Developer: Castle Pixel
Publisher: Castle Pixel
Platform: PC (Steam)
Release Date: August 5, 2014
ESRB: E for Everyone
I first played Rex Rocket while attending PAX East 2014 earlier this year. The presentation is what initially drew me in, but the familiar, yet innovative gameplay is why I eagerly anticipated the game“s release. I knew what was coming when I booted up the game, but even still—Rex Rocket has managed to exceed my expectations. If you have fond memories of classic action games like Mega Man II or Super Metroid, I hope I have your attention.
In Earth“s distant future, the player takes control of Captain Rexford or Rexanna Rocket, a former war hero who now makes ends meet by transporting scientists throughout the universe aboard the massive S.S. Montana. The game begins as the crew gets ready for another routine mission that happens to involve dangerous cargo—Terra-Oozlings. These mean, green creatures are capable of possession and all sorts of other nasty things. And while the crew is in cryo-sleep, the dangerous cargo breaks free. The scientists, soldiers and major characters you meet at the game“s beginning are nowhere to be found when Rex wakes up. And when it comes to the ship“s AI, L.A.U.R.E.N., Rex is given the advice to...well...run away.
Of course, the point of Rex Rocket isn't really to run away...it“s to gun down almost everything that moves, especially if it“s green and slimy. The player must find and rescue the ship“s crew, stop that pesky AI, and take back control of the S.S. Montana. Since it“s an action game inspired by the classics, folks may think the â€œback of the box plotâ€ is all there is in terms of story. I“m happy to report that there“s more than meets the eye.
First and foremost, the game is very humorous. Random NPCs will make quips about â€œspace burgers in paradiseâ€ or use a line or two from Star Trek. Main characters will get themselves out of harm“s way thanks to the versatile nature of a paper-clip. The script oftentimes left me with a smile on my face. It“s always nice to see a game that“s not afraid to have a sense of humor. Those looking for more complex back-stories and plot-points: Rex Rocket has 90 Info Nodes scattered throughout the ship that detail everything from the stories surrounding major characters, to explaining various weapons and monsters, to even Rex“s pet fish!
The game“s presentation is overall very impressive. The Lego-like charm to each human character is certainly endearing, and the designers give equal attention to detail when it comes to each robot, monster or boss character as well. Part of what will make Rex Rocket stand out from its contemporaries are the things that populate the game.
Classics like Mega Man became memorable because of things like character and enemy design, as well as world-building. Despite having a much smaller team behind it, Rex Rocket“s world has the potential (thanks to its humor and design) to be as memorable as any of the classics. And all the while, as you take in everything on the S.S. Montana, a phenomenal soundtrack always sets the mood appropriately.
Saskrotch, the game's composer, has put together over thirty unique chiptune arrangements that channel the talents of Manami Matsumae, with an edgier tempo at times. What "edge" sets the arrangements apart from Matsumae, or even modern chiptune aficionados? Rex Rocket“s Infinite Ammo song is officially titled â€œMEET ME SOME-F*#%@N“-WHEREâ€. The game“s composer seems just as in-tune with the game as the developers.
Did I mention the game was â€œMega Man hardâ€? Castle Pixel wasn't just inspired by Mega Man II; they probably mastered it. And they“ve taken every bit of player-grooming, sometimes-maddeningly-difficult level or boss design from the past...and brought it to the modern age.
There were times where I cursed like a sailor. There were times where I got almost to the end of a platforming section that made me scoot to the edge of my chair, only to fall into a slime pit to my death when my right thumb slipped off my Game Pad because it was already sweating so much from all the circus tricks I“d pulled to get to that point. I probably have neighbors who can confirm the loud scream that came from my apartment way too early in the morning when I finally smashed the Commando-Bot boss once and for all.
Rex Rocket isn't afraid to take up the gauntlet that Capcom dropped when they stopped making Mega Man games for a while. This game is everything that made â€œold schoolâ€ work—fundamentally and philosophically.
The game is so hard that your â€œMega Manâ€ skills will improve as a whole by the time your journey is over. Rex starts out pretty fragile, and with minimal jumping skills. But as you defeat bosses, you“re rewarded in ways that increase your flexibility and reach (as well as your overall firepower). Health and ammo extensions can be found throughout the ship, and are often cleverly hidden. The level design moves at a steady pace right alongside you, often accounting for the various upgrades you receive. Did you find the jet-pack? The next section of the ship you explore is going to feature platforming that requires the use of double-jumping. Heck, the entire rest of the game is going to account for your new sense of reach.
Indeed, there is a heavy sense of exploration at the heart of Rex Rocket. The game functions like an early Mega Man title, but instead of boxed-in levels with a Robot Master at the end, the S.S. Montana is an open space to explore, with many areas open right from the start. Each major portion of the ship is fundamentally its own level. But...there are so many side areas. Finding the more powerful weapons are going to keep Achievement Hunters occupied for quite a while, offering extended replay value.
I certainly did run into a handful of problems with the game. First and foremost: the player will probably use the standard pistol issued at the beginning of the game the most. There are many weapons in Rex Rocket, but until you get the grenades towards the game“s half-way point, most of these weapons seem ancillary at best. They pack an extra punch when it comes to boss fights, but they rarely felt useful otherwise.
Some of the super-hard-to-obtain weapons include a BOOMerang (that goes through walls) and an actual Grenade Launcher...but why couldn't all the game“s weapons be as unique as those, instead of a simple spread-gun or a more rapid-firing pistol? I rarely used my â€œAmmoâ€ meter outside of boss fights, which is truly unfortunate.
Also: Rex Rocket uses a Lives system, and that is its biggest flaw, in my opinion. The S.S. Montana features fairly-placed Restoration Points—spots you“re kicked back to when you die (and you will die a lot if you start out as unskilled as I was). I never had any qualms with where the Restoration Points were while playing through the game. It“s where the Hyper Tubes are that I took major issue with.
When you run out of lives, you get a Game Over and are sent back to the starting point of the ship, near the cryotubes where you woke up. You reach the middle and later portions of the ship by way of these Hyper Tubes. I encountered only eight throughout my journey, which meant having to retrace my steps during some of the most difficult portions of the game.
Imagine having to go through one or two Robot Masters“ levels again in Mega Man II every time you got a Game Over. The length between Hyper Tubes was never truly obscene, but being kicked back to the beginning (over and over again, at times) got vexing at times. I think â€œlivesâ€ should have been abolished in favor of something else—much like the recent Shovel Knight and other contemporaries managed to do. It certainly wouldn't make the game any less difficult; it would just remove the hindrance of needing to retrace your steps.
Despite those flaws, at the end of the day Rex Rocket offered some of the most fun I“ve had in the genre after my 10-15 hour journey was complete. Castle Pixel has created a truly unique experience that feels as though they“ve married Super Metroid and Mega Man, and raised the slimy Lego-like cross-bred product to the modern age.
+ The perfect combination of your favorite action games
+ Outstanding soundtrack, charming graphics/presentation
+ Plenty of things to collect, and added replay value
- Weapons, while plentiful, don't offer enough variety
- The "Lives" system feels unnecessary (or at least unfair) at times.
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Rex Rocket isn't just a game inspired by the classics--it has the potential to become a classic itself, with little holding it back.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a Steam Key provided by the publisher.