There's certainly no dearth of twin-stick shooters available on consoles today, and it's becoming more difficult for games with similar control schemes to stand out from the pack. However, Dutch development studio Codeglue shows there's always room for one more with its first downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade. Rocket Riot is reminiscent of Worms, but the slow-paced strategy has been replaced with real-time midair battles. It may not be an original idea, but the execution has the perfect mix of humor, charm, and frantic action.
Rocket Riot uses a modified twin-stick control scheme. Movement and aiming are controlled with both thumbsticks, but the angle, speed, and distance of your missile depend on how long you hold the right stick in your direction of fire. This method adds a step to the traditional gameplay given that you can’t get off shots as quickly as you would in a normal shooter, but the action is still fast-paced thanks to an assortment of power-ups and tactics. The wide variety of power-ups can increase the size, speed, or number of missiles you can fire, or lets you move through solid objects. Interestingly, there are also a variety of power-downs, including items that force you to move around as if you were drunk or that take away your missiles altogether, replacing them with a comedic yet impotent flag bearing the word "bang." In the more difficult levels of the single-player campaign, these power-downs can often mean instant death. In the multiplayer modes, however, they highlight Rocket Riot's whimsical sense of humor. It's always funny to watch friends try to navigate when they don't have complete control over their characters.
The single-player campaign introduces Blockbeard, a legless pirate who escapes prison and straps a jetpack to his behind. You follow him through traditional environments such as pirate ships and more imaginative levels such as computer motherboards, a golf course, and a mad scientist's laboratory. Most of the missions require you to eliminate an increasing number of enemies or to destroy a certain amount of the stage's scenery. There are also more inventive stages, like Rugby Riot, where you carry a football across the playing field to score as many goals as possible before you're overwhelmed by enemies. Every 10 stages you'll fight a different boss that requires a unique strategy to defeat. These fights are occasionally frustrating, but the slow-motion animation that kicks in as you deliver the final blow is very satisfying. When you want to take a break from the 80 single-player missions, there is an Endurance mode with increasing numbers of more aggressive opponents that you can pit your skills against solo or cooperatively with a friend.
Rocket Riot's lasting appeal is in its multiplayer modes, which makes the difficulty of finding online matches supporting up to eight players all the more disappointing. Fortunately, the frenetic competition is best experienced with a group of up to three of your friends sitting on the same couch. In addition to the traditional Deathmatch and the aforementioned Rugby Riot modes, there are two other multiplayer options. In Golden Guy, you try to steal a gold suit and survive for as long as possible. Destroy the Object mode is fairly self-explanatory. You try to destroy your opponents' object while defending your own. Battles are hectic and are often decided only in the last few moments, making each match fun and exciting.
Codeglue's whimsical humor pervades every aspect of Rocket Riot, from the amusing song lyrics in the background music to the main menu asking you ever-so-politely not to exit the game when you're done playing. Much of Rocket Riot's charm comes from its quirky mix of pixelated characters and environments. There are dozens of skins for your legless avatar, ranging from typical video game archetypes like pirates, ninjas, and zombies, to less conventional characters like Bananaman, Santa Claus, and even an ice-cream cone. Killing an enemy and destroying a stage are equally satisfying, as the art explodes into hundreds of colorful pixels and reforms piece by piece. Even when you get killed a second away from victory, you can't help but smile at the delightful explosion and bittersweet consolation music.
Rocket Riot is the perfect game for people who like to sit on the couch with their friends and duke it out with an endless supply of missiles. The single-player campaign is fun while it lasts, but the real value here is in multiplayer brawls. It's disappointing that there don't seem to be many online matches, but when you destroy your friend in slow-motion pixel-busting glory, you really want him to be sitting next to you anyway.