Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Rocketeer (SNES)

The Rocketeer SNES title screen
Developer:NovaLogic|Release Date:1992|Systems:SNES, DOS

This week on Super Adventures I'm playing a licensed tie-in SNES game! Because I've got more curiosity than sense.

The Rocketeer is based on the 1991 comic book action movie... probably. He has the same logo, the suit looks right and it's got 'Disney' written on it so I'm assuming there's a connection. But I haven't really seen the movie, so I don't know the characters and I've only got the vaguest idea about the plot. I'm coming into this with a good amount of ignorance.

Though one thing I do know is that the SNES version is actually a port of a DOS game and those are the only two systems this particular Rocketeer game came out for. Sega owners missed out this time, though I doubt they were missing much. But hey I'll give it a fair chance to win me over, it might surprise me.



They got Stan Lee to hold the player select card?

New rocket pack? So this is a sequel to the movie then? I don't know much about the film but I'm fairly sure there was only a single jet pack in it.

I am 100% on board with the idea of trying out Stan Lee's new rocket pack, but the guy refuses to let me touch the thing until I've won two races in the Gee Bee.

Clifford doesn't want to race in the Gee Bee though, he wants to race in the Army's advanced 1 millon dollar prototype aircraft parked just over there. But they won't let him so he's stuck with what he's got. Personally I think he's better off with what he's got, as the Locust's as ugly as its name.

The art in these cutscenes looks straight out a comic book, and a good one too. You can see how it's dropped an extra panel down as the story's progressed.

Here's what the original PC game looks like for comparison:

MS-DOS
One of the big differences between PC gamers and console gamers at the time was that PC owners liked their characters to have huge wide heads. You just couldn't sell a game on computer in 1991 with those tiny thin SNES heads.

Actually what's happened here is that the developers have taken into account the stretching that went on when the image was displayed on your typical 4:3 aspect ratio monitors and TVs. To look right on screen, the art for low res DOS games had to be drawn a little wider and SNES games had to be drawn thinner.

What's interesting is that the dialogue is also different in the original DOS version, as it's apparently following the plot of the movie instead of trying to be a sequel. What's more interesting is that there's voices! The lines sound like they were recorded through a phone, but it seems fairly well acted. In fact it reminds me of an old radio serial, which I guess is fitting. Shame that it sounds terrible though.

MS-DOS
Another difference between the versions is that in the DOS game I get to pick my plane. Still won't let me fly the Locust though.

Oh damn I can't tell what looks worse, the 3D rendered planes or the background (actually it's definitely the background). I feel like I've found the missing link between SNES games and GBA games.

I guess I'll just keep pressing buttons until one of them increases the throttle then.

Oh fuck, what am I even supposed to be doing here?

I can use the L and R button or D-pad to turn, but he takes the corners automatically so I don't know how that helps. I can fly up and down, but that seems to have absolutely no point. I'm starting to think that maybe a side-view aeroplane racing game might not have been a good idea.

It looks like I'm in the lead, but I'm really not. Those two planes are so much faster than me they've lapped me several times already. Well I'm beating the parked car at least.

MS-DOS
Here's the PC version again and it looks considerably better as it's got a proper background image instead of the tiled mess of the SNES game. Also I can finally read the writing on the poles! It says Bendix.

I was still left behind in last place though.

Can’t I just have the jet pack now? I’m already wearing my cool jet pack jacket!

Aha, I've figured it out! I'm supposed to be using the tiny picture on the bottom of the screen! As long as I keep the pulling the plane over to be close to the posts I can stay ahead of red and blue. I just have to keep this up for 10 laps.

I managed to win in the end and my reward was... having to do the exact same race again, except with 15 laps this time.

I actually did it? I'm kind of surprised to be honest. I didn't think I'd be able to figure this game out at first.

But now that I know that I have what it takes to be a pro plane racer I loaded up the DOS game to replicate my awesome victory... and got my ass handed to me again. Even though I know what to do now I'm still not good enough to win a single race.

So I guess I'm sticking with the SNES version then.

Wait, what? Why am I in a hangar all of sudden? Why are people shooting at me? Did I accidentally skip a bunch of comic book panels or something?

Seems like the game's suddenly turned into a Wild Guns shooting gallery, which I'm tentatively considering to be an upgrade. Though the D-pad is not designed for moving a crosshair around a screen!

Ah, sidestepping might help stop my CLIFF meter draining away faster than the ENEMY meter.

I'm thinking that the background's pre-rendered and the characters are all digitised actors in costume, but it's hard to tell. It's not a style that plays to the SNES hardware's strengths but it's actually not terrible looking for something created in 1991.

By the way it looks like my health's regenerating, but that's just the GIF looping. I assure you that CLIFF bar is only ever going down.

C'mon health kit, work your magic! I'm shooting this box with all my heart (and all my infinite bullets) but it's not falling down or activating or anything. I'm a sitting duck doing this, but if I can't get more health I don't stand a chance anyway.

And Clifford's dead. No text this time, because the game doesn’t know why I was in a hangar, who was shooting me, why I've got a rocket pack on or anything.

Wait... I had a rocket pack on?

I've got a rocket pack on! I can fly! One button press puts me into the air, another releases me into gravity's clutches. Now I can grab the health kits on the ceiling, if any ever spawn again.

In retrospect the fuel gauge on the HUD and the fuel pickups I've been walking over should've been a clue, but with all the barrels around I just assumed I had to kill the Nazis without blowing up all our own plane fuel. Didn't stop me from seeing what happened when I shot the fuel drums, but unfortunately there was no boom.


ANOTHER DEATH LATER.


Oh no, don't give me a 1UP! That's just cruel, trapping me in a hell where even death is no release.



TWO ADDITIONAL DEATHS LATER.


YES! I can't believe I actually made it out of that bloody hangar at last! That last successful run on its own took two and a half minutes of constant Nazi slaughter to get through, and it felt more like 20.

Wait, he wants to do another race? I just did two races!

Wow, this is just the exact same race as before, except this time I'm a bloke with a rocket pack on. Luckily it's had an upgrade in the meantime and now has infinite fuel.

I won the race again, but the Nazis are skulking around in the shadows with a Super Soaker. Clifford was so keen on getting to the race in time he forgot to tell the Army about the Nazi invasion!

I feel like I've finally encountered the missing story from earlier that explains why he was in a hangar being shot at.

Oh speaking of the hangar, look where it's put me! This is the exact same level as before except the Nazis have started to throw grenades! I'm finding it a bit easier than last time though, probably because I’ve had more practice.

It seems like what they've done is taken the PC levels and reused them more than once to pad the game out. So instead of 'race, hangar, etc.' it goes 'race, hangar, race, hangar'. The PC version of this shooting stage is very similar to this, with Nazis throwing grenades from the start, except it has mouse control. Also it's bastard hard, I was able to outrun the camera and disappear off screen, and it doesn't seem to ever give out health kits!

Oh no, a boss!

He wasn't so bad though. I just shot the bits that made the ENEMY bar go down and managed to beat him with a pixel of CLIFF to spare. The stage took around three minutes in total.

Oh no! Enemy rocketmen! I bet they've come here to race me around that field again.

Well I'm not racing, but where’s the enemy rocketmen I was promised? Seems like the Nazis are throwing everything at me but the rocketmen. And why would there be enemy rocketmen anyway? I thought the Rocketeer movie was about there only being the one rocket pack, which the FBI and Nazis were both after. They should've followed this up with a 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' game where everyone has their own Ark of the Covenant.

This shoot 'em up stage is pretty much exactly how it looks. Except you can't see that I'm having to keep tapping the fire button to shoot. Plus you might not have noticed that the scrolling speeds up when I fly to the right and slows down when I'm on the left. Don't remember seeing a shoot 'em up do that before. It's annoying and I wish it'd stop.

Hey, there's the enemy rocketmen! I already hate them.

They like to dip down under the bottom of the screen and then fly back around behind me, and the sky starts getting crowded if I don't kill them fast enough. Fortunately I have a secret weapon! Sometimes things drop sparkly things when I destroy them and when I collect enough I can use them as ammo for my 7-way spread shot! Guaranteed to kill any rocketman in one hit, assuming I actually hit them.

I don't know why the Nazis are dropping medical supplies, but I'm grateful! Maybe it's because they know I keep accidentally blowing them up and they're hoping I'll become demoralised. Only Nazis would make destructible power ups.

Oh by the way, you might have noticed that my gun fires rocket-propelled bullets. The enemy guns do too, except they use the same bullet sprite as me so their bullets fly backwards.


10 MINUTES LATER.


10 minutes in and the level’s still the same. No threat of anything interesting happening any time soon it seems. Well aside from this full-blown invasion of the United States.

You can see my progress on the bottom right, so I am apparently getting somewhere. It's just going to take a while.


EVEN LATER.


Oh drat, the rocketmen got me, I'll have to stop playing now!

Though I suppose I should check where the last checkpoint puts me. Just out of curiosity. 

No NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

I am NOT replaying all of that from the start. I can't believe I played it all in the first place!

But the PC version is shorter and has passwords, so I might as well skip through and show off what the rest of the game looks like. After the rocket pack shoot 'em up level in the sky, the next level is...

MS-DOS
...a shoot 'em up level in a plane. They've finally let me fly the Locust and the thing's just as ugly from the side.

MS-DOS
Then the game apparently ends with a fighting level on a Zeppelin. It's very much a 'here you go, have an entirely new type of gameplay so you have no idea what to do' situation.

So I lost and turned it off.


CONCLUSION

I've played a lot of licensed tie-ins for my site in the last five or so years, but it's rare that I find one that goes the 'terrible minigame collection' route instead of the 'mediocre platformer' one. A game that does four or five things really badly instead of focusing on doing one thing semi-competently. So The Rocketeer has added some much-needed variety to my site and I appreciate that.

Not that it's all bad! I liked the comic book cutscenes and the graphics can be quite nice on the PC version. I'm a sucker for digitised actors in costumes. Plus the shoot 'em up stage technically works, even if it technically lasts something like a quarter of an hour in the SNES version. I've no idea how long it lasts in the DOS game though because they forgot to include any health kits.

Or to be more accurate, when it came to the SNES port they did what they could to bring the difficulty level down from 'nope' to 'hard', and then padded the game out to make up for the fact that it was now possible to finish the original five levels without ascending to godhood first. Even with the repeated levels it's still possible to finish it about 25 minutes.

There is a third version of the game on the NES, but that one is apparently a mediocre platformer and therefore likely to be much better than this. Maybe I'll check it out some day.

I don't want to play the SNES game any more though and you probably don't either, so I can't really recommend it, but I would recommend that you strap a rocket to it and fire it into the cleansing nuclear fires of the sun.


Thanks for reading. I hope you got more out of my words than I got out of this game. You can leave some words of your own in the comment box if you feel like it!

7 comments:

  1. A swastika in a Super Nintendo game? Well that's new.

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    Replies
    1. That's only there in the DOS game it was ported from, I assure you that the Nintendo version is swastika free. It's full of actual Nazis that try to murder you with bullets and invade your country to expand their fascist regime, but there's no swastika.

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  2. The next game is Disposable Hero.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, it is. That's two in a row you've got now.

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  3. The bundle-of-different-game-types movie tie-in is a classic Ocean style so I was surprised this wasn't from them. Then I looked up Novalogic to see what else they did and saw a litany of misery.

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  4. I never got chance play SNES port of Rocketeer, but NES version seems little better.

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  5. The Angry Internet13 December 2016 at 23:43

    What's more interesting is that there's voices!

    Disney sold a little doohickey for DOS PCs called the "Sound Source," which was kind of like an external sound card that plugged into the printer port for people whose computers didn't support a real sound card (or who couldn't be bothered to install one). So they tended to include digitized speech in their games even if it was basically gratuitous, like a guy saying "Mighty good coaster!" after a ride in Coaster. The Rocketeer was one of the games you could buy bundled with the device.

    ReplyDelete

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