removed. I hope that the attention to detail and painstaking measures to keep the look and feel of Rock Boshers authentic is not only consistent for developers Tikipod, but that more developers looking to capture the retro style take note of this teams impressive effort.
Final Score: 5 out of 5
This was played by both reviewers on the Playstation Vita and no review codes were provided by the developer (although we didn’t request them, Jam just thought it was pretty cool). Rock Boshers DX Directors Cut is available on PSN for PS4 and PSvita and also on PC for $6.99. If you head over to the developer’s website (Tikipod) they also have the original version of the game available for free. However, if you enjoy this game definitely support the developers by buying the game on PSN or PC.