The Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network are no strangers to
retro remakes, with new editions of Bionic Commando, Turtles In Time,
Street Fighter II, Space Invaders, and many more populating the
downloadable services. However, full sequels to classics are more of a
rarity. Rocket Knight takes the Mega Man 9 and 10 model of keeping the
elements that worked in the originals, while building a completely new
adventure around those core mechanics. The end result is a solid (albeit
short) return for Sparkster and company.
Rather than staying true to original hardware limitations like the recent Mega Man titles, Rocket Knight re-imagines the series' characters and world utilizing some great 2.5D visuals. Your character is unmistakably the heroic possum from the 16-bit era, but everything looks far better than it ever did in the mid-90s.
Fans of the original Genesis and SNES titles will feel right at home once they pick up the controller, as all of Sparkster's abilities make their return. The game's four worlds offer a healthy mix of platforming and combat, with some boss fights requiring quite a bit of both. During the standard levels, you'll have access to sword swipes, a projectile attack, and a rocket burst that allows you to avoid enemies and navigate quicker. Later areas introduce some truly difficult platforming challenges.
Interspersed throughout the standard side-scrolling stages are shooter sections, which are significantly easier than the rest of the game. These somewhat simple affairs require little more than avoiding enemies and shooting through obstacles. While they're not the most challenging, they offer a nice break from the standard platforming areas.
Almost all of the gameplay elements harken back to the original games, but I was also pleased with the unrelenting difficulty. Like most games from that era, you can't just keep replaying and replaying from checkpoints. There is a finite pool of lives, and you only get three continues. Use them all up and you'll be starting way back at the beginning of the game. I learned this on my first playthrough, when I fell to the final boss after over two hours of gameplay. Upon returning to the menu screen, I was surprised but also somewhat pleased to see that there was no simple continue option. Only new game was available, so I had to truck through every stage again until I finally took down the considerably difficult end-game baddie.
It may only be a two-hour game, but the difficulty is perfect, and it offers plenty of incentive for completionists. You can go for speed-runs, try to collect 100% of the gems in each level, or take on hard mode. Nostalgia for the series isn't a requirement if you want to enjoy Rocket Knight, but nostalgia for the era it comes from certainly doesn't hurt.