Rocket Knight Hands-On

The jetpack-flying, sword-wielding opossum from the original Genesis game is set to return, and we've got a hands-on look.

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Konami's upcoming Rocket Knight is based on the 1993 Sega Genesis game Rocket Knight Adventure, which told the tale of an opossum knight named Sparkster who was armed with a sword and a jetpack and fought all manner of anthropomorphic bad guys. Yes, games in the 1990s were weird. Flash forward nearly two decades, and you've got Rocket Knight, a downloadable adventure game for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC that will combine the traditional side-scrolling 2D adventure with high-definition 3D graphics. We recently had a chance to plow through the first level of the game to get a sense of how this revival of sorts is coming along.

The level we played, presumably the opening of the game, finds Sparkster as a humble farmer, working away on his land when the area is attacked by war blimps. Sparkster runs into his house, and in no time he blasts out his front door, wielding his sword and flying in the air thanks to his trusty jetpack. However, his air time is short-lived because the first level of the game takes place on the ground--it's a simple tutorial introducing you to the basics of movement and combat.

When wolves learn to use parachutes, the human race is doomed.
When wolves learn to use parachutes, the human race is doomed.

If you have even brief experience with the platforming genre, you'll be right at home with Rocket Knight. The controls are simple--X (on the PS3 controller) to jump, square to attack, triangle to fire a ranged weapon (which we didn't find that effective), and so on. That said, there are some amusing twists here: Because he's an opossum, Sparkster can hang upside down by his prehensile tail on certain objects. Doing so will let you hang and leap to reach collectibles like gems (to up your level score) and hearts (to heal yourself). There's also the jetpack; and while you can't hover in midair like you might expect, you can use the jetpack to give yourself the slightest bit of extra height by pressing the X button while in midair.

More important is the rocket burst, which is executed by pressing the left analog stick in any direction and pressing the circle button. Rocket burst attacks are especially effective against enemies but are just as essential for getting through the game's occasionally challenging sections of platforming. For example, you can rocket burst straight upward in order to reach an especially high ledge, or you can rocket burst diagonally, bouncing off walls in succession, which will let you scale even taller heights. The only limiting factor with rocket bursts is your fuel level, indicated by a meter in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Fuel replenishes over time, so with a little patience, you'll be ready for rocket-bursting action.

After carving a swath of dead wolf enemies through the first level, we made our way to the second level, a flying shoot-'em-up level that seemed much more in line with what a game called "Rocket Knight" should be all about. Gliding through the air via his jetpack (that now inexplicably had an unlimited amount of fuel), we blasted multiple enemies and objects out of the sky, including floating bombs, and wolves on hang gliders. Holding down the shoot button let loose with a concentrated beam that was especially effective at taking out tougher objects. At the end of the level, we had a miniboss fight against another armored, jetpacked enemy that we made quick work of.

After another on-foot level, we met up with the final boss of the demo: a huge mechanical beast with saws for hands and plenty of sour attitude. His only weak spot was his armored face, and while dodging his rocket and dynamite attacks (as well as those pesky saws), we managed to rocket burst into his face enough times to take him down for good and end the demo.

Rocket Knight is at its best when you're in the air.
Rocket Knight is at its best when you're in the air.

In bringing Rocket Knight into the 21st century, the character and world have gotten the obligatory HD makeover--The Kingdom of Zephyus, where the first few levels take place, is an outdoor environment filled with leafy trees and other plants. You'll occasionally stray into indoor areas, and there's a section where you make your way across a polluted lake. We didn't notice anything visually impressive, and the frame rate in the build we played left a lot to be desired, even in sections where seemingly not much was happening. The sound, too, left something to be desired, especially the tinny howl of the wolf enemies and the seemingly ever-present chirping of birds.

How will fans of the original welcome the return of Rocket Knight? We'll find out next year when the game is released.

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