If you're an aging gamer, you may remember Rocket Knight from the 16-bit era, and Sparkster's first outing on the Megadrive as Rocket Knight Adventures. Konami have seen fit to give our mini hero a bit of a makeover, keeping firm to the roots of a platformer with occasional shooter bits, but adding in a further half a dimension to make this one of those 2.5D games, where the background has a little extra depth to the look of things.
Sparkster must defend the Kingdom of Zephyrus, a once peaceful and fairytale like place, that was until the flying gunships turned up making a noise from the invasion started by the Wolf army. As Sparkster is a hero, he wastes no time kitting himself up in his rocket suit, and charges out ready to save the day.
In all there are fourteen levels across four stages to experience. Through each of the levels there are different gems to collect, blue and red along with health power-ups and special Rocket Knight icons. The red gems can be a little trickier to find, and are often hidden out of the main pathway or on tricky jumps - there's really no need to find them all, other than for the satisfaction of getting one hundred percent completion across the levels. There is also a par time for getting to the end, so collecting everything and beating the level's time is a challenging prospect, as are the achievements. Gaining all twelve here is going to take some serious hardcore gaming as they're not easy gains.
The first few levels introduce the various concepts in the game. Sparkster has a number of different actions he can perform, from the more usual platform jumping and sword swinging through to the use of the rocket pack. Boosting this causes Sparkster to dash quickly in the direction pointed to with the left stick, although at times it does feel a little inaccurate. Jumping and then boosting can get Sparkster to even higher locations, sometimes necessary to get to those out-of-the-way collectables. In later levels this boosting can be used to bounce wall-to-wall on narrow sections, which can get our hero to some dizzying heights.
It's not all platforming action though, as you will discover in the second level of the first stage. Here the game turns in to a side scrolling shooter with Sparkster using his rocket pack to dart about the screen, taking out the bad guys in some twitch gaming. Treasure shooter territory it is not, and given the level of difficulty it shouldn't trouble anyone, but it's a twist on the gameplay and breaks up the platform sections well.
At the end of each of the stages comes a boss fight. In order to defeat these, you will need to work out the weak point of the monster and exploit it. The in-level stuff really doesn't prepare you for the giant size of these big brutes - they are massive and take up a good portion of the screen. They can be a little tricky at first too, until you've worked out the best way of slaughtering them. The stages also change, with platforms being destroyed by your foe as their health dwindles, making getting those last few hits in all the harder. It might take a couple of attempts, but in the end they'll go down faster than a fat bird carrying lead.
Rocket Knight certainly bares it's 16-bit brethren well, taking an interesting character with plenty of uniqueness and not spoiling it with a remake and re-visioning. Sparkster takes to XBLA well, with a challenging and rewarding game that has a mass of replay potential across the free mode. It's a fun game that looks nice and sounds appealing and is a good addition to the growing catalogue of XBLA games.