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Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Nintendo 64) artwork

Rocket: Robot on Wheels (Nintendo 64) review


"Developing a game specifically for the N64 was a move that could be viewed as either reckless or cunning. The systemís inability to rise out the shadow of the more commercially successful PSX meant that any exclusive games would have a limited reach by default, but then a good game has a better chance of garnering attention in an altogether less eventful library. Rocket: Robot on Wheels effectively turns both of those theories upside down. It fits squarely into the platformer categ..."



Developing a game specifically for the N64 was a move that could be viewed as either reckless or cunning. The systemís inability to rise out the shadow of the more commercially successful PSX meant that any exclusive games would have a limited reach by default, but then a good game has a better chance of garnering attention in an altogether less eventful library. Rocket: Robot on Wheels effectively turns both of those theories upside down. It fits squarely into the platformer category Ė the one type of game that the N64 has plenty of. And as a result, it was overshadowed by the bigger, safer franchises, the ones youíre already familiar with because you were too busy playing them when you could have been enjoying Rocket.

Of course, I could run through my usual routine here, but I can sell you on the sheer creativity of this game right now by telling you that in one level of Rocket, youíve got to reach higher ground by picking up sheep with a tractor beam, sticking them to a particularly thorny wall and using them as stepping stones. End of review.

Post-script: In retrospect, itís pretty easy to see why Rocket went ignored, because it follows a relatively mundane formula that any serious N64 fan should be familiar with. ďGo to these worlds and collect these shiny objectsĒ is a good summary, yet the brilliance of Rocket is not in its structure, but rather the individual ideas that propel it. The main character himself is, as the title very blatantly suggests, a robot on wheels named Rocket and he controls unlike any character Iíve ever seen in a video game: With momentum. He picks up speed as he moves. He accelerates when going downhill, and canít climb a steep slope without getting off to a run first. Itís as if Rocket himself is a vehicle, which would make sense given that heís a machine.

This may seem like an odd choice for a character meant to execute precise feats of platforming, but I assure you that Rocket performs as well as he should given the circumstances. There is, for example, no trace of traction in his movement, as some would fear: Take your thumb off of the analog stick and Rocket comes to an immediate halt. The challenge of the game is derived from how unusual the controls themselves are. Iím reminded of my recent thrashing of Tonic Trouble, a platformer that was only ever difficult because its broken mechanics made it so. Rocket is difficult because the mechanics function exactly as theyíre supposed to Ė itís simply an adjustment. I could see those turned off by platformers being unable to tell the difference between the two, and thatís when I realized: This isnít meant to convert anyone. This game was created for those who love platformers and want to see them expanded upon. If youíre one of the precious few whose ears perk up at the mention of Rayman 2 or Donkey Kong 64, keep listening.

Much of Rocketís gameplay revolves around a physics engine so ahead of its time that Iím wondering if Valve took a few pointers from developer Sucker Punch on this one. Rocketís main gadget is the aforementioned tractor beam, and the mere act of tossing around objects and watching them react realistically to the world was one of Rocketís greatest pleasures. (Not so much today, I guess, but itís certainly fun to see such an impressive engine being utilized in an N64 game.) Water effects are especially remarkable: Jump onto a floating crate and itíll rock and sway as a floating object really would. One brief but ingenious platforming exercise has Rocket leaping across a set of buoys that tip over at the slightest disturbance. The solution, you quickly realize, is to never stay on a buoy long enough to fall off.

So thatís great and everything, but how is the physics engine used in-game? Well, thatís a tricky question, because itís used for everything. The game moves from one intriguing idea to the next at such an alarming rate thatís itís difficult to pinpoint one key aspect of Rocket that makes it work so well. I guess itís variety. Even the best platformers donít really ďchangeĒ from beginning to end. They simply ramp up the difficulty, and the levels vary in basic structure and aesthetics; thatís it. Rocket literally feels like a different game every time you boot it up thanks to the wonderful gameplay motifs that give each level a sense of distinction. One fantastic stage early on offers puzzles that revolve around changing color; a later level, set in a mine, has players blowing things up and manipulating large objects. Any of the ideas present in Rocket would get old if stretched to the duration of a full-length game. Itís that theyíre compiled into one consistently varied package that makes Rocket work so well as a whole.

I mentioned that Rocket takes place in an amusement park, and they get the generic Coney Island locale out of their system early on; eventually, the theme park setting is merely used as an excuse to provide some of the wildest and most varied cosmetic themes one could ask for. Furthermore, one of the chief mechanics present in the game Ė controlling vehicles Ė is one that becomes increasingly more relevant as the game progresses, with the realization that each vehicle fits well with the themes presented by the subsequent level. Those color-changing puzzles I mentioned are accompanied with the Hoversplat, a wonderful little mobile contraption that comes equipped with a paintball cannon. The delightfully acrophobic Arabian Heights, a city nested in the clouds, seems intimidating until you pilot the magic carpet provided from the start.

With all of this jumping around from one idea to the next, Rocket could have potentially come off as feeling like one massive tutorial, and itís a feat of development prowess that the game is intuitive from start to finish. One of my favorite examples of ďdoing a lot with a littleĒ is also one of the first challenges of the game, in which players are tasked with building a roller coaster from the ground up so that the finished product will travel through five numbered targets, in order. It sounds easy, and the tool set youíre given is deceptively simple. The challenge is in minding the ďrulesĒ by which the coaster can be built, and using your limited capabilities to their fullest. Itís such a brilliant puzzle that I was hoping the mechanic would make a return later in the game.

Outside of its lounge-esque soundtrack and occasionally uncooperative camera (which sometimes seemed confused with the instructions I was giving it), this may be Rocketís biggest flaw: So many excellent ideas have been forced into this package that very few of them feel fleshed out. I can see some being turned off by the gameís attention-deficit nature, and I once made the same complaint about Conkerís Bad Fur Day, which to me felt like the philosophy of a mini-game compilation applied to an action/platformer universe. But while that gameís randomness was its greatest detriment, this is somehow never an issue with Rocket. This game knows exactly what itís doing.

What is it doing? Providing us N64 fans with a gold mine of ingenious content for us to sink our teeth into. Those who yearn for the good old days of the collect-a-thon platformer get a figurative slap on the wrist for ignoring this one. Now track down a copy of Rocket and consider it your very own time machine.

Rating: 9/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (February 18, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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jerec posted February 19, 2009:

Wow, someone else played this. I had a go at this when it was newly released, but I never did buy a copy. Good game, though. If I wasn't a poor boy with no income back then I probably would've got a copy. Glad to see someone else played it.

Reminds me, I have an old review of this game that used to be up on GameFAQs.
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jerec posted February 19, 2009:

My review is hilarious in a pathetic sort of way
-----------------

If there is one genre that the Nintendo 64 really has an over abundance in, it is the 3D Platformer. Ever since Super Mario 64, companies have tried to capture its greatness in their own games. With so many 3D Platform games on the system, there is a very high standard for any new games of the genre to meet. Does Rocket: Robot on Wheels have the wheels to stand on when compared to Mario? You shall see.

Plot
It's the night before the Grand Opening of the new amusement park. The creator, feeling happy that he has finished creating the park (as he would), decides to go out for a bit. What he is doing is not of my knowledge, but, I think it involves something a G rated game shouldn't show. Anyway, in his absence, he leaves his little Robot in charge, Rocket. Rocket's first order of business is to feed the animal mascots of the park, the overweight purple seal, and the sly raccoon. Now, this particular raccoon is a very evil creature, and he is really quite jealous of Whoopie (the seal). This poor little raccoon is sick of being second fiddle to Whoopie and decides to wreck up the park, just when it's time for Rocket to look after things. So, Rocket chases after him to the park, by use of a transporter, and finds that all the tickets, tokens and bits of the machines are scattered all over the various parts of the park. Naturally, it's up to you to help Rocket get back all the tickets by doing little tasks in the levels. Bet you didn't see that coming?

Game play
Have you ever played Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie? Well, if you hated them, go away, because you'll hate this as well. I'm serious, do you think I'm fooling around here?

*watches some people click Back*

Okay, now with those fools gone, pay attention. I'm only going to say this once. You get to move Rocket around, and you can use his tractor beam to lift up stuff and move it around. It can be a little hard at first, but you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly. This is one of the most original ideas I have ever seen in a game, and it adds a lot of variety to the puzzles. The control is actually quite bad, I was a bit disappointed when I continually wanted to jump, and always got stuck and just fell. The camera control is quite hard to control as well, it usually chooses the most anal position to go in, like when you go through a tunnel, it shows you and what's behind you. This looks like a movie, and has some nice cinematic values, but is useless if you want to see what is in front of you.

Every game needs a point, because without it, it'd be pointless. The point of Rocket: RoW is to collect the tickets that are scattered about the levels. These can be gathered by winning races, constructing machines, and even collecting 200 tokens. These tickets can then be used to receive new moves to make the game more interesting. In each level, there are seven parts of a machine, which once you combine all the bits, you will activate the main attraction of the level. In the first locale, you get a huge dinosaur which you can go inside. The only problem with this game, apart from the control, is the challenge. It is really hard, even on the first level. If you think about how games give it to you easy on the first level, then you'll realize how hard they make you work in this game. Fun, but hard due to control and high challenge.

If you thought this review is over, then you're a damn fool. Check out my graphics section!

Graphics
The graphics in this game are fairly dull. Sure there are lots of bright coloured things, but the general feel of the game is dark, depressing and disturbed, much like one of those old paintings. You know the ones I'm talking about. Aside from being dull, the graphics are quite plain as well, the first level is almost barren, with just dark hills. There are some nice things to look at, but they seem small and don't seem to be happy like Mario 64. The textures, hmm, most of them are nice, but they seem very plain. Did they make these in MS Paint? No, but it could be a little better. The animation of our little Rocket is what saves the graphics though. When Rocket speeds around the carnival, his wheel will spin round and round, and he will bob around the place. The other characters AI is pretty boring. Overall, its not the nicest game to look at.

Sound
GAK the music sure it fits in with a carnival theme, but deeply contrasts the dark, depressing and disturbed feel of the game. It is also loud, blaring and repetitive. I don't think it deserves to be turned off, but turned down is a good option. The sound effects are quite fine, like when you power up your car or ride the roller coaster. I really don't know how far I can elaborate on sound.

Lasting Appeal
It's quite a long game, and it packs plenty of challenge. I don't think many will actually bother to finish the game, because it is quite nerve wracking when you try so hard to get a ticket, but fail due to the sloppy control. Once you do finish though, I think this game will be off to see the bargain bin, so some other die-hard N64 game collector can pick it up.

Overall 7/10
Are you ready for a pun? Well, too bad becuase I don't have one. Okay, Rocket: Robot on Wheels, while not terrible, has some flaws which prevent it from facing the big leagues like Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie, or even Rayman 2.

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Suskie posted February 19, 2009:

If you thought this review is over, then you're a damn fool. Check out my graphics section!

Bahaha.
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JANUS2 posted February 19, 2009:

That is the best transition I've ever seen.
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Lewis posted February 19, 2009:

"Are you ready for a pun? Well, too bad becuase I don't have one."

*splutters*
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wolfqueen001 posted February 19, 2009:

Hahahaha. Win. Host it here, jerec; the public will love you.

Anyway, Suskie's review is pretty good, though I did find something that read a bit awkwardly: most varied cosmetic themes one could for. Anyway, this review's quite interesting and informative; it almost makes me wish I'd had an N64 in the first place, except that I'm really not a huge Nintendo fan.
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Suskie posted February 19, 2009:

Thanks; error fixed. It's nice to finally get some feedback in this noted feedback topic.
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JANUS2 posted February 19, 2009:

Well I actually came here to say something but then I got distracted.

What struck me when reading was how awkward this game would be to review. It just sounds all over the place. But, on the whole, you manage to bring these diverse elements together and actually succeed in making a strong argument (rather than jumping all over the place with nice yet irrelevant descriptions).
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jerec posted February 20, 2009:

Oh, that's what I forgot to say...

It was a good review, Suskie. Gave me a nice little nostalgic buzz to read, and you made me want to try and track down a copy. I don't like my chances, though. Maybe in 5-6 years Nintendo might get around to putting it on the Virtual Console.
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Suskie posted February 20, 2009:

Yeah, in retrospect, the N64 is really the one console where I pretty much hit everything I wanted to play the first time around, without having to track down any rare copies of treasured games in the years following. I've been rooting through my N64 collection recently and reviewing some of the games that I always meant to write about, in case you haven't noticed. I'm more or less doing it for easy Alpha Marathon entries. In fact, I'll be nailing another (very pesky) letter tonight.

Anyway, thanks guys. Most people probably won't like Rocket as much as I did, but then again I'm partial to these N64-era collect-a-thon platformers. I mean, I like Donkey Kong 64. Nobody likes that game.
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honestgamer posted February 20, 2009:

I like Donkey Kong 64 quite a bit. It was a fun game. I even bothered to collect all of the bananas and at one point wrote a guide about how others could do the same.

Rocket was an okay game. I bought it when it was new but unfortunately had to sell it down the road. I didn't think it was great, but it was good enough that when the developer released the first Sly Cooper game, I tried it and fell in love with it. Now Sucker Punch is working on Infamous and I'll try that one once it hits the PS3, as well.
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zippdementia posted February 20, 2009:

I liked Donkey Kong 64, but it didn't like me. Every copy I tracked down had major save glitches.
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Suskie posted February 20, 2009:

That's definitely a weird issue and I can't say I ever had that, but DK64 was still one of the glitchiest games I can recall playing. Like, I remember there was a way to clip into the center of the island and wind up in the middle of K. Rool's ship... WTF...
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jerec posted February 20, 2009:

I remember Donkey Kong 64 being horrible because of all the glitches, and being incredibly frustrating at times. When you'd fail at a minigame or some other task, the game would rub it in your face, and often it didn't seem fair. If you got stuck at something, you just had to keep trying until you managed to somehow beat the system. In a game like Zelda, if you got stuck at something, you usually had to approach the problem from a different angle, or come back with a new item or something. In DK64, there wasn't any of that. If you couldn't do it, you couldn't do it, and that was one gold banana you'd have to come back for later.

I nearly hurled a controller at the TV due to the Donkey Kong arcade game you had to play twice.
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Suskie posted February 20, 2009:

The argument that DK64 is too frustrating and unfair will always seem weird to me, because I was able to 100% the game when I was, what, nine years old or something?

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