"An esteemed colleague of mine - the legendary Honestgamers reviewer Jason Owens - urged me to try out Rocket Knight Adventures for the longest time. He was relentless. He pushed my buttons, prodded me with intrusive interrogations centered on my monthly game allowance. Little did he know that his gushing hyperbole for the game had convinced me to buy it long before his friendly suggestions became goading barbs, terrible threats, and angry emoticons (e.g.: >8^O)."
An esteemed colleague of mine - the legendary Honestgamers reviewer Jason Owens - urged me to try out Rocket Knight Adventures for the longest time. He was relentless. He pushed my buttons, prodded me with intrusive interrogations centered on my monthly game allowance. Little did he know that his gushing hyperbole for the game had convinced me to buy it long before his friendly suggestions became goading barbs, terrible threats, and angry emoticons (e.g.: >8^O). But I told myself I would wait for a 'complete' copy, and that was proving more difficult to find than I had anticipated.
I held fast to this vow until I came across the game at a local used game shop - and it was the cartridge only. Sparkster, our hero, graced the little label on the cart. The combination of the charm and dogged determination he wore on his cutesy countenance made me say screw it, and I bought the game on the spot.
And, after playing it for awhile, I could only think to myself: ''What the hell took you so long?''
Konami was behind this gem of a Genesis side-scroller, and it shows. The game is laced with an effervescent quality few developers can hope to achieve. Clearly, it was their intent to create a rival mascot to Sonic whom they could build a series around. Unfortunately, the 'series' was short-lived, never reaching Mega Man prolificness, and Sparkster lunch boxes and ribbed condoms were something of a rarity even in the mascot's heyday. Maybe Sega City wasn't big enough to include Sparkster. God knows Ristar was superior to any Sonic game of the time and we know what kind of cruel obscurity he found.
It couldn't have helped that our boy Sparkster is an opossum. They don't have easy lives. Seeking to improve upon the typically sad rodent standard of living, this particular opossum took a different path in life from most members of the Rodent Roadkill Club, and opted instead to sign up for the glorious auspices of Rocket Knights Crew at an early age. Though small and cuddly and decidedly too friendly in aspect, the Rocket Knight elders were impressed by how well Sparkster hung upside down from vines, tree limbs, and scaffolding with his tail. With some reluctance, they let him hang with them.
It's a good thing too, because the Princess of the Zebulan family has been kidnapped, and get this: Sparkster is the Devotinos Kingdom's only hope! We should all gasp at this development, but we can't. Like the concept, we're spent. We forgive the game when we notice how much cuter Sparkster is than Sonic the Hedgehog, his fighting spirit fiercer. And spunk was supposed to be Sonic's calling card! Obviously, someone didn't tell Sparkster. But a great hero doesn't mean a hill of beans to us without a great villain or cast of villains to complement and contrast him. So to that end, RKA provides pork.
Sparkster's enemies are pigs. Dirty, stinking pigs. Pigs that ride upon armoured ''AT-AT'' walkers a la Star Wars, pigs that drive jeeps. Armour-clad pigs. Pigs that commandeer gargantuan crab suits with waving, literally sidesplitting claws. The challenge the pigs present will be supreme, and that is one of RKA's strongest suits.
For a cartoony action platformer, it's no pushover. It will take you a good deal of time and effort to learn, so that you may ultimately pervade the mission's seven levels and strike a fatal blow to the Pig Emperor and his forces. How nefarious was it of him to seize your princess for use as a human key in accessing the horrid Pig Star? And surely the ultimate in scum-licking lowness was for the filthy dictator to enlist the aid of your number one rival, and Rocket Knight expatriate, Axle Gear. You'll want to make sure they both pay with their lives for their transgressions!
But how? At first glance, our diminutive protagonist seems to have only (besides his attitude) a dinky sword to wield. But slash with it and notice that the wave it emits carries across almost the entire screen. And that's barely the beginning. Charge the attack button down and aim Sparkster. That's right. Aim him. To the left or the right, and watch him flash to or fro, cleanly rending everything on his horizontal plane. Adjust your trajectory and have him hurtle upward, or dive-bomb directly downward, or else careen diagonally around the screen at 45-degree angles, like some indestructible soldier with bayonet pointing forward and lit firecracker up the wazoo. Ramifications are no laughing matter. Pork will sizzle; pigs will yelp and run amok, nearly naked; Sparkster's confident chest will heave with the deadly activity.
And the amount of deadly activity RKA provides for the player is plenty. You'll be called upon to sprint through hilly ground while houses burn in the near background, before taking on a segmented, demented snake of undulating aspect with your rocket pack in full burn, your goggles wind blasted against your rodent face. You'll crash through thick castle walls to penetrate pig-infested halls ruled by a giant parapet smashing, Sparkster-pinching creature. Have I told you that this is all in the first level? This is all in the first level.
Later, you'll avoid deadly spikes as you are roughly coerced their way by powerful currents of rising and falling waters. A giant fish crashes in and out of magma as you strive to avoid his gaping, hellish mouth. The penultimate showdown with Axle Gear will involve you racing away from his giant mech that stomps after you inexorably with he at the helm you not far ahead as desperate quarry. Don't relax your grip on the controller should you manage to lose him; you'll soon see that your celebration, or relief, as it were, is short-lived. You've only managed to make it through this most unforgettable of chase scenes long enough to reach your very own mech. Konami expects you to take control of the giant suit, ball and chain arms at the ready, to do battle on the grandest of scales. And you will comply, giddily, controller still sweaty from your narrow escape. This is absolutely brilliant platforming.
And to think, I was so pig-headed when my pal implored me to play!
But there's still more. Quite a few of RKA's scenes involve not a running and jumping Sparkster, but the aforementioned rocket pack-boosted Sparkster. These levels resemble side-scrolling shoot-em-ups, and one particular sequence late in the proceedings even has a Gradius-like mid-boss enemy ship for you to send to the scrap heap, plumes of soft flames curling about its scorched hull. And all the while you'll hear it, softly, but surely amidst the babble of burning metal… the sound of a pig squealing.
The sound is probably the only letdown in this fine package. Konami is known for outstanding music, but outside of the absolutely riveting main theme, the tunes are not up to snuff. The graphics are not of Ristar or Sonic The Hedgehog 2 quality, but closer to the grainier look of the original Sonic The Hedgehog (this makes perfect sense when you consider when this game was made). That being said, the look of the game is still charming and colourful, and the varied, challenging quest is such that it melds perfectly with the cartoonish looks to convince us that we are in control of a comic book hero. Sure he squeaks in inappropriate (yet undeniably adorable) fashion when he is surprised or scared, but he's still a hero, dammit!
Play Rocket Knight Adventures at my urging just as I was urged to play it. (I am currently working on getting another reviewer friend, Pigfried, to play this game.) Beginning play at Rocket Knight Adventures for the very first time can be likened to the scene early on when Sparkster comes across an ornately wrapped gift. A pretty package all around… but inside: nothing but filthy pork. And it won't be long before you think of yourself as a Filth Disposal Agent of the highest order.
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 20, 2003)
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