I really enjoyed Shovel Knight. I mean, I freakin’ loved it. Unless something unexpected happens, that’s gonna be my Game of the Year. Just sayin’…your move Destiny (and any other games yet to be released in 2014). Since I was on a retro game kick, I saw that Rex Rocket was up for sale on Steam. I was told that it was a mixture of Mega Man and Castlevania. Sounded great, but I wanted to check out the demo first. What do I think of it? Read on, loyal readers. Read on…
Quoted from the official site:
“Set in Earth's distant future, Rex Rocket references the classic story of Man vs. Machine. You play Captain Rex Rocket, a former war hero who now spends his days transporting scientists around to the far reaches of the universe in his epic Star Cruiser, the S.S. Montana. The game begins on Earth with Rex leaving on a routine mission for the Council of Science, to transplant bio-engineered Terra-Oozlings to an uninhabited planet on the other side of the galaxy. While the ship's crew are all in cryo-sleep, all heck breaks loose when Terra-Oozings escape their tanks and cause the ship's main computer, LAUREN (Logic Analysis User Reactive Entity Network), to go insane. It's up to Rex Rocket to stop the computer, rescue his crew, and save the day!” Source
Rex Rocket is a fascinating thing to behold. I immediately saw what it was going for, but also immediately saw how it fell short.
The first thing that hit me is the artwork. The foreground and the background colors are way too similar. Traditionally, if you have a cool color in the foreground (like blue or green), it’s natural to have a warmer color (like red or orange) in the background to make the foreground stand out. To make it POP. Is this a hard and fast rule? No, but it’s a good rule of thumb and virtually all good games use it. This isn’t exactly new information. I mean, Castlevania did this on the NES back in 1986!
Check out the screen capture below. The top portion is the game as-is and the bottom is a quick edit I did to put a warm color in the background.
See how much better the bottom one reads? That’s what I’m talking about. So, my first hurdle was getting over how ‘samey’ everything looked. That ‘samey’ issue also affects gameplay, with dangers not being evident until they try to kill you. In the following shot I didn’t notice the turret on the ceiling until it shot at me. Argh. >_< Moving right along…
The second thing that hit me was the controls. Rex Rocket is a hard game…and that’s cool. What NOT cool is if I feel the game doesn’t give me the proper teaching/tools to succeed… and this game doesn’t do that. Case in point…
There’s a very odd double-jump mechanic: you jump with the ‘A’ button and then shoot a charged shot downwards to do a second jump in the air. So, you have to hold down ‘X’ to charge up your shot, jump with ‘A’, aim downwards with the analog stick and then release ‘X’ to do a second jump. It’s new and awkward and takes a little while to get used to. How does the game teach you this mechanic? By putting a short note when you begin (see the controls screenshot above). That’s it. To me, when a game introduces a new mechanic, it should do so in a ‘safe space’ – a place where death is not the concern – but rather learning how to consistently use a new ability.
This game just throws you into the fray and you have to figure out the mechanics WHILE learning the dangers of the level. This is not good level design. It made me so frustrated. Why couldn’t they do something like start the game in a locked room with the objective being ‘Find a way out.’ Plainly in sight, at the top of the room is the key to get out. Thus, getting to the key to continue the game is the introduction to movement and mechanics without the fear of death.
The way the game does is by putting you in a room with one hit kills (spikes and acid). *sigh* Not cool, game. Not cool.
Another issue that really frustrated me is the wall-jump. In good games (Super Meat Boy being an excellent example), all the player has to do is press ‘A’ while on the wall to jump off of it. Otherwise, you just slide down the wall. The way Rex Rocket does it, is that you have to press into the direction of the wall and then press 'A' to jump off of it. It feels terrible and awkward and not fun. So, instead of looking forward to wall jumping (like I do in Mega Man X3 or Super Meat Boy) I dreaded it since it was so unnecessarily difficult. I think with practice I could learn to be good at the ‘jump and shoot downwards’ to double-jump that the game uses, but I think this implementation of the wall-jump is just bad.
It’s not all frustrating, though. The game does have a fair bit of cool puzzles like the one below. Here you have to fire a shot to reflect it off the mirrors until it hits the switch in the middle. I think that’s cool! I would have loved to see more interesting, deliberate puzzles like this.
When they said that this game was like Mega Man they weren’t kidding! Check out the following enemies that are essentially Mega Man enemies recolored. The facepalm is strong with this one…
Even a Boss hallway with a striped gate at the end…
Speaking of Bosses, when you die (and you will because the game is freaking hard), you have to button mash through all their introductory dialogue every single time. In Shovel Knight when you die and fight the boss again, the fight just starts. It’s as if the designers of Shovel Knight knew that button-mashing through text for the tenth or eleventh time really isn’t that fun or interesting. Hmm… Perhaps they could share this bit of information with the creators of Rex Rocket. Just a thought.
Then, something amazing happened. After I died a bunch of times, a got a notice in the top left of the screen!
This game has a lives system? Are you kidding me?!
Well, there goes any interest I had with the game. A super-hard game with a wall-jump that feels terrible and art that bleeds together WITH A LIVES SYSTEM? No, thank you. I’ll just play Shovel Knight or Super Meat Boy instead. I hope that the designers use this game as a jumping on point to do bigger and better things in the future and I’m looking forward to it. Bring on more cool games!
UPDATE: I just wanted to add that although I find many points frustrating, I think the game as a whole is really enjoyable. I beat the demo and felt FANTASTIC when I beat the end Boss, so that counts for something. I just wish the rest of the game felt as awesome as it's highlights. Instead there are just hints and glimpses of greatness, instead of a great game through and through.
Have you played Rex Rocket? What do you think of it? Comment below, let me know!
You can download the demo of the game here: games.softpedia.com/get/Games-…
Much love, y’all. The Fall Semester has started and I gotta shift focus back to school… and here I am playing video games. D’oh! Hope y’all are doing well and I’ll talk to you soon. Much love!