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Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Nintendo 64) artwork

Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Nintendo 64) review

"Disclaimer: If you actually did buy Rocket: Robot on Wheels, disregard the first paragraph."

I'd like to perform an exercise with you guys. Go find a pen, or a tire pressure gauge, or that candy cane that's been sitting in your candy bowl for the last three months, or something of that relative size, shape, and hardness. Do this now. Don't wait to see where I'm going with this, just do it. OK, do you have it? Good, now take one of your hands, and put it in the Spock formation. Place the pen or whatever you have in between your ring and middle finger. Now, using your other hand, squeeze the fingers of the Spock hand together. As you have now realized, this is really painful. Congratulations, that is your punishment for not buying Rocket: Robot on Wheels. (Disclaimer: If you actually did buy Rocket: Robot on Wheels, disregard the first paragraph.) Everyone has that one incredibly underrated game that they try to get their friends to play, like Earthbound or No More Heroes or Shin Megami Tensei. For me, that game is Rocket: Robot on Wheels, a fun, intelligent, unique platformer that was years ahead of its time. (Also, if you recognize where that exercise came from, you are officially awesome.)

The game starts with a maintenance droid named Rocket staring out of the window of a space station. His owner, Dr. Gavin, is the owner of a futuristic amusement park called Whoopie World, named after the park’s mascot, Whoopie the Walrus. Dr. Gavin's pet, Jojo the Raccoon, is jealous that he's not the star of the show, so he creates a plan to take control of the park. On the eve of the park's opening, Dr. Gavin decides to head to a party, leaving Rocket in charge. As soon as he leaves, Jojo strikes, knocking out Rocket, sabotaging the machines, stealing the tickets and tokens, and kidnapping Whoopie. Rocket then takes it upon himself to fix the park and get Whoopie back before the doctor even knows anything happened.

At first, it looks like just another generic Nintendo platformer. But, this game's main unique selling point was its physics engine. This was the first time a console game of any kind had one. Almost exactly one year earlier, Half-Life was released, which made the PC physics engine a huge deal. But, do you know how crazy it was for any developer to create a console physics engine for any console in 1999, much less by a developer making its first game ever in Sucker Punch, and on a cartridge-based console, that was known for having less space than its disc-based counterparts.

Let me give you an example of the physics engine. Rocket has a tractor beam that lets him pick up certain items. Whenever he rears back to throw something, a holographic projection of where the object will land appears, and when it hits the ground, it bounces realistically relative to its shape and trajectory. It really shows in water, where if you land on something floating on the surface of the water, it bobs and sinks depending on where you're standing, which I find interesting.

If I were to compare this game to another, it would be next to impossible, since this game is such a unique experience. But, if forced, I'd go with Banjo-Kazooie with a side order of Rayman 2: The Great Escape and a dash of Mario Party 2. In Rocket, your primary goal is to recover tickets which let you open different areas of the park (they were called Jiggies in Banjo-Kazooie). The secondary collectibles are tokens which are scattered across the levels, and help to access new levels (also known as Notes). The tertiary collectibles are the Machine Parts, which help you collect a specific ticket in the level (the Jinjos in BK), and the quaternary item are the power cells, which raises Rocket's health bar (Banjo had the honeycomb pieces).

The uniqueness of the experience is comparable to Rayman. Rayman is a series that is just plain strange and whimsical. It's simply overflowing with WTF moments, but also moments of sheer crazy wonder. That euphoric feeling happens a lot in Rocket. At any particular moment, you could be running through a beehive, flying a magic carpet, throwing bombs in a mine shaft, driving a hovercraft with a paint cannon attached to it, or any number of weird, random things. As for Mario Party 2, this game has several tickets that are acquired by completing some type of minigame. For example, in the first level, there’s a tent with three carnival games. In the first game, you have to throw balls into the mouths of Mt. Rushmore’s presidents, which is made even better by the presidents’ uttering some random phrase when the ball goes into their mouth (the best is from Teddy “Take On All Comers” Roosevelt). Then, there’s a game where you have to knock cats off a fence, and in the third, you compete against a robotic chicken (Seth Green?) in a game of tic-tac-toe. Once you beat all three minigames, you’re rewarded with a ticket.

Another one of Rocket’s big selling point is the absolutely ridiculous amount of content that’s in this game. Now, some might say that this isn’t a good thing, because it makes the game seem unfocused and schizophrenic. But, the way I see it, it just keeps the game from becoming stale and tedious. One of my favorite moments in the game is when you get to create ride in your own roller coaster. You have to design it a certain way in order to get a few tickets and tokens, but once you do, you can come back and create your new roller coaster from scratch. Now maybe the reason I like this is because I’m a fan of the Roller Coaster Tycoon games, but I had fun with it, and you can too.

Of course, the game isn’t perfect. The game wouldn’t have been forgotten if it was. Like everything in its infancy, the physics engine is a bit dodgy, and it takes a bit of time to get used to it. And the camera gets stuck behind everything, it seems. But, if you’re looking for an underrated game that probably should’ve got its own series, this might be it. But then again, if Rocket would’ve got a series, the Sly Cooper series may have never existed. Tough call.


nickyv917's avatar
Community review by nickyv917 (March 27, 2012)

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zippdementia posted April 05, 2012:

I have to call you out, Nicky. That opening line was completely plagarized from Zero Punctuation, almost word for word.
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zippdementia posted April 05, 2012:

Oh, jeez, I didn't mean to come off as a dick though... I actually enjoy the review as a whole. Your examples, especially of the physics engine, were nicely laid out and got across the point of the game when I didn't think I'd be able to get it at first. I think the opening is unnecessary and that you should take it out, especially since I believe it is instantly recognizable as Yahtzees'.
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nickyv917 posted May 16, 2012:

@zippdementia Ya got me, I'll edit that in.

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