Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Rocket Knight Adventures Review

rka_gen_boxrka_md_boxPlatform: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive
Released: 1993
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? No
Other Games in the Series: Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (Genesis/Mega Drive), Sparkster (SNES – yes, it’s a different game), Rocket Knight Adventures (2010 – technically a sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures 2)
Value: $13.51 (cart only), $29.99 (complete), $78.00 (sealed) – per Price Charting

Jam’s Take

Rocket Knight Adventures is one of those games that you’ve probably heard of but never played. Those that did play it generally spoke very highly of the experience and I found most other people say, “yeah, I really need to get round to trying that.” Now I personally have a lot of nostalgia for this game. This was one of the very few games I received for my birthday that was to my knowledge brand new. But more importantly a game for me and not my brothers. I had no idea what to expect when I unwrapped this game. But I immediately popped the game into my Mega Drive, heard that sweet Konami tune and lets just say things just got better and better from there. Now this is our game club for April and its time to revisit and see if it’s just as great as I remember or if it was one of those titles that looked better through my younger gamer eyes.

rka_1Rocket Knight Adventures puts you into the suit of Sparkster a cute looking possum in blue armour with a jet pack on his back. He is a Rocket Knight. Ok guys, now, just think about how amazing this character concept is: you have a knight…with a jet pack. I mean come on! I’m not entirely sure who came up with this idea but someone was really thinking outside the box when they were drawing this concept up. Sparkster is on a quest to save the princess and the kingdom from the evil Pig army. One thing that will stand out is that this game is rather funny. Hitting enemy pigs will cause them to leap out of there armour and run away in their white boxers. It pretty much sets the tone to what you can expect for the rest of the game. Yes Sparkster does put the serious face on when he’s flying around in his jet pack but the game will regularly remind you that this really is a light hearted tale, that it wants you to chuckle at along the way.

The basic gameplay is a side scrolling platformer with light shooting and sword play. Sparkster can use his jet back at any time to zip around the level as well as deliver a deadly spin attack. To do this you have to hold down the attack button and let loose in the direction you want to project yourself. Hit detection is quite interesting in this game. Most standard enemies will go down in a single hit but the ones riding vehicles and boss battles can be damaged more heavily depending how close you connect to them with your sword. Of course getting too close and personal could mean you take a hit and loose a chunk of health so there is a lot of risk reward to it. Sparkster has a health bar but how it diminishes varies depending on the enemy. Some enemies or obstacles will do a massive amount of damage and of course the game is loaded with pitfalls and one hit death scenarios. You will quickly learn Rocket Knight is not an easy game this is another classic example of a game where you will learn to master it through trial and error.

rka_2The game has colourful graphics with hand-drawn sprites. As mentioned there is this underlying humour to the game which clashes well with the characters cartoon like appearance. During the game you will visit a variety of colourful environments. Each level in the game feels like a fun adventure. You can not predict going into this game where exactly you will end up. In the first level you start out in a field taking pigs out who are riding an interesting assortment of vehicles. You then fall from a bridge and enter a flying section which plays as a straight forward horizontal shooter. You then slam into a castle, escape a burning fire, get a nasty surprise from a present and have to fight a giant mech caterpillar. Yes a robot caterpillar for the boss. This is just the opening level and each level from there just keeps surprising you with something new and fresh. As mentioned in a previous episode of GH101 this contains one of my personal favourite boss battles of all time in gaming. I won’t spoil it here but it is a surprise experience that really solidifies how memorable this game it. You also really won’t believe where you end up in this game. Despite it following a basic story concept ‘save the princess,’ the game ends up going in a very different direction towards its climax.

The music to this game is incredible. If your familiar with Castlevania Bloodlines (aka The New Generation) you will know what to expect here. Konami once again proves that you really can push that sound chip in the Mega Drives hardware and create some of the most memorable set of scores out of all the games on the system (we did feature the intro level on the GH101 episode Top Score Vol. 2). I think the opening level score is a track that has literally stuck with me in the back of my head from the very first moment I played it all that time ago. Probably my favourite score though is the boss music. Each time you hit the end of a level you hear this fantastic tune that just builds and builds as you are taking on a enormous foe.

rka_3Rocket Knight is not a very long game and you can probably get through this in between one to two hours if your looking to complete it. There is no save feature, but that never felt like a problem for me. This games opening levels are so enjoyable I’m happy to restart from the beginning with each playthrough. This is also a great game to come back to time and time again and discover a better strategy for tackling the boss characters and some of the tricky areas of the game.

Rocket Knight Adventures was an absolute joy to play through again for this months game club. It was great when I was young and it feels even better today. Some of the design choices in this game really have never been repeated in games since  (excluding sequels of the game). It stands out as one of the most unique titles on the system and is an absolute must buy if you don’t already own it. The gameplay is fun, its just that right amount of challenge to keep you coming back over and over again. Incredible design and criminally overlooked to this day. Konami really should release this digitally already so more people can finally experience this hallmark of gaming.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Fred’s Take

rka_4I did not grow up with Sparkster.  Nope, Rocket Knight Adventures was not in line with the Sega Genesis marketing campaign at the time that had me worried about how extreme, violent, and fast every game could be.  Chock it up to niavete, but on a shelf against Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II Special Championship EditionStreets of Rage II, and so many more these fantastic Konami games escaped me.  Heck, if I wasn’t such a fan of CastlevaniaI would have left Bloodlines in the dust and I completely ignored longtime favorite Contra when Hard Corps released.  I mean look at the box art in the US above, it’s a super cute character who’s destined to save the world but US marketing turned him into an unhappy rodent with a chip on his shoulder looking like he’s keeping in a fart.  It’s unfortunate because I wish I had nostalgia for Rocket Knight Adventures, it’s a hybrid action game that nearly covers all the quintessential classic game bases and does so elegantly.  As a fan of the games listed above, there’s absolutely no reason not to enjoy this challenging but enjoyable technical showpiece. Konami’s developers at the time, including designer Nobuya Nakasato (he’s responsible for many of the beloved Contra titles), should be commended for stellar work that is just enough outside the box to not be considered a copycat.

rka_reflectFrom the start of the game you are introduced to basic gameplay mechanics and one inspiring opening score (the one Jam referenced above from our soundtrack episode).  Not long into that level you will be greeted to a wall that you seemingly cannot jump over, which requires the use of the rocket pack.  This attack, which is simply a charged version of the regular attack, allows for the more masterful feats that you can pull off in the game or just serve as a get out of jail free card if you miss a jump.  When I first played the game in the quick look (below), Jam harped on me for how much I depended on the charge attack as a form of offense to combat enemies, bosses, etc.  He said that when he played as a kid – and the same was true now as well – he would button mash the game for most of the necessary enemy and boss attacks.  For the most part, he was right, but my second time through the game I was struggling because I had opted not to use the charge attack at all.  My personal way of playing involves using the charge attack for agile moves like jumping to grab difficult 1-ups or bypassing rough sections without worrying about dying, which requires me to have a charge attack ready about as often as I did on the video, but once it was time to fight I would tend to handle the game much more like shooter (Contra) and button mash my attacks so that I could do short but precise bursts.  This was the best way to play and it did eventually see me to the end of the game on my third time through (mind you, this was on “children” setting, which converts to “easy” in the UK and “normal” in Japan).  Then it was just a matter of time, and subsequent playthroughs, that I was able to make my way through the game with relative ease.  I am proud to say I beat this game on “normal” (which is “very hard” in UK/Japan, but not the hardest setting) but it was a series of memorization and nothing more that got me to this point – also kudos to Jam for beating it on “crazy hard” in his territory, which is “hard” in US.

rka_bgfgRocket Knight Adventures is what quality video games used to be back in the early 90s: a basic gameplay mechanic combined with innovative level design.  It requires the player begin to memorize the enemies, spawns, and overall level in order to best the “computer” but also requires you to develop skills that are required to do what needs to be done.  It’s a combination that makes you feel like you are learning something and represents the best of what that beloved 16-bit era has to offer.  While it probably won’t be placed on a pedestal with the likes of Gunstar HeroesMetal Slug, and ContraRocket Knight Adventures achieves in every place those other games do and also manages to do it with style.  Some of my favorite visual tricks are here like the reflective water, parallax scrolling, and foreground/background play to realize that the teams at Konami in those days are merely showing off, and I love them for it.  I will admit that there are some levels where you get hitched up purely for not knowing what’s coming up next and the way this game alters difficulty leaves a bit to be desired, but I found myself excusing these setbacks much easier than I do with other games.  There’s so much going for Rocket Knight Adventures that my only regret is the somewhat steep price tag and necessity to having a classic console to play, but on that flip side this title is so good that I think it’s worth it.  I have some gripes and the game is not perfect, but the good far outweigh the bad in this forgotten powerhouse on the Genesis/Mega Drive.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LIfND9z2nk]

Written by jamalais

April 28, 2015 at 11:33 am

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