stordoff's Rocket Riot (PC) review

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Rocket Riot is a joy

Disclosure: PC download codes (Windows 10 and Steam) were provided by the publisher for this review]

Rocket Riot is a joy. In a way, it feels like a game I could have been playing on my Amiga 500 in the early 90s -- the big interface coupled with the bright, blocky design reminds me of games like Worms and Lemmings -- yet feels fresh and enjoyable in 2016. The premise of the game is simple: it's a 2D shooter in a series of destructible worlds, where the aim is to destroy or kill everything. Whether wiping out the clouds of enemies, or tearing the terrain into plumes of bright 3D pixels, it is a enjoyable experience.

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Throughout the story of Rocket Riot, there are a series of level themes, such as pirate ships and haunted houses. Each has a very light-hearted feel, emphasised by the bright colours and chunky art design. Thought the game effectively takes place on a 2D plane, the perspective warps just enough when flying to show off that everything is a polygonal model, not a 2D sprite. It's a neat effect that gives Rocket Riot a fairly unique sense of style, especially as everything explodes into a shower of cubes when hit.

The game's soundtrack adds to this sense of style, and is a delightfully weird mix of sounds that is difficult to categorise (there is a track on the soundtrack that is literally called "Something Weird"). This odd mix of electronica, retro-inspired sounds, and robotic lyrics ("You had never so much fun / killing meanies with your gun / you like to shoot / so don’t deny it / Rocket Riot Rocket Riot") adds a great deal to the game, and makes for a beautifully chaotic experience.

The game's main character is equipped with a jet pack and a rocket launcher, having had his legs stolen by the game's antagonist, Blockbeard (this may sound terribly dark, but the way it is presented it becomes a entertaining diversion between blocks of levels). Whilst flying around the levels, missiles can be fired in any direction. Rocket Riot is somewhat more nuanced than the typical twin stick shooter however; the right stick must be held in place briefly to charge up the shot, allowing the range to be controlled to some extent. After firing, gravity takes over, arcing the shot through the map. The arc of the shot, combined with control over its strength, is the core of Rocket Riot, and makes the game feel more precise than other twin stick shooters.

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That sense of precision is necessary due to what the game throws at the player towards end of the campaign. Whilst it is enjoyable in the early levels to line up the perfect shot across the entire level, it rapidly becomes more important to use that precision to make every shot count, be that at close range or distance. Each level is small, and don't give a huge amount of room to hide, meaning that swarms of 80 or so enemies can quickly become overwhelming if not quickly dispatched. This trade-off of methodical shot placement and speed makes the ostensibly basic death-matches extremely fun.

The game adds a layer of strategy as each level is almost entirely destructible, but will build itself in short order. Beyond behind a neat visual effect, it adds opportunities to avoid enemies briefly whilst waiting for health to recharge. It's not something that can be used lightly though - each enemy has their own rocket launcher and can tunnel through the terrain to reach the player. Digging a new route out will take time, and will close if not used quickly, meaning the player must be constantly mindful of approaching enemies and be ready to leave at a moments notice. There's no camping, and no fixed areas to take a break - the mayhem is constantly ramping up, and it is a beautiful sight.

A series of power-ups also add to the gameplay, and can be found by digging through the walls of the level. Homing missiles, bigger rockets, and a spread-shot are all useful tools that make the level easier, and build on the combat in interesting ways. Not all are beneficial however; yellow power-ups merely add effects such as the rockets being replaced with footballs and pumpkins, and red "power-ups" make the game harder by, for example, attracting enemy shots towards the player or forcing all missile to fire straight down. A particular favourite of mine was the flag power-up, which causes a flag labelled "Bang!" to appear from the rocket launcher instead of a missile. Though best avoided, there is a score bonus for surviving with a red power-up, so may be of interest to players aiming for a high score.

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Perhaps my only concern with Rocket Riot is that the game can get a little repetitive. Most of the level through the campaign are simply battles against a certain number of enemies, meaning that the game may best be enjoyed in short bursts. There are a number of different level types sprinkled in, such as a rugby challenge where the goal is to collect the ball and reach the goalposts whilst unable to shoot, destruction levels where certain element must be destroyed, and regular boss battles, but these are somewhat infrequent and each builds on the same basic premise. These bot battles are challenging enough to be enjoyable, though the challenge mainly comes from the ever increasing ante of enemy numbers, rather than the bots being particularly smart.

Despite that, Rocket Riot is a great game. A unique sense of style, interesting gameplay, and a lengthy campaign makes for a fun experience, and one that I would strongly recommend.

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