Review: Rocket Riot

At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that Rocket Riot, the first XBL game from Dutch studio Codeglue, was an old 8-bit side-scroller. Look again and you will notice the pseudo-pixelated style concealing what appears to be quite a powerful graphical engine. Everything in this game is made with a faux-retro look which is as stunningly rendered as it is charmingly endearing. This is a game which clearly knows what it wants to be and effortlessly achieves its goals. The environments are all totally destructible, gradually reforming themselves over time. When struck by your rockets the scenery (and each enemy) explodes with a cascade of what can only be described as 3D pixels.

The sound also adheres to this faux-retro theme. The music is repetitive and becomes grating if you listen to it loop for a long time but they have obviously composed music to sound like it was made during the golden age of 8-bit gaming and it fades into the background of your consciousness once you start firing rockets around the screen. There is an element of character creation where you can change the main colour on each character model and the colour of your aiming dot. There seems to be hundreds of character models which you can unlock by defeating those characters in the story mode. So not only can you have pirates battling ninjas but you can also have bananas and skeletons entering the fray.

The story mode, with eighty levels of increasing difficulty, sends you in pursuit of a nefarious pirate called Blockbeard who has escaped from prison and stolen everyone’s legs (hence the rockets now attached to everyone’s rear). There we have it, the second most endearing feature of this game – its humour. You probably won’t laugh out loud at the few gags that feature but they will certainly raise a smile. The humour is self aware and reminds me of the style in the Monkey Island games or the Discworld novels. Each level of story mode features a goal, usually to defeat an ever-increasing number of enemies. Occasionally there will be a level with a twist such as to find a character hidden amongst the completely destructible environments or destroy a certain number of a certain object. Blockbeard himself shows up at intervals and features as a kind of boss battle before jetting off to change the background scenery for ensuing levels.

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Essentially though, Rocket Riot was not built to be a story-driven game. As fun as the single-player modes are, the real enjoyment in this title comes when you play with friends. You can play over Live against up to eight other players (or co-op an endurance mode with two to four players). Unfortunately there seemed to be very few people playing online when we tested it and it was difficult to get a game. In fact, at one point when we searched there were literally no games available to join of any type. Luckily the great news is that you can play local multiplayer against three other people (four in total) all on the same console. The local multiplayer is hugely entertaining with the right mix of people and for extra mayhem you can connect via system link with other 360s on your network.

There are a variety of multiplayer modes, including variations of the most popular multiplayer modes with a riotous twist. For example the “VIP” mode from many multiplayer shooters becomes “Golden Guy” where you pick up a golden suit and try to maintain control for as long as possible. The trick being that when you’re wearing the suit you can’t fire your rockets. There is also a variation of Capture the Flag (Rocket Rugby) which is insanely fun and a sort of variation on Capture and Hold or Zones called “Destroy the Object” where each team has to destroy the other team’s object first.

Basically you could call Rocket Riot a Two-Stick-Shooter but it is so much more than that. Each shot you fire has trajectory. The longer you hold the right stick the more powerful shot you make but it will always fade and drop. This opens out the game-play mechanic immensely as you can now fire up at a sharp angle and hit opponents on the other side of objects. Think of it like the bazooka weapon in Worms but fired by a player-character with far more range and speed of movement. You are limited to one weapon but it never feels like you might benefit from more. In fact it’s difficult to imagine the game working with any weapon other than the bazooka. There are a range of twenty pick-ups (fifteen are beneficial or funny and five are detrimental) which affect your character in many useful, annoying or amusing ways. From speedier rockets, triple shots, homing missiles and bouncing rockets to a power-down which makes your controls really wobbly like your character has been drinking. You hit the A button to activate a power-up (green boxes for weapons, blue for defensive and yellow for funny) but the power-downs (red boxes) automatically activate when you pick them up.

Rocket Riot came as a slight surprise to me, it was released without fanfare and strangely, it still does not seem to have attracted much attention. The development studio which is responsible for this game comes from a mostly mobile-platform background, creating for the N-Gage platform and currently developing for iPhone. Rocket Riot was my first encounter with the studio and if they can make a game which is this much fun, has this fantastic aesthetic and feels this well constructed with their first release I am extremely hopeful that they will continue developing for home consoles. This is a fantastic game to enjoy with friends or just to jump into for a few minutes and progress a couple more levels in story mode. If the online multiplayer was more heavily populated this game would be almost unmissable but as it is I can only really recommend (or properly review) the excellent single player story mode and the immense fun of local multiplayer. That is not a fault of the game though, hopefully in time more and more people will find this hidden gem on the XBL Marketplace and the online population will increase to a point where the fun playing over Live is equal to the fun of local multiplayer.

8/10

Cake!

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