How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. It's got ability gating and an interconnected level design, but each area plays out like a stage rather than an intricately woven world
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~4 hours
Review Info: Rocketron was played on Windows PC using the Steam version
Buy Rocketron if you like…
- Run &
- Gun Games
- Jetpack Flying
- Overpowered Weaponry
- Punishing Systems
- Meaningful Choice Leveling Systems
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Games are evolving. Even the retro throwbacks are adding depth to their story presentations that couldn’t have been accomplished in the era they’re paying homage to. Then there’s Rocketron, which unabashedly takes everything that was fun about 90s action games and does absolutely nothing to change a thing. That isn’t to say that Rocketron doesn’t do anything unique with its arcade style madness, but it is madness nevertheless, and that’s exactly why it’s worth recommending. As much as I like pretentiously reading too much into things and lauding games for presenting something I view as profound, sometimes it’s also fun to just blow some stuff up. For a mere $6 at full price, you get your pocket full of quarters worth of old school action, with just enough of a Metroidvania twist to set it apart from just playing a 90s Arcade game instead.
The premise of Rocketron is that some cultist robots are doing cultist things, and your job is to violently deal with them in the most violent way possible. To accomplish this you’re given a massive gun with a modular weapon switching capability. Even on the hardest difficulty most things explode after just a couple of shots. So to keep the combat engaging they send a ludicrous number of enemies at you at a time, and you just mow through them like they were blades of grass. It’s a good thing too that your gun is so overpowered, because your basic mobility is kind of terrible. You can jump, but without upgrades or using fuel the most you can really do to dodge is to shuffle around slowly. Thus you’re incentivized to kill quickly or be killed. Soon after the game starts you get a satisfying machine gun, a shotgun, and even more weapons come as you progress. The variety of weapons give you a few strategic options for keeping yourself safe with offense being your best defense. Every mistake you make really sticks with you since there are no ways to fully restore your health, so you rely entirely on drops from enemies. Thankfully offensively taking down threats isn’t your only method of avoiding damage.
True to the game’s title, Rocketron’s other gimmick is that your massive gun also doubles as a rocket powered vehicle that will send you flying in whatever direction your gun is facing. Your rocket power is governed by how much rocket fuel you have left, at which point you have to wait until the fuel automatically comes back. At the start of the game you only really have enough fuel for a short burst of movement, which functions as a double jump or an emergency dodge tool. You will eventually find upgrades to your fuel tank so you can do things like firing off two good bursts or jetting along with one long sustained use of your fuel. As long as your rocket is active, gravity seems to have no effect on you, so if you aim your jet horizontally, you’ll fly in a perfect straight line until you either run out of fuel or you stop the jet manually. Compared to your beginning walking speed, the Jetpack moves you at almost three times the speed, so it’s tempting to use the jetpack just to help you scuttle around. It’s generally better to use the fuel strategically though, because as mentioned taking damage has long lasting effects in this game.
Adding to the strategic depth of some simple mechanics, the rocket power always shoots you in whatever direction you’re aiming your gun. Thus you have to consciously stop firing when you want to dodge unless you want to face plant right into the robot you’re probably trying to avoid. Your gun also doesn’t turn instantly either so you sort of have to plan ahead on everything you want to do. This makes weapons with more unusual coverage extra useful, since the less you have to actually aim directly at your enemy, the more likely you’re going to be able to react with the right jet trajectory the next time a bullet is coming your way. This juggling act of firing and re-aiming your gun so you can dodge with a jet boost is the premise of every boss fight in this game, since with most of them the strategy of blowing them up before they can hurt you won’t work – because they’re a boss. Most bosses include hordes of adds, but for the boss itself, it’s master the dynamics of your rocket or lose. By the end of the game with a full rocket tank, you’ll be navigating a bullet hell maze of projectiles looking for that opportunity to fill the boss’ face full of holes, praying the entire time that you won’t make a wrong turn. It’s fantastic.
The way your additional weapons are balanced against each other is tied to how punishing being hit can be. Every weapon has infinite ammo regardless of how powerful they are, so you can use the best weapon for the situation any time you want – unless you get hit. Each weapon has its own health bar, and the more powerful weapons have shorter health bars. While the best guns are going to make that offensive defense I mentioned earlier that much easier, it only takes one or two hits to knock them out of commission. Once a gun has lost all of its health, you can’t switch to it until you’ve filled up its entire health bar, and even then you’re given the gun back with a minimal amount of HP left on it. Gun health is refilled regardless of whether you’ve switched to it though, and as long as the gun isn’t active it doesn’t take damage when you do. Gun health is refilled with the same health pickups you use to restore your own HP, although the gun health is restored at a much much slower pace. The design is extremely punishing for players who are playing poorly, since just like your main health there aren’t any systems available that cap off all of your health at once. There were times when I would reload my save file and replay a section just so I didn’t leave an area with as much damage as I had taken. With that said, you can come back from any bad situation by playing well, even if it means grinding a simple enemy for a while to get back to more comfortable repair levels. I suspect that there will be more than a few players who won’t like this gun health system, but I found it to be a pretty interesting approach to adding tension to the game’s more difficult parts.
Where the game gets the most difficult is when you’re tasked with dealing with enemies while at the same time as navigating spike mazes with your rocket pack. Since you always fly where you aim, it’s a constant juggle to switch between dodging spikes and bullets and then to the offensive to stop the hordes of robots from getting too overwhelming. There are plenty of platforming gimmicks in each area to keep things fresh, between moving platforms, lava bursting out of the walls, or just the diversity of the enemies you have to face. Rocketron isn’t just a run and gun affair, even if in its most basic moments it delivers exactly that style of gameplay.
The Metroidvania world design is the most stand out way that Rocketron sets itself apart as most of your power will come from finding secrets. Besides finding new weapons you also find red gemstones that let you upgrade your robot’s stats. You can boost the general effectiveness of any of the weapons you find, or you can raise your HP bar or make your walking speed faster. Being the impatient person that I am, maxing out movement speed was top priority for me, and at max level you move almost as fast as your rocket pack can move you, with the jet’s vertical mobility the main thing keeping it relevant. Upgrading weapons is a tougher choice since your red stone supply is limited. Something cool about the health system though is that if you’re already at max health on a weapon and grab a health restoring item, your gun goes into overdrive for a while and acts as if you’re at the next level of red stone upgrade. This can sort of help you decide if that next upgrade is worth the cost. You’ll want to max out at least a few of your weapons by the end of the game though; I don’t think I have to tell you that killing things faster is important in a game about killing things fast. Finding red gems is very meaningful making the Metroidvania exploration satisfying. Metroidvania veterans will enjoy noticing those suspicious pathways and confirming their suspicions with a shiny red stone treat.
Rocketron’s Metroidvania world design does have one major flaw though, and it’s linked to the punishing way health is handled. You can’t just zip around the map because every damage you take is a permanent mark on your robot until you can grind out the health needed to fix yourself up. A lot of hallways are kind of long too, so backtracking through them is more of a chore than it’s worth. Perhaps in response to this, it appears that the game is designed so you can clear out most of the secrets in an area the first time you visit it, with the game’s first area acting as a hub and an exception to this rule. If you miss anything the first time you’ve been to a place, it might actually be more fun to just start over from the beginning of the game on harder difficulty mode, and just not miss it again this time. Rocketron would have really benefited from some kind of fast travel system I think, or at least if one exists in the game I did not find it. Even at maxed out speed and high levels of rocket fuel it’s still a bit of a slog to go all the way back places just to find a couple of red gems that you might have missed. It’s a bit of a bummer that the exploration can feel t his way. Thankfully while the Metroidvania aspect of Rocketron adds flavor to the game, the core experience is still incredibly solid even if there was no exploration at all.
Rocketron is a game I’d mainly recommend to fans of Contra or Metal Slug since those are the kinds of run and gun shooters that Rocketron clearly takes inspiration from. The punishing design of the game’s health systems might be a turn off to some players, but it’s still more forgiving than dying in one hit with a limited number of lives. The dynamic between aiming your gun and steering your rocket is unique, setting Rocketron apart from its competitors. The Metroidvania aspect of the game and its associated upgrade system and spice up Rocketron’s unique flavor even further, but I think it should be emphasized that the Metroidvania world design supports the run and gun gameplay and not the other way around. Metroidvania fans looking for another world to explore for the sake of exploring will probably be disappointed, especially thanks to how tedious it can be to backtrack to secrets you might have missed. If you’re fans of both run and gun shooters and Metroidvania games though, this may be the match you’ve been looking for. At its price point and low time commitment, you’ve got little to lose for giving it a shot.
It's a different kind of challenge, but a great one. The way HP is handled can be a bit punishing, but the risks associated with failure keep you on your toes
By default the platforming isn't particularly hard, but in combination with everything that wants to kill you, getting through a corridor without getting hit and while managing your counter strikes can be quite rewarding
There are a lot of meaningful rewards available for the observant explorer, but backtracking through places you've been can be a bit slow and tedious
Let's face it, no one looks at this game and expects puzzles.
The story presentation involves walls of text that are too easy to skip by accident, it's possible there's something deep beneath the surface but from what I gathered the story seemed like just another excuse to blow stuff up
Gives off a very Sega Genesis vibe even if the quality still doesn't quite match the best games from that era
Catchy and appropriate if not just a bit forgettable
There are several difficulties you can try after completing the game on whichever you're comfortable with - and each weapon can be upgraded individually providing some ''build'' incentive to replay the game
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