Personal Favorite: ROCKET KNIGHT ADVENTURES
Rocket Knight Adventures was my personal favorite Genesis game, even over Sonic the Hedgehog 2. There are dozens of stellar games for this console, but for me Rocket Knight Adventures and its sequel Sparkster are at the top of the hill.
Developed by Konami for the Genesis only, Rocket Knight Adventures released in 1993. Its a side-scrolling platformer like many other popular games of its generation. It features an opossum named Sparkster, a knight armed with an energy-projecting sword and a rocket pack that when fully fueled helps him fly. Sparkster must fight through an army of pigs and robots to rescue Princess Sherry and protect his king and kingdom. The game had moderate attention and sales when it released. Since then its kind of been known as a retro hidden gem, a game that holds up fantastically but isn’t always the easiest to find. Its also known for being very difficult, which I can personally confirm.
The artwork and box cover are great, setting a nice example of the tone and art design you can expect in the game. The levels in Rocket Knight Adventures use backgrounds that look flat, almost like a painting. Sparkster and the enemies have thicker lines, giving them a quasi 3 dimensional quality when in front of those flat backgrounds. Soundtrack is fan-freakin-tastic, one of best of the 16bit era. Between this game, the Castlevania series and the later music masterpieces Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, Konami really has proven to be one of the best in the business as far as video game music. One particular thing about this game’s music that I liked was how even though each song sounds pretty different they all have kind of a high-tempo, kind of anxious undertone to them. That tempo makes sense when you think about that during the entire game you’re in pursuit of these enemies trying to catch them before they can get away.
The best things about Rocket Knight Adventures is its gameplay and personality. Sparkster and his enemies are quite animated, using lots of facial expressions and sound effects to convey their feelings. When you defeat a normal pig soldier he’ll be stripped to his undies and scurry off. When you do platforming elements you will hang upside down by your tail instead of simply standing on the object. Between each level are nice little cutscenes which show off Sparkster’s determination and end with a new animation of him in pursuit of the space-pigs, even more fired up than last time. Speaking of levels, each one feels very different from the last. Through the use of different background settings, new enemy types and new boss mechanics you feel like you’re playing something new with each stage you transition to. Gameplay wise I LOVE the rocket-pack and sword mechanics. Some stages have you walking side-scroller beat-em-up style. In these levels you have a sword that can reach short range or can be charged to do a 360 spin attack. You can also use your rocket pack to give you a short-ranged jolt in one of eight directions. The fact that you can also activate it while mid-air really adds to the game’s depth and mechanics. Other stages have you flying non-stop in a horizontal shooter style after you get a rocket-pack upgrade. These almost feel like an entirely different game.
One of my favorite features are the bosses. There are multiple per level and each have unique and usually challenging mechanics. They’re the perfect amount of difficult. You’ll die the first time you face a new one, almost guaranteed.
But once you learn the mechanics, if you’re skilled at the combat system, you’ll be able to tackle the boss with good timing and patience. I’m not gonna lie, the game is hard, like almost Battletoads degrees of hard. But the difficulty lies in timing and the combat system, the difficulty is not artificial. The bosses typically don’t take a ton of hits to defeat (which is nice because it keeps the feeling of the game being a fast-paced “chase”) and typically don’t do a ton of damage per hit. With skillful play you can take them down quickly, but it takes time and quick reflexes to get to that level of skill. The second to last boss and the train boss specifically were much harder than I had remembered. But at no point in my countless retries did I get mad or frustrated at the game. My deaths were my own fault, my reactions too slow, my patience too thin. Maybe this is a product of my hundreds of hours into Souls games and Battletoads but I think its most likely because Rocket Knight Adventures is such a superb game.
Rocket Knight Adventures is an all-time great, somehow even better than I had remembered it. The art, sound, mechanics, personality, everything is top of the line. Buy this game without hesitation if you own a Genesis, no matter the cost.