Release Date: June 17, 2009
Ever since the service started years ago, the Xbox Live Arcade hasn't had a shortage of good dual analog shooters. From classics such as Smash TV, Robotron 2084 and Crystal Quest to new entries such as Mutant Storm Reloaded, Assault Heroes and the ever-popular Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, every type and style of dual analog shooter has seen the light of day. The same goes for good multiplayer action titles. Bomberman Live and Worms 2: Armageddon are just some of the great examples of how Xbox Live Arcade has given players the opportunity to have some fun by blowing each other to bits. THQ and development house Codeglue have taken these two gaming staples and, like peanut butter and jelly, stuck them together to form their latest Xbox Live Arcade release. Rocket Riot is the result of the union, and like the culinary example used previously, the two genres that do well on their own have come together to come up with a title that's equally as pleasing and fun for those who are willing to give it a shot.
The premise of the game is rather simple and definitely silly. The legless pirate Blockbeard has escaped from his prison and decided to wreak havoc on the whole town. In order to do so, he takes away the legs of every one of the town's inhabitants. Faced with the threat of being immobile, the local scientist gives you a rocket booster in place of your legs. With rockets for legs and a rocket launcher as your weapon of choice, your mission is to go and defeat Blockbeard once and for all.
The single-player experience consists of something more than most XBLA titles give you nowadays. Levels vary in size from small arenas to wide expanses that span several large screens. For the most part, levels consist of you trying to blow up the enemy and meet the given quota before moving on. To break up the monotony, you have a few levels where the goal is a bit different. Some levels ask you to blow up the terrain and find several hidden characters, while others will ask you to just blow up certain objects in the level. There's also a set of capture the flag levels set to a football theme where the player has to find a football and get it through the goalpost a required number of times in order to move on.
There are even eight different boss levels, each one much more difficult than the last. The one thing that all of these level variations have in common is that enemies are constantly spawning and trying to blow you up while you complete your objective. This little element serves as a constant reminder that the game is all about destruction. The game sports 80 single-player levels, and while that sounds like a large number, skilled players can make quick work of it in a day or two. The more casual players will find that it'll take much longer than that, especially on some boss levels where it may take many replays just to beat it. If that weren't enough, the game features an endless survival mode as well as the ability to unlock 80+ characters for you to play with in other game modes.
Your weapon is powerful enough, but a game like this is nothing without some good power-ups. Fortunately, the game delivers those in spades. Power-ups come in four different classes that range from awesome to awful. Green power-ups are offensive boosts that range from rapid fire rockets to more accurate shots to larger rockets being shot out. Blue power-ups are defensive in nature and range from letting you pass through solid object to giving you a protective shield. Yellow power-ups are there just for an increased fun factor and give you no real benefit in combat. Make no mistake, you can still become a threat with bouncy rockets and giant sports balls, but rainbow explosions really can't hurt anyone. Finally, red power-ups are detrimental and make you a sitting duck for other members who are looking to take you out. Things like rockets that lack thrust and toy bazookas will irk you simply because you must wait out the timer before the effect expires and hope that no one else will take advantage of the situation. These power-ups, matched up with the basic weaponry, make the game a frantic experience for everyone, much in the same manner that Bomberman Live's power-ups did for XBLA players.
In the right situation, multiplayer modes make the game even more fun to play once the single-player portion is done. Local multiplayer is good for up to four players all on the same screen, and the camera zooms in and out depending on where everyone is. Survival mode can now be played cooperatively on every selected level, while the versus modes include standard deathmatch and Golden Guy, where the objective is to wear a golden suit of armor for as long as possible before the timer expires. Xbox Live play is good for up to eight players and includes the previous modes as well as a few new ones. Destroy the Object is similar to Capture the Flag, except that you're trying to blow up the opponent's object instead of capturing it. Finally, Rugby Riot has you and your team trying to capture a football and take it to your goal as many times as possible before the opponent does the same. Local multiplayer supplies plenty of fun, though the lack of bots makes deathmatches a bit stale if you have fewer than four players playing. As for Xbox Live, that couldn't be properly determined since no one was online at the time of this review. If you depend on Xbox Live solely for your multiplayer fix, you'll be disappointed that the rest of the community has already abandoned the title.
The controls are simple, but there are a few nuances that can quickly be picked up. The left analog stick moves your character while the A button activates any power-ups you pick up. The right analog stick fires your rocket, and this is where it gets a bit different. Instead of just firing once, you select your direction, hold the stick in the desired direction to power up the shot and then let go to fire your weapon. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do get acclimated to it, you realize that the decision is actually a good one. For example, there are times when you really want to take a long shot against your enemy while other times you simply want to carpet bomb the area to get enemies or terrain below you. Once you get how the system works, the controls become rather easy to deal with since there really isn't anything else to worry about here.
The graphical art style is a bit unique, and Rocket Riot greatly benefits from it. At first glance, the game can be mistaken for a retro title, thanks to the pixel art it displays on just about everything. Character, rockets, terrain and even explosions are all made with pixels. Closer examination, however, shows that all of the pixels are rendered in 3-D even though movement is still handled in a 2-D plane. The combination of styles and the use of bright colors for just about every object make it stand out among all of the other XBLA titles out there. The game's frame rate handles the style well amidst the chaos. Even with eight players on-screen and thousands of pixel explosions happening at the same time, the frame rate remains solid without a hint of any slowdown. Unless you aren't a fan of 8-bit-looking graphics, there's really nothing to complain about here.
The sound is both whimsical and blood-pumping. The sound effects take center stage, with explosions that sound meaty at the right volume. Because rockets are your main weapon of choice, you won't suddenly get a barrage of bass coming from your speakers, but that doesn't make the sound of exploding people and terrain any less powerful. All of the other effects, such as rocket boosts and power-up pick-ups, sound fine with no items feeling noticeably out of place. The music is upbeat in just about every way. Whether it's standard deathmatches or boss battles, all of the tunes played make you feel happy even when you're on the losing side of things. As an added bonus, just about every new environment comes with a theme song that adds to the game's silly premise. There are no other voices played in the game aside from the theme song and the voice that calls out the game's name at the end of the level, but this is probably for the best because a flood of bad voices could simply ruin the title.
Rocket Riot is a great example of how a game can come out with little to no hype and still be a wonderful gem. The graphical art style is unique enough for it to stand out in a positive light, and the audio is also just as good. The controls take a bit of getting used to, but that unfamiliarity only lasts a minute or two. Even though the online portion is barren, both local multiplayer and the single-player modes give the title enough meat to make it worth the money. Players should try out the demo to discover just how crazy and fun Rocket Riot can be.Score: 8.0/10
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