What is it with video games and marsupials? I guess there’s just something believable about an adorable creature being a hero. There is however no marsupial (or opossum, technically) that can touch Sparkster. He’s a forgotten hero in the modern age, but one that’s aged with grace and is still as enjoyable today as it was 26 years ago. Rocket Knight Adventures is at the very top of its class.
It’s so cliché to say that Sparkster is out to save a princess, but that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. It’s just that he has a deeper reason to do it, than just ‘saving a princess’. The kingdom of Zebulos is under attack from the enemy, the Devotindos Empire with Devilgus, a pig-like bad guy, at the helm. A rocket knight that has gone rogue, Axel Gear, under the orders of Devilgus, has kidnapped the princess in his quest to blackmail the king in handing over the ‘key to the seal’ to overthrow the world. It’s at this point that Sparkster steps on to the battlefield with sword and rocket pack at hand.
Unlike many games of this era, Rocket Knight Adventures demanded a lot of your time to master.
As cute as Sparkster might appear, he’s exceptionally lethal. His basic attack is sword strike that comes with an energy pulse that shoots out towards any incoming threat. His trademark attack is, however, the ability to charge up his rocket pack for an attack. By doing so he can fly in eight different directions and lands a lot of damage when executed correctly. Attack by using the same rocket pack charge without pressing a direction and he’ll perform a spinning sword attack. It’s these simplicities that make the game so simple to pick up but incredibly tough to master in the later levels. Unlike many games of this era, Rocket Knight Adventures demanded a lot of your time to master. It’s a game that is going to last you many hours and, should you know the game inside out, it’ll take at least an hour to complete. For a 16-bit era title that is a lengthy prospect. But there is something else that’ll have your heart beating through your chest with excitement – the adrenaline pumping music.
The soundtrack is superb. It starts off with something that tells you that you’re playing as a hero who is about to embark on a huge adventure and later moves to a thumping soundtrack that brings forth the hardcore situation of a boss encounter. When you’re flying through the sky with Sparkster’s goggles mounted to his head a tune kicks in that makes it all feel very ‘Superman’. The tempo for each stage has been met with absolute perfection. It’s very likely one of the best 16-bit soundtracks ever composed.
There are many areas that stand out in Rocket Knight Adventures. Visually it’s one of the best-looking 16-bit games you’ll ever play. The parallax scrolling is exceptional. It creates an unequalled sense of depth, more so than most other 16-bit games and that sprite work is just gorgeous. There are levels with mirror reflections, well ahead of its time. Each animation has been crafted with precision, right down to Sparkster’s facial expressions in some cutscenes. One moment you’re causing havoc on beautiful green pastures and the next you’re soaring through the air, boosted by your rocket pack as a horizontal scrolling shooter. It’s a linear experience, but the level design is of the highest order. Each level provides a new challenge that’ll test your logic thinking and that includes the boss battles too.
There are numerous boss battles, each with their own pattern to learn. You’ll never feel like any boss is using a cheap trick to beat you as the difficulty increases gradually up to the point that you’re in a fight off against the final boss. Though the above-mentioned rocket pack is used to beat these bosses, it’ll also aid you in getting out of harm’s way or getting to the exit of the stage with haste, when it requires you to do so. Holding the C button and building your rocket power meter is something you constantly keep your eyes on.
The boss battles are fantastic, but it’s also at times its Achilles heel. Rocket Knight Adventures is that typical Japanese game where you think you’re about to complete the game, but then the second, third and fourth form arrives to dash your hopes. This is specifically apparent about three-quarters of the way in, as you’ll be fighting boss battle after boss battle. Lose all your hearts, lives and limited continues and it’s game over for you. It’s brutal, because the final battles are tough to master. The basic enemies all mostly consist of pigs, which can become a bit repetitive, but each of them has different forms to make up for that. Other than that there is nothing I can fault.
If this was to release as an Indie game in 2019 it’ll be regarded as a step forward for the action platforming genre. It’s disheartening that Rocket Knight Adventure has never seen a release on any other platform since its initial release on the SEGA Mega Drive. The reboot of the series never lived up to expectation a few years back, but if you own the SEGA Mega Drive then this should rocket straight into your library.