When people remember back to the glory days of the Sega Mega Drive their first thoughts will most likely turn to a certain blue hedgehog by the name of Sonic. And who can blame them, with several classic games on that system he’s quite clearly set himself apart as the Mascot of that console, and perhaps even that era of gaming. However we should never forget the incredible catalogue that this console had to offer, including one classic 2D platformer that for me deserves as much recognition as those classic Sonic titles of old.
Rocket Knight Adventures sees you playing as Sparkster, an opossum (google them, they’re oddly adorable) armed with a sword and a jetpack who fights an army of pigs and a strange array of creatively designed mechanical robots through a fantastical fantasy world, . At this point I’m sure most of you have stopped reading this and have either ran to your nearest retro video games store to buy a copy or have begun searching for a decent emulator, but for those still reading, stay with me while I go into a bit more detail.
In the wake of Sonic the Hedgehog video games inundated us with a wide array of animal mascots in an attempt to rival him. You had Bubsy, Zero the Kamikazee Squirrel, Awesome Possum, Aero the Acro-Bat, hell you even had Earthworm Jim, and who would have thought playing a game as an Earthworm would be fun? The characters that worked during this era were the ones that you felt you knew just from the intro and the first level alone. We get the impression straight away that Sparkster is a brave and loyal knight, who often leaps into the fight before perhaps assessing the consequences, and for me he immediately becomes a character I can enjoy going on an adventure as.
The gameplay is very intuitive and the developers at Konami made the wise choice of not boring you with in game instructions. You may not even realise when playing this game for the first time that Sparkster has a jetpack, until facing a wall which is clearly too high to jump. The game allows you to learn through play, which may not sound too impressive when you only had to remember a couple of buttons on the Mega Drive, but it is surprising how many games hold your hand through this stage. This ability to jetboost across the screen, slice through bad guys with your sword and fire energy at your enemies also makes the combat a lot of fun, and gives it great pace and excitement that you may not necessarily get from simply jumping on a bad guy’s head. It can get particularly challenging though as the game progresses when coming up against the bosses, which do employ the old “trial and error” approach to figuring out the best way to defeat them, and although there is the very occasional “slowdown” within the game when there is a particularly graphically intensive moment on screen (16 bits, woah daddy), it’s never so frequent that it takes away from the fun of the game or makes it impossible to play.
As well as the interesting approach to combat with the sword and jetpack combo, the world building and level design in the game is also of a very good standard, with each level providing something completely unique from what was played before. It’s this variety of levels, from traversing forests to fighting enemies in the skies, exploring a castle to swimming at the bottom of the ocean, that does set it apart from a lot of platformers of the era, and even today in fact. The game is visually impressive too with its cartoony approach to the characters, and the score to the game, particularly that first level theme is one that really compliments the feeling of going on a grand, exciting adventure..with an armour clad rodent.
It is a shame really that Sparkster never had the same longevity that Sonic has enjoyed. Sure he got a sequel on the Mega Drive which was fun, and back in 2010 there was even a 2.5D reboot of sorts called Rocket Knight which was actually a lot of fun, but none of this seems to have caught the public’s imagination and stayed with them like Sonic has. It’s sad, as I feel Sparkster has a lot more potential in making the jump to three dimensions than Sonic has had, exploring a large landscape and going on an epic adventure, I can visualise it almost like a Banjo-Kazooey style platformer. But alas, it was not meant to be, and although there doesn’t seem to be any future for Sparkster on the horizon, that shouldn’t detract from enjoying this wonderfully creative game, and a true gem on the Sega Mega Drive.