Friday, June 15, 2018

Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics


Developed by T&E Soft, and released by Nintendo on July 29, 1998, Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics features 18 holes of Hawaiian-set putts and drives.

I'm about to undertake a fairly large Sega Genesis reviewing project, and I've been Switch-happy for the last year, but I don't want my Nintendo 64 to get lost in the shuffle.Thankfully, I've found a nice stopgap, and that stopgap is Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics.


The only N64 game transferred from a VHS cassette (recorded over an episode of Golden Girls).

For reasons unknown, ever since I first saw the artwork announcing the game around 1998, I've wanted a copy of Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics. Maybe it's just the bright colors in the screenshots, and the fact that I am attracted to shiny things like a bored parrot (meaning I am attracted to shiny things, not bored parrots), or maybe I just have a secret affection for golf games that this sentence is now making public. Whatever, the case, and despite the lackluster reviews it received, Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics has somehow stayed on my mind over the last twenty years. As luck would have it, I recently saw it for $3.99 in Game Ware's bargain bin. Let's do this.


Ride the rainbow, man.

There's not much to a decent golf game. Pick the right club, use timing skills to line a moving bar up on some kind of meter, and swing away. Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics completely subverts that by...just kidding, the previous sentence exactly describes Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics.
There's a reason the formula for golf-based video games hasn't changed since 1984's Golf for the NES. Tlahe formu works. Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics quite wisely doesn't deviate. When it's time to swing, there's indeed a crescent-shaped power meter, and a bar that moves up and down it when the player taps the "A" button. Tap it again and the bar stops. Tap it too early, and you hit the ball weakly. Tap it too late, and you overswing. Like the NES classic, Waialae has wind speed and direction which must be kept in mind, and like real golf, different terrain in which to take account. The game also automatically selects the best club for each shot, though the player can change it manually anytime they want. These are the basics, and along with Waialae's realistic physics engine, they are competently implemented and work just fine.
That gets Waialae up to average status, and considering there are only two other golf games for English-speaking territories on the Nintendo 64, that might actually be enough. Review finished.


And also, Louisiana will balance its budget this year.

Psyche!
I don't know when I'll get to write another one of these, so review not-quite finished. Let's see if, with the hindsight of time, Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics has what it takes to be a truly great game. First, let's look at the graphics.
Well...er...you've been seeing screenshots up to this point...does this game look good to you? If you answered yes, bless your heart, would you like to babysit my son? These graphics are not good. The Nintendo 64 was specifically created to run 3-dimensional games. Outside of the ground, and a rudimentary animation of the golf ball going into the hole, I don't believe Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics features any 3D graphics. Instead, the game features primitive 2D digitized graphics for the golfers and their swinging motions, and 2D sprites for trees and other course objects. This all blends together for an ugly mess, even if it is colorful. The game's sound isn't any more spectacular, either, with announcers who recorded maybe two minutes of total dialogue (get ready to hear the same phrases again and again), and a soundtrack that sounds like low-quality midi interpretations of Hawaiian beach music. Thankfully, the sound effects are solid, including the club slamming into the ball, birds chirping in the trees, and the ocean rolling in when a particular hill is closer to the Pacific.


I.E., not right now, though this particular trap has more sand than the beach.

But what about courses? Any great golf game has plenty, right?
This game has one, and it's in the title. True, it's a great course...but it's also the only course. With the repeating announcers, birds chirping, same eighteen holes, and late-night infomercial midi-music, it's downright purgatorial.
Thankfully, the game does offer up several multiplayer modes so you can challenge your friends, cuz, you know, you and your friends love to sit around and play each other at average Nintendo 64 games from 20 years ago, and that is why I love you. In all seriousness, these modes are a lot of fun--a competitive mode which counts won holes as points is particularly enjoyable. Of course, you and your retro-loving friends can always just play each other in regular old golf mode. There are also four different (quite fictional) golf characters to choose from, with each having their pros and cons (i.e. one can hit the ball a mile, but can't aim well, or, conversely, one can put an arrow through a dime at 200 yards, but can't hit a ball 200 yards).
Yeah, so that's it for Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics, the Nintendo 64 Museum's stopgap review for the summer of 2018. I hope my rambling and frequent criticisms don't distract from the fact that Waialae Country Club: True Golf Classics is actually pretty fun. It might look like a digital hell, and sound like a shopping mall elevator, but it it plays like Henry Cotto from the Seattle Mariners. His baseball cards aren't worth a thing, but he'll get you a hit from time to time.



Thanks, Henry.


3.5
Graphics
Is, "we were focusing so much on ball physics, we forgot" an alibi? This game is ugly.
5.0
Music and Sound
The announcers commentary isn't very expansive. The announcers commentary isn't very expansive. The music is lackluster, but the sound effects are fine.
7.5
Gameplay
Plays tightly and smoothly, even if the options are limited.
7.5
Lasting Value
Just one course, but it's fun, and the multiplayer modes are a good time.

6.5  FINAL SCORE

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

WinBack


Developed by Omega Force, and released on September 23, 1999, by Koei for the Nintendo 64, WinBack features 31 levels of third-person shooter action, stealth, and puzzle-solving.

One of my best high school buddies had a Sony Playstation, yet refrained from the then usual "Nintendo 64 sucks" disses I often found myself on the opposite end of in those days. Yes, that was definitely the only grief anyone gave me, a person who currently manages a blog about 20-year old Nintendo 64 games, about anything back then. 
As beloved as the 64 might be in the popular memory of today, it was quite fashionable to slam it as a "kiddie machine" back then. It was always nice, but also rare, to find a Playstation fan who could kindly converse about N64 games without acting like the bully from A Christmas Story. 
This friend and I often gave each other updates on what we were playing. I eventually sold him on getting a Nintendo 64, and I was eventually given a PS1 that I did indeed play (nowhere near on the level of my 64), but in the heady days of late 1998, we could only swap tales...and the two biggest games we talked about were The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid


So, you are eventually going to talk about WinBack in this WinBack review, right?

Admittedly, despite owning copies of both the original Metal Gear Solid, and The Twin Snakes version for Gamecube, I have yet to play that game. My friend sure sold me on it, though. It sounded awesome. Nintendo 64 users were promised their own Metal Gear Solid-style game a year later, but when it didn't measure up, it was quickly dismissed. That game is WinBack, and expecting it to live up to an all-time great, genre-breaking game is not exactly fair. That's kind of like my wife expecting me to look like David Beckham with my shirt off, or me expecting her to bake like Little Debbie. Man, that was a lousy, gender-conforming example, so let me switch it up. That's like me expecting my wife to look like David Beckham with her shirt off, or her expecting me to bake like Little Debbie. There, that's better.
What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, WinBack. WinBack could not catch a break in 1999. Many reviewers of the time were either jealous of Playstation, or biased for Playstation. I have nothing to base this on except for my own recollection of my own adolescent feelings, meaning that I am assuming my adolescent feelings were correct, and that my current mind can remember them correctly. Meaning, my original statement is definitely true. 


Surely, the review will begin now.

Winback is a solid, often awesome, sometimes maddening game. 
It is solid in the graphics department. The character models are highly detailed and well-animated. Bullet-casing fly out of guns as they're fired and bounce off the ground. Environments are large, though outdoor ones feature the trademarked Nintendo 64 fog that obscures the player's view after about 100 yards. Thankfully, this is only an aesthetic issue...no enemy can hide out of your viewing distance and take potshots at you.


They can hide behind boxes and do it, though. Hmm...boxes. Little Debbies come in boxes. I want some Little Debbies.

The game's environments a little bland, generally coming in the warehouse full of boxes variety, the mostly grey with a few trees outside variety, and late-in-the-game,the bowels of a high tech military base...variety. The game's sound, though, is never bland. The music is fitting for each environment, intriguing as the player first enters the base...wait, tangent...what base, and what player? 


If you haven't figured out by my meandering train of thought...no.

WinBack's story is classic 80's/90's action-movie material. Some generic, but slightly wacky terrorists have taken over an underground military base. This base houses the controls for a satellite that can explode any spot on Earth. It's up to Jean-Luc Cougar--that's right: Jean-Luc Cougar--and his badass crew of anti-terrorist team badasses to badass away all of the terrorists and save the day. You play as David Von Panther, just kidding, Jean-Luc Cougar, as you attempt to break through the base's exterior facade, a generic office park, to get to it's middle-workings, a generic warehouse and factory, so that you can take an elevator down to the actually pretty cool military base and take out the satellite. Each stage is punctuated with cutscenes that progress the story of Jean-Luc and his quickly-getting-dwindled-by-terrorist-gunfire anti-terrorism team's mission to avoid getting dwindled by terrorist gunfire in order to defeat the terrorists. It's like The Rock meets Die Hard meets Mission Impossible...remember when that was a thing, when movies were touted as mash-ups of other movies? Or "like so and so movie on a so and so?" "Under Siege is like Die Hard on a Boat!" "Speed II is like Die Hard if it sucked!" But let's get back to the game's sound.


Cuz this guy on the other side of the barrels is "dying" to hear about it! Haha, get it? I'm going to shoot the guy on the other side of the barrels, so he is literally going to die, plus I am talking about sound, and I said "hear about it," which is a pun on that as well. It's a double pun! Get it? Man, "get it" is so much more efficient than "see what I did there," and everybody loves it when you explain your jokes to them so that they don't have to figure them out for themselves. Literally, everybody

Music is very fitting, with a militaristic, suspenseful theme for the outside stages, a quiet, stealthier theme for the office missions, a fast and funky theme for the more balls-out action of the warehouse/factory stages, and a straight evil organ-led theme for the last underground stages. Also, when your health gets low, the music because more urgent, adding to the tension, particularly when it's almost at zero and the tempo amps up considerably. The sound effects are incredibly detailed, with guns sounding realistic, and even each different type of bullet casing having its own individualized sound when it jingles to the ground. Terrorists shout when they see you, and call their buddies over to help take you on. Footsteps alert the player of enemy presence, gunshots reverberate more if they're fired over water--there's just a lot of attention to detail, and the overall sound design is excellent. If there's a flaw, it's that the dialogue in the game's cutscenes is text only. Granted, the amount of cutscenes and dialogue is considerable, but voice-acting would have made these portions of the game and the sound design even more immersive.


I'm about to immerse these two guys in bullets. Get it?

All of these aspects serve the gameplay well. As for that gameplay...
WinBack can effectively be called a cover shooter. When the player is near a wall, box, or any surface they can hide behind, pressing A will cause Jean-Luc to hide behind it with his back to it. He can even do this while crouching. Another combination of buttons will allow Jean-Luc to peek out and open laser-sight-guided fire on his foes. The entire control scheme seems daunting for about five seconds before becoming entirely intuitive and easy to use. Once you've got it, you won't have to think about it again. Here's a photographic example of the hiding/shooting mechanic.

Step 1: Hide


Step 2: Shoot



Step 3: Little Debbies



The game does a good job of balancing stealth and all out action, as some portions force you to thoughtfully take your time, and some, particularly the amped up factory stages, force you to come out guns blazing, while thinking on your feet. The challenge particularly increases when the terrorists become wise to your hiding ways and start sending men to flank or sneak up behind you. WinBack also tosses several puzzles at the player, mainly based on destroying or evading the terrorists' laser traps. Often, Jean-Luc will have to hunt down and shoot a trap's power box to progress beyond it, though as the game goes on, subverting these traps become considerably more complex. WinBack also features a full rogues gallery of bosses, with each requiring a unique strategy to defeat. These boss battles amp up the Die Hard vibe even more, with bosses taunting you as they launch rockets or fire machine guns at you, while you hide behind a desk chair.


Where's Carl Winslow when you need him?

While it is very good, WinBack isn't a perfect game. It pioneered the 3D cover system, and like many pioneering 3D Nintendo 64 games, the camera doesn't always cooperate. There are times when you can't quite see what's around the corner, or when you try to peek out and mysteriously face the wrong direction. This can sometimes get you killed...though, thankfully, it isn't a normal occurrence. Still, it does happen. Also, the game only features five types of weapons, though they are all distinct. As I previously mentioned, the game's generic setting can get a little tedious, though generally, by the time you are tired of a certain setting, the game moves along to another one, or uses a storyline event to alter your surroundings, i.e. flooding them with water. Conversely, WinBack contains a multiplayer mode that, while falling into the classic "it's not as good as Goldeneye, so what's the point" arena, is actually pretty fun. The game developers came up with several fairly unique modes to keep that corner of the game interesting, even though the single-player campaign is the true reason for the game's existence.


Wow, it's basically my mom's opinion of my brother vs. me spelled out in a video game! *Sigh*...I'm gonna need some more Little Debbies.

That single-player campaign takes a sufficient amount of time to finish. Your final time on the game's clock may only be 6-7 hours, but the truth is, that's only the time in which you will succeed. The countless hours spent on attempts ending in death are not factored in--and as long as you don't play on the easiest setting, you will die quite a bit, particularly during the challenging later missions where checkpoints and health packs are few and far between. Speaking of checkpoints, the game is saved between levels to a controller pak...so make sure you have a controller pak. The gameplay is also stretched out by some cool bonuses for finishing the campaign on time--to get the good ending, you have to beat a time limit, and doing so also unlocks an unlimited ammo mode, as well as a level select. Then there's also the option of beating each level and complete campaign's top score.


1066 isn't just the year The Battle of Hastings took place anymore! Man, where are they getting all these terrorists?    Terrorist 'r Us? Terror Mart? Costco?

Yeah, it's not Metal Gear Solid. But why does WinBack have to be? It's WinBack, and that's just fine with me. It might not have Metal Gear Solid's diversity or ambition, but it has its own original gameplay concept, and it flies quite high all the same. Now, time for some Fudge Rounds.


7.5
Graphics
Good character models and smooth animation, though the fairly large environments are a bit dull and generic.
8.5
Music and Sound
Blood-pumping score, and an immersive sound design that drops you into the thick of things. Voice acting in the cutscenes would have been nice, though.
8.2
Gameplay
A thrillingly original cover-shooter concept, well executed, except for the rare camera failure.
8.0
Lasting Value
Long, challenging single-player campaign, with a decent multiplayer mode, and some fun end game bonuses.

8.2  FINAL SCORE

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M.


Released on November 30, 1999, by Acclaim Studios for the Nintendo 64, Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. features five worlds of first-person, bug-blasting action.

I have had one rule for these Nintendo 64 reviews...okay, that's not true, I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and I have many rules for these Nintendo 64 reviews, but one of the most important is that I actually finish the game before I review it. Well, Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. must be the Joker, and I must be Batman, because tonight I am going to break my one rule...er, that one rule. I cannot finish Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. for the Nintendo 64. It is not because it is too difficult. It is because Armorines: Project S.W.A.R.M. is one of the least fun, most joyless games for the Nintendo 64 I have ever played. I can't even pontificate for too long about it without feeling a little nuts, so here is, in comparison to my usual work, a brief review of why.


Don't let this menu fool you: the gameplay doesn't look like this, and all these modes suck.

Armorines was developed by Acclaim, using the same graphics engine as the blockbuster Turok 2. However, the Acclaim studio in Austin who made the Turok games did not make Armorines...Acclaim's then shiny new London office is responsible. This distinction ends up being quite important. While the Turok games give the impression that Acclaim Austin wanted to make the biggest, most impressive, most fun games for the Nintendo 64--even if they weren't perfect--Armorines gives the impression that it was created in a dull, grey, lifeless office, where the developers just wanted to get something on the cartridge so they could put it in the store.


Developer Boss: "Hey, design a gun." Gun Developer: "Erm...a gun? How about this?" Developer Boss: "What? A gun? Who cares?"

Yes, the graphics are boring. The five fog-laden worlds, ranging from an icy mountain, to a jungle, to a desert and volcano, are so bland and nondescript, you could just sub out their dull white, blurry green, boring tan, and nap-inducingly over-dark black and red with each other and never know the difference. Outside of a cocooned body here and there, there's little detail to be found. The low-res is ugly, and the expansion pak-enabled high-res mode is so clunky it is nearly unplayable...though you feel like you are controlling an unwieldy wooden crate, no matter which mode you choose. The bugs, especially the bosses, look okay, but there is little variation between them, never many on the screen at once, and they are generally as generic as possible. The weapons you blast those bugs with are a downright eyesore, and speaking of both, the bugs' A.I. is generally, let's run at this dude, and the weapons are so personality free, one wonders if the developers made a bet to see how boring they could make them. The player can only use four weapons per controller pak-saved level, one of which is an infinite ammo default energy weapon that is about as fun to fire as a routine piss. Everything is just so joyless. Surely, one would think the developers played the game while they were working on it, and thought, this is not fun. We should make this more fun. However, there is no sign that this ever happened. Instead, the player is tossed into these bland, densely fogged levels, with these bland weapons, and given bland objectives, like "destroy eight bug nests in this maze-like, overdark, monochrome level that is the same color as the nests you are trying to destroy." Die and you get to start the same level over. Accidentally enter the level's poorly-marked exit before completing this objective? Start over.


Oh, yeah! I can't wait to slog through this again!!! 

But surely, from the Starship-Trooper-esque artwork on the box cover, this game is at least full of personality, right? Surely, after Turok 2 featured loads of immersive voice-acting and a film-worthy score, Armorines' soldiers will feature plenty of voice-work banter among one another, set to rousing music? Nope! There's no voice-acting, whatsoever! Sometimes, your mission will change mid-level, and all you get is a quick text-banner from your military leader at the bottom! Even he is speechless! This came out a month before Y2K was supposed to happen! Where is the technology?! Where's the production value? Also, Armorines' music is so generic and unmemorable, generally a 20-second drum loop per level, that I actually wonder why Acclaim even bothered. The explosion and bug sound effects are pretty good, though.That's actually the only semi-kind thing I can say about this game: the explosion and bug sound effects are pretty good. Also, the game doesn't even feature an intro! It's as personality free as your local sociopath! There is a co-op mode, where you can play through the game with a friend, but the downside of this is that you still have to play through the game. There is also a multiplayer death-match. Here is a screenshot of what that looks like.


How about we turn this off and just punch each other in the face instead?

I'll end here. I tried for months to work up the enthusiasm to finish Armorines after getting about halfway through...but I just can't do it. Life is full of beauty and wonder, too much beauty and wonder to take in in just one lifetime, and instead of forcing myself to joylessly grind through this soul-sucking game, I think I'll move on to the next one. Does anyone know if Superman 64 is any good?


3.8
Graphics
It all looks the same, it's foggy, and it's slow. A few of the bugs look nice, but they're essentially rocks in the mud of this game.
3.5
Music and Sound
Armorines needs voice-acting, but it has none! Plus, its music is boring! Sound effects are okay.
2.5
Gameplay
Like dragging a stick through the thick mud of a fire ant hill, while trying to kill its inhabitants. Multi-player and co-op mode are non-starters.
1.0
Lasting Value
I don't know why anyone would ever want to play this once they reach the point, shortly into the game, where they realize it is terrible.

2.9  FINAL SCORE

Friday, March 3, 2017

Rocket: Robot on Wheels


Released on October, 31, 1999 by Ubisoft, developed for the Nintendo 64 by Sucker Punch Productions, Rocket: Robot on Wheels sends the titular robot on a 3D platforming journey that instead of defying, greatly adheres to and explores the laws of physics.



Why you looking at me like that, Robot?

The Nintendo 64's legacy contains numerous contradictions. One may often hear it referred to as the home of many great 3D platform games, but when one presses the person who makes that claim to name those "great 3D platformers," the given answer is often, "Uh...Super Mario 64...Banjo-Kazooie...Banjo-Tooie?"



Pictured above: not Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, or Banjo-Tooie.

It turns out, there are actually more than three worthwhile 3D platformers--adventure games that often feature precision jumping and item collection--for the Nintendo 64. While Mario and Banjo are the gold standard of 64-bit platforming games, the Nintendo 64 actually features a cavalcade of great 3D platformers. Perhaps the most often overlooked title deserving recognition is Sucker Punch Productions Rocket: Robot on Wheels.



Nobody tell him he's actually just a Robot on "Wheel." He gets really self-conscious and emotional about that.

While many developers balked at the challenge of creating 3D games for the Nintendo 64, Sucker Punch challenged themselves to utilize the system's hardware to push the format. If a game needs a hook to be memorable, this one has a great one: a realistic physics engine. I not-so-fondly remember Physics as that subject I actually had to study for in high school, and also, as the subject that prevented me from completing that engineering degree in college. I don't normally associate "physics" with "fun," but Rocket: Robot on Wheels is an exception.



Plus, any game that lets you beat up a clown is a winner in my book.

Rocket takes its lead from the 3D platformer classics, but then blazes its own unique trail. Like Mario 64 with its stars, and Banjo with its jiggies, Rocket must collect tickets to open new levels, but the game's plot, centered around an interstellar theme park called "Whoopie World," is delightfully different. Whoopie, the park's live mascot, is a big goofy walrus, joined by a raccoon sidekick named JoJo. The night before Whoopie World's grand opening, its creator and owner, Dr. Gavin, decides to go to a party, and leaves Rocket, presumably his robot servant, in charge. JoJo immediately hatches a plan apparently years in incubating, knocking out Rocket, and kidnapping Whoopie, so that he can transform Whoopie World into "Jojo World." Rocket regains consciousness to find he must now collect eighty-four tickets and 1400 park tokens JoJo has scattered around the park, in order for Whoopie World to open on schedule--also, he's got to rescue that worthless walrus, and bring that joker Jojo to justice. Unfortunately, alliteration is not involved.



Fortunately, sheep are.

Whoopie World features six unique, diverse, and gradually inclining in difficulty environments for Rocket to traverse and search (think of them like Disney World's different sub-parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, etc), plus a hub world that connects them all together. Thankfully, Rocket is well-equipped for the task. 
Rocket's most potent tool is a tractor beam on the top of his head. With the tap of a button, the player can use this to grab any nearby object, and manipulate it. For example, let's say that object is a sheep. Once Rocket has a sheep in his grasp, with another tap of a button, he can take aim at any reasonable spot in Rocket's vast, 3-dimensional environments. A red-line will highlight the sheep's potential trajectory.



Quit looking at me like that, sheep. This is for your own good.

With another tap of a button, Rocket can then toss that sheep through the air to the desired spot. This is where the game's superior physics-engine takes over, as the sheep will realistically bounce, roll, or sink depending on where it lands. Many of the game's ingenious puzzles are based on this dynamic, and incorporate magnetism, wind, and gravity.



And sheep. See, sheep, I told you this was for your own good. Now you're in a nice, happy little pond. A sheep pond.

Rocket can also use his beam as a tether to grappling points in order to climb, swinging himself backward and forward to gain momentum. Eventually, he'll reach spinning objects with grapple points, allowing the game to create platforming moments utilizing centrifugal motion. I like centrifugal motion way more when I am making a robot jump over a bottomless pit than when I am answering questions about it on a final exam that will determine my career path.



Pictured: my career path.

The challenging, yet-fair gameplay in Rocket contains even more diversity, though. The game's first world, Clowny Island, not only brilliantly introduces the player to the game's mechanics, but shows the gameplay variety Rocket is capable of. There's a midway full of carnival games (my favorite is tic-tac-toe against a surly chicken), an ambitious build-your-own roller-coaster area that works perfectly, and a chance to drive a vehicle.



Who hasn't dreamed of hitting the beach at night with their weinermobile?

Every stage features at least one drivable vehicle, all creatively designed, and featuring unique abilities. For instance, the second world, an ancient-Rome-themed land centered on color, features a paint tank, with a fully equipped sniper scope, and the ability to change the color of about anything in the level to whatever shade you want (granted the shade is one of the eight ones the game offers). Every stage not only has a unique look, but a comparable hook like this, as well, as Rocket completes various tasks to procure tickets.



So just an average day then.



That's what you get, walrus statue.

Rocket can also use his abilities to take down foes. By collecting the aforementioned tokens, which are scattered throughout the game, and bringing them to Tinker, the park's maintenance robot, Rocket can learn new moves, including a sweet grapple bodyslam and a freeze ray. While the game doesn't admittedly feature many enemies (mostly just maliciously programmed bots scattered around each stage), it's nice to get to break them into pieces when they raise their ugly metal heads. Vanquished foes also provide energy for Rocket's depleted health meter...which can be extended permanently by one hit in every stage, if Rocket finds that respective stages coveted "boost pack."



"Do you expect me to talk?"



"No Mr. Robot, I expect you to die...and also to give me your energy so that I can refill my depleted health meter."

All of this illustrates that, while it may share the skeleton of the genre's stalwarts, Rocket manages to put an original spin on just about everything it tries to do, is full of unique personality, and sets itself apart from its Nintendo 64 platformer brethren nicely. Thankfully, its production qualities are also up to snuff. 
Graphically, the textures are admittedly not quite equal to the impeccable Rareware standard (Rareware created Banjo), but they're also not leagues below it--for a first-time Nintendo 64 developer, Sucker Punch acquit themselves quite well in this department. Colors are vibrant, animation is excellent (the way Rocket bobs and weaves when the player stops moving him is mesmerizing), and the game manages to move at a smooth speed, almost completely free of graphical slowdown, even with the game's moderate lighting and shadow effects. Environments are large, free of the fog third-party developers often had to utilize to make their games playable, and feature only minimal pop-up, mostly of just small items and enemies--in a large, open area, the player can see clear to the other side, and what they see, they can reach--the hallmark of any well-made Nintendo 64 3D platform game.



With the added bonus that Rocket has to travel all that distance, and you get to literally twiddle your thumbs and eat Cheetos.

The game's audio is solid, if not remarkable. The soundtrack is composed of a strange sort of jazz-lounge hybrid. At its best, the music is memorable, even a little atmospheric, and fits the areas of the game it backs perfectly (the secret room music for instance), and at worst, is just there (the Food Fright world music). Outside of Rocket's excited exclamations when he gets an item, the game features no voice acting. Sound effects are solid, though the squeaky noise that occurs every. single. time. the player uses one of the controller's C-buttons to change the camera angle makes me want to dive Rocket into hot lava. That's because the player sometimes has to tap them a dozen times to get a decent view. Oh, yeah, there's my complaint--many third-person Nintendo 64 games, even Banjo Kazooie, struggled to give the player control over their point-of-view. Unfortunately, this can sometimes plague Rocket, as well--there are a couple of tricky jumps Rocket has to make where the player just can't quite get the right view. Overall, though, this isn't a major detriment to the game...just a quiggle...which is not an actual...real word...apparently.



Hmm, should I try to fiddle with the C-buttons, or pray, and hope God cares about the outcome of video games?

As far as lasting value, Rocket isn't the longest game out there--it includes seven worlds, including the hub, as well as an obstacle course of death at the end. While the game can be completed in about 15 hours, that obstacle course at the end requires a full mastery of all the techniques learned in the game--it's a great old-school challenge that this old-school gamer vastly appreciated. There isn't any sort of multi-player to add to the playing time, though honestly, I don't need multi-player from this sort of game--just give me a fulfilling single-player experience, and I'm happy. Rocket is quite fulfilling, though I wouldn't have minded another world or two.



Not Rocket, though. He's still only halfway to that waterfall from two pics ago. Get a move on, Robot Boy!

So here we have a unique, memorable game, featuring excellent gameplay, a lovable main character, and innovative, well-done game design. Why wasn't this thing a massive hit? Why don't people mention Rocket in the same sentence as Mario or Banjo? Why has everything Sucker Punch Productions touched since Rocket turned to gold, while Rocket itself languishes in obscurity?



Maybe it's because someone is taking too long to round up all these tickets.

Sadly, I don't think Rocket's lack of recognition has anything to do with the actual game. I think it has everything to do with the game's generic box-art, and the way the game was marketed. I can say with authority that those are the reasons I overlooked Rocket 18 years ago. Even a 9/10 review from the at-the-time ultimate authority, IGN 64, wasn't enough to win me over. I had recently bought a Dreamcast, and I just didn't care about some silly, kiddie, robot game. It turns out I, and all but the original 120,000 people who purchased Rocket, missed out on one great ride.



Meaning, those who haven't played it have nowhere to go but up--just like my life did 20 years ago!

Thankfully, all existing copies of Rocket weren't scrapped in a dump, ET-style, when the game didn't strike commercial gold. You can easily find a cheap used copy of Rocket for sale today, or emulate the game online (though, really, you gotta play an N64 game with an N64 controller--which I guess you can also do on your computer, if you're clever enough). I'm glad I finally gave it a chance all these years later. Rocket: Robot on Wheels certainly deserves it.


Good job, Robot. Good job.


9.0
Graphics
Bright, colorful game, with solid textures, good animation and lighting effects, and little to no slowdown or pop-up. Nice work from Sucker Punch.
7.0
Music and Sound
Solid, mostly upbeat soundtrack, with a few standout moments. Fitting sound effects, though no voice acting or recorded speech.
9.5
Gameplay
Unique, diverse, adventurous and fun single-player platformer action.
6.5
Lasting Value
Relatively short single-player campaign (15 or so hours), and no multi-player, though the game's singular nature warrants more than one play-through.  

9.0  FINAL SCORE