Rocketmen: Axis of Evil

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games

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PS3/X360 Preview - 'Rocketmen: Axis of Evil'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 23, 2007 @ 5:14 a.m. PDT

In this arcade shooter, players will join the heroes of the Alliance of Free Planets in their white-knuckled, frenzied struggle to free the Solar System from the tyrannical grip of the Legion of Terra. Up to four players will be able to cooperatively shoot their way through multiple levels, powering up their weapons, picking up bonuses and laying waste to anything that moves.

Genre: Arcade Shooter
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games
Release Date: November 2007

In this day and age, it's difficult, if not impossible, for developers to release games that fit the molds of the Super Nintendo and Genesis generation. Gaming has evolved to a point where a simplistic mainstream game tends to draw more ire than praise. Thanks to Microsoft's Xbox Live arcade service, fun and simple games like Feeding Frenzy and Band of Bugs are available at affordable prices to any gamer with an Internet connection and an Xbox 360. Xbox Live Arcade tends to focus more on single-player or online experiences, neglecting the much-desired, same-console experience. That's not to say that there is a complete lack of them, but few XBLA titles make that aspect a primary focus. Enter Rocketmen: Axis of Evil.

As one would expect from an XBLA game, Rocketmen: Axis of Evil isn't heavily reliant on a story. The basic concept is simple: You're a member of the Rebellion, a group of allied races who are fighting the generically evil Martian invaders. When the leader of the rebellion is captured, you have to rescue her because her boyfriend — and "hero" of the rebellion — promised he'd leave her alone. As you can imagine, it's a fairly comedic game, mixing together tons of sci-fi clich├ęs with amusing writing to ensure that, while there isn't an epic 40-hour plot, the story will be enough to keep players amused as they travel through the stages.

Rocketmen is a good, old-fashioned arcade shooter, rather reminiscent of older classics like Smash TV. Up to four players move around a large, constantly scrolling stage, blasting wave after wave of enemies with a number of powerful weapons. The controls are actually very simple; the left analog stick moves the character, while the right analog stick fires in the direction which it's pointed. The A button interacts with environmental objects such as doors or boxes, the B button activates a "vacuum" that sucks in nearby loot and the trigger buttons activate secondary weapons. Even without the useful tutorial offered on the first stage, new players should be able to jump into Rocketmen and start blasting Martian scum in a matter of moments.

Each stage in Rocketmen has different optional objectives to complete, beyond the minimal "blast everything that moves" maneuver that's required to get through the level. One level has you disarming mines, while another may have you searching for lost objects or releasing captured rebel prisoners from their cells. It isn't necessary to complete these bonus objectives, but players receive extra cash and experience for doing so, and at the end of the level, they even receive medals based on their performances. It's an excellent way to add replay value to the stages, by encouraging players to try different character builds and tactics in order to maximize results.

The really nifty part of Rocketmen: Axis of Evil comes after the various missions. As you're battling through the levels, you earn experience points and find hefty cash bonuses for the taking. Experience comes in the form of slaughtered bad guys: The more you take down, the more experience you get. Taking down multiple baddies in a row without taking damage yourself gives you a multiplier, further boosting the experience you get. Of course, if you happen to die, you lose a hefty chunk of experience in exchange for being resuscitated, so repeated deaths can really take a toll. Money, on the other hand, is earned in a number of ways. You can bust open various locked boxes hidden around stages, complete bonus objectives or of course, beat enemies until the shinies pop out. All the money you earn during the stage is yours to keep, assuming you finish the level, of course.

In classic RPG fashion, experience is used to power up your heroes. Each hero has a set of stats that he can upgrade: Damage, Demolition, Engineering, Evasion, Life and Speed. You use Experience as "currency" to purchase the next level of various stats, thus gaining even better upgrades. Damage boosts the power of all your primary weapons, ranging from your puny laser pistol to the deadly Razor Thrower. It'll also be the first thing most gamers will boost because there is absolutely nothing you'll use in Rocketmen more often than your guns. Like Damage, Demolition is an attack boost, although Demolition only improves the power of a character's secondary weapons, all of which are high-powered explosives.

Engineering is the only skill that isn't useful in combat, but it's arguably one of the most useful abilities to power up, since being able to open objects faster means you'll receive more loot at the end of a stage and finish the various levels faster. Evasion makes it easier to avoid bullets by shrinking the hit box around the character; this makes it much easier to avoid enemy waves of fire, thus earning you a higher multiplier. Life is the character's hit points, which players naturally want to keep high to avoid an untimely demise. Finally, Speed is fairly obvious: improve it, and you move faster.

Money, on the other hand, is spent at shops in between missions, and it's used to power up everything that doesn't run on statistics. Players can improve their armor, lowering the damage they take and even occasionally granting special buffs. They can increase the attack power, spread and various other attributes of the weapons that the Rocketmen can use. You can even improve the effectiveness of power-ups at the shop. Of course, the cost of all of this is cold hard cash, and that is far more difficult to come by than experience points. In order to turn your puny Rocketmen into unstoppable juggernauts, your team will have to loot every room, kill every enemy and smash every obstacle in order to scrape up the coinage needed for even the lower-level upgrades. Clever teams will want to have their characters focus on specific attributes, ensuring that no matter which weapon or situation pops up, one of the players is capable of handling it.

For an XBLA title, Rocketmen: Axis of Evil looks surprisingly good. It certainly isn't going to give Halo 3 any competition, but the graphics are bright and expressive, and no matter how many foes are on screen at a time, there was never a moment of lag. All of the game's cut scenes are told in the form of comic book panels, which does a lot to draw attention to the cheesy '70s-era pulp serial nature of the game. Even the voice acting matches this, emphasizing the over-the-top nature of the heroes and villains without descending into extreme overacting.

Xbox Live Arcade really continues to impress. With each passing month, it gains more high-quality titles, and Rocketmen: Axis of Devil is shaping up to be a fine addition to that lineup. Combining the fun of rampaging shooting action with the customization offered by a surprisingly detailed character upgrading system, Rocketmen has all the makings of a fantastic party game. Even those gamers who just want to it go it alone will be able to have fun with Rocketmen's single-player mode, too. Those eager for a fun new addition to their Xbox Live Arcade collections will want to give Rocketmen: Axis of Evil a shot when it takes off this November.


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