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RELEASE DATE (NA): June 16, 1993 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

O Possum, My Possum!

I'm not entirely sure what was going on in the 1990s, but there was a massive explosion of games centered around anthropomorphized heroes: Bubsy the Bobcat, Crash Bandicoot, Aero the Acrobat, Fox McCloud, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mr. Nutz, Jazz Jackrabbit, Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel... The list goes on and on. There must have been something in the drinking water that caused this flow of fuzzy creatures into our gaming consoles. Many of these games weren't even that memorable; do you know of anyone who has praised Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel in the past decade? No, no, you don't. With the endless stream of weird animalia that could save the daylia, it's no wonder so many of them were lost in the fold. Perhaps this was for the best, considering some of them were pretty sub-par. But we shouldn't discard all of them; many of these games were quite good, despite having a furry protagonist. Rocket Knight Adventures is clearly one of them.

Rocket Knight Adventures was designed by Nobuya Nakazato. That name probably doesn't mean a thing to you, but his resumé might. He was largely responsible for both Contra III: The Alien Wars (SNES) and Contra: Hard Corps (Genesis). Those games are pretty bad-ass and were notorious for not holding back, throwing every boss and bullet at you that they could. When you look at the cover art for Rocket Knight Adventures and see an opossum in a blue suit of armor wielding a sword, you probably couldn't imagine anything except a generic platformer with scowl-pasted woodland creatures wanting to crack your acorns. Tell me, how does it feel to be wrong?

As Sparkster, one of the Rocket Knights from the Kingdom of Zebulos, his goal is to avenge his father from his murderer, Axel Gear, as well as save the beloved Princess Sherry from the clutches of Axel Gear and Emperor Devilgus Devotindos (that name alone in frightening). There is a more detailed backstory, yes, but the game focuses solely on pure, uncompromising action. Nothing is out of bounds in this Rocket Knight's adventures. Each of the seven stages is brimming with pig baddies, bosses, and obstacles designed to keep you on your toes. One minute you might be slicing up a tank on a wooden bridge; the next, a flailing robot taller then the mountain range might be trying to take a chunk out of your hide; another, a giant space-walking robot might need some taming. Just like in the 16-bit Contra titles, Rocket Knight Adventures adamantly refuses to give you much resting time between bouts of sword-swinging and rocketeering.

Roadkill lives... to kill again!

This game also spans multiple genres and features some innovative ways to play. Sparkster himself has a couple of unique abilities. In addition to his sword, which can fire off a swipe-shaped projectile to fend off foes from a short distance, he also boasts a rocket pack. (The word "Rocket" in the title likely gave away that little tidbit.) After manually charging your rocket pack, you can jet yourself off in one of eight directions. This will definitely come in handy for reaching items floating way up in the air, bouncing off walls, or just escaping from anything nasty that wants you dead. You need to be holding down the direction you want when you release the charging button, or you'll end up just doing a spin move in place, which can be helpful at times as well, but not when you're in a hurry to get somewhere. You actually don't have much opportunity to make much use of the rocket abilities, though, which is surprising. Sparkster can also hang from certain platforms by his tail, and I'm cool with that, too.

Though the majority of the game takes place in the style of a platformer, other gameplay styles are interspersed, such as turning Sparkster into a makeshift fighter ship as the game enters into horizontal shmup mode. Sparkster even gets to hop into a giant mech and duke it out with Axel Gear in a fight to the death! It's with these variations that Rocket Knight Adventures fails to ever get dull. Even without them, there would still be enough action to keep you on the edge of your seat. And that seat might get a little moist with all the sweat it will need to absorb because Rocket Knight Adventures is tough as nails. Regardless of your difficulty level, Konami will try to eat you for breakfast. Alive. Without a marinade. That's the definition of ruggedness. But our opossum buddy can handle it, right?

If the action wasn't enough to satisfy you, know that you'll be treated to gorgeous graphics. Rocket Knight Adventures was one of those Konami games that pushed the console to its limits, just like Contra: Hard Corps and Castlevania: Bloodlines. Neat graphical effects such as reflective surfaces and screen warping from heat were tasks the Genesis probably wasn't meant to perform, but Konami sure knew how to get the most out of that black box. The bosses are pretty large and menacing as well, just adding to the eye candy factor; it's impressive how they are made up of so many different moving parts together. And, of course, you have some nice scenery. I just know we all play games for the rolling hillsides and such. In another surprising move, the audio doesn't sound like it's coming from a buffalo's backside, unlike some less-than-smooth criminals on the Genesis.

For Genesis owners and fans of gritty, tough challenging platformers alike, Rocket Knight Adventures feels like an essential part of any collection. I went into the quest with mild expectations and walked away stunned. That doesn't happen too often, and that's a solid indicator that there's definitely some magic in that ol' dark cartridge. Rocket Knight Adventures is one of the best platformers I've played for the Genesis and it's worth a visit if you can find it.

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