Sparkster vs. The Giant Robot Pig People (GRPP)

March 25, 2010

As I wind down on Rocket Knight Adventures this week, I figured I would take a quick look at some of the boss and mid-boss fights this particular title has to offer. Most of the boss battles in the game are made up of traditional side-scrolling magic, making use of one weak-point to try and exploit, and various patterns requiring some memorization and reflexes in order to overcome all odds. Being RKA, most of these fights are also damn tough, and while the relatively easy first boss battle isn’t much to get over, you’ll quickly be introduced to some more challenging foes as soon as you hit the second stage.

The first stage ends with an encounter against a robotic caterpillar. Most of the boss enemies in this game are robots of some kind, maybe as a kind of holdover from the traditional Sonic enemies, or maybe it’s just an animal mascot thing, I dunno. Anyways, with this fight, you’ll be stuck in a small room surrounding by walls. The Caterpillar will appear first by bursting through an opening at the top, and eventually he’ll make openings in three spots on the ceiling, and come through both walls as well. He gives a pretty easy telltale sign by popping his head through an opening slightly before fully committing, giving you ample time to get out of the way and line up an attack. However, while this boss is pretty easy, he does have one annoying attack that involves dropping down pairs of spikes that move along all the walls. When he finishes dropping about five pair, he’ll then release an explosive bomb that moves a little quicker and typically counter clockwise. To get rid of the spikes you need to hit this bomb with your sword, but it’s a hell of a lot trickier than it sounds.

Another boss, the Big Train, takes on the multi-tiered approach to boss fights, by offering up some slightly different forms. The first form comes at you from the left, while you’re automatically traveling forward by way of your train cart, which you’ve already been on for a good chunk of the level. As the train advances, it shoots out a pretty slow moving projectile. This first form is easy enough; it just takes a lot of hits and tries to get you to become impatient and thus screw-up an otherwise easy pattern. Land enough hits and you’ll destroy the front half of the train, which causes it to retreat. When it comes back, it’ll be overhead, on the rail track above you. This form is a hell of a lot harder, he’ll make use of two arms and hands that just kind of flail all over the place. The only weak spot is in the hands, but they can be tough to hit, and while they do follow a pattern of sorts, it really looks random to the naked eye. Give him enough time and he’ll bring both arms up, in order to home in on your location and deliver a couple quick strikes. This is actually a good thing, you can easily punish the second hand by staying to the right of the screen and pulling off your spin attack, which will make you temporarily invulnerable and land a couple quick hits in the process. Once you finish off the hands, the train will then come at you from the right of the screen, this time offering up the back which has a cannon that shoots projectiles into the air. This can be tough if you get hit, or mess up the timing, but it’s probably the easiest pattern of this boss. Once you blow up that back section, then you’re finally finished with this level.

The bosses do a pretty good job of forcing you to make use of all of Sparkster’s abilities as well. One mid boss is an underwater crab thing, with two pinchers and middle base that act as weak points. Because of the way it’s positioned (think of this like the Crab boss in Order of Ecclesia), it’s nearly impossible to just hit with a sword attack. Instead you need to charge up your jetpack and dive down to hit the Crab, annihilating its pinchers (which will block the main section), and then finishing it off. Another fight, this time in level 5, has main bad dude Axel chasing you through a section with his giant robot. You need to make quick use of your rocket pack to propel yourself through the maze like structure of this area to prevent yourself from getting smooshed. However, the reward it totally worth it, since at the end of this sequence you get to hop into your own giant robot and go toe to toe with Axel for a particularly cool looking fight.

Finally, there’s the final fight with Axel himself, at the end of stage 7. For this fight you’re stuck holding on for dear life to one of three support beams, as the spaceship you’re currently on has a hole and everything is being sucked out into space. Axel flies around you and tries to dash in for quick attacks, which you need to dodge, because if you’re hit you’ll lose your grip. The only way to hit Axel though is to rocket yourself towards him, forcing you to leave that secure placement behind and hope you don’t screw up your trajectory in doing so. It’s a really tense battle, and definitely feels like a good final boss encounter. Of course, this isn’t the FINAL final boss, but we’ll get to that bit tomorrow.

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What do Rocket Knights sound like?

March 24, 2010

So, as promised, here’s a quick look at some of the more standout tunes in Rocket Knight Adventures soundtrack. The soundtrack has a number of people credited to it, Michiru Yamane, Aki Hata, and so on, so getting one definitive composers take on the project is a little tough.

It’s interesting to note the overall arc of the soundtrack throughout the game, starting with the 1-1 and 1-2 areas that are far more light-hearted and upbeat to the more “serious” tones of the later half of the game. Chiptune style music can only generate so much of a dark feeling, but there’s a definite sense of foreboding in the later half of the game. Instead of feebly trying to explain this, let’s go with some examples here:

Stage 1-1:

This is a pretty solid “Let’s get started!” kind of track. Upbeat, energetic, and it gives you some sense of starting a big adventure. Definitely a good opening track, but not entirely memorable outside of a couple repeating sections at the beginning there.

Stage 4-?:

This is pretty much the last of what I’d consider the upbeat style music of Rocket Knight. Does this remind anyone else of what you’d typically hear in a Casino themed stage of Sonic? Probably not intended, I’m sure, and I think it’s more of that “twang” noise throughout, but yeah, Casino Zone for sure.

Stage 6-?:

Ok, see what I mean about the shift in tone? There’s still some lighthearted, airy pieces within this track, but starting off the song with a siren like noise and an overall heavier noise than the previous ones kind of indicates, ok, now we’re in for some serious shit people.

Stage 7:

Pretty much as ominous as you can get for Rocket Knight Adventures. Big tonal shift with deep bass like noise, the siren effect again, and just a lot of oppressive like tones throughout. Great final stage music in my opinion, really drives home that this is the end battle of all battles.

Overall, I’ll say that while I enjoy RKA’s music selections, it’s definitely not my favorite 2D action soundtrack. In fact, I know Aki Hata has done a lot better things, and while something like Light Crusader might be a little more obscure than RKA (and not particularly fun to play), the soundtrack is fantastic and worth youtubing for yourself.

Still, it’s always fun to check out the progression of a video game soundtrack in correlation to how the game feels from beginning to end, and in that regard Rocket Knight matches sound and gameplay quite well. It starts off easy enough, colorful, with lots of life, and ends with a tough as nails, dark, and sometimes punishing level and boss design. Good fit if nothing else.

Where do little Sparksters come from?

March 23, 2010

I thought it’d be a good idea to get a little in touch with where the design for Rocket Knight Adventure’s gameplay came from, so I tried to seek out a little information on the guy behind creation of the series, Konami’s own Nobuya Nakazaton.  Of course, in 1993, game magazines weren’t particularly big on interviewing Japanese developers, so finding anything from the guy that also talks about Rocket Knight was a little tough, but I did manage to find two articles, one from Gamasutra and the other from Gamespy, where they interview him regarding his involvement with Neo Contra and Contra:  Shattered Soldier on the PS2. 

 Nakazaton was also behind the creation of Contra 3:  Alien Wars and Contra Hard Corps on the SNES and Genesis, so needless to say, the guy has some 2D action chops.  Both interviews are an interesting read, and I’ll link them here.  It’s pretty obvious the guy is a big fan of 2D gaming in general, and apparently has a desire to make tough as nail games that don’t necessarily try to look pretty, but an emphasis on gameplay over graphics.  Because of that, I’m pretty curious to find out if he has any involvement in the reboot on XBLA and PSN, since it’s obvious there’s an effort to make the game feel 2D but still be accessible to HD gamers.  I have a feeling that he doesn’t have any involvement there, but we’ll see how that turns out. 

 Anyways, here are the articles:

Gamasutra 

Gamespy

 Definitely good reads though, you can see the guy has no problem with making tough games, and thinks that it’s more fun and interesting to have challenge in games in order to keep players interested over multiple plays of a particular game.  I can certainly see that applied to Rocket Knight, while I don’t think it’s nearly as tough as most Contra titles, there’s certainly a higher level of difficulty than other 2D action games that make use of mascot styled characters.  You could almost look at this as a kid friendly version of the Contra formula.

 One other thing I wanted to toss into this blog today was a couple pages taken from EGM’s June 1993 issue.  This is a two-page spread from CES of that year, with a small preview of Rocket Knight Adventures.  Nothing super interesting that’s detailed here, but I think it’s pretty fun to go back and look at older magazines and their takes on these games at the time of their release. 


 Tomorrow I’m going to take a look at some of the music behind the game, along with samples and what not, so look forward to that.

Rocket Knight Adventures makes this week awesome!

March 22, 2010

It’s a new week, so it’s time for a new game!  This time I’m going to focus on Rocket Knight Adventures for the Sega Genesis, a side scrolling action title from well-known publisher Konami.  This game released in 1993, putting me roughly around 12 or 13 years old (depending on the month!), and it’s a game I actually have a little bit of memory of from when I was a kid.  I totally remember renting this game, from the little Mom and Pop shop that I picked up a lot of my Genesis carts from at the time, but outside of playing it at a friends house for a day, I don’t remember much else.  Most likely because I completely lost the game during the week-long rental, and my parents ended up having to pay for it in the end.  Needless to say, it was a little while before I was able to rent another game. 

 So yeah, I have some pretty hazy memories of this particular title that weren’t really re-ignited until earlier this year, when Konami made the announcement of a new Rocket Knight game that was being produced for XBLA and PSN.  When that announcement was made, I decided it was time to seek out a copy of it, and a quick trip to Ebay later, I had managed to snag a complete Genesis cart and had it in my hands shortly after that. 

 And then I put it on my shelf.

 

I have a bad tendency to buy up cheap old games, and then toss them on the shelf for a rainy day.  Then that rainy day rolls around and I’m playing some Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, or other time consuming modern game as opposed to the dust covered classic games of my youth that spend their time on the shelf of my dark, dark bedroom closet. 

 But not today! 

 Well, more specifically yesterday, when I popped Rocket Knight Adventures into my Genesis and made it all the way to the fourth stage boss on my three continues before getting thoroughly trounced by his random garbage / junk tossing mechanic and the dumb little rat that runs around and smacks you when you think the boss fight is over. 

>_<

 However, I remember that a lot of people considered the game to be pretty difficult, so I was happy with my progress off of that first play through.  Hopefully in the coming week I’ll be able to fully finish it on normal, so we’ll see how that goes.  Throughout this week I’ll be updating my progress, fill you in on some information behind the game (what I can dig up at least), and probably piece together some segments on gameplay, music, and so on. 

 So, until then, let’s press start and play some Rocket Knight Adventures!

Death loves Dracula, goodbye Rondo!

March 19, 2010

If there’s one constant character that reoccurs nearly as much as Dracula (or more so even, if you want to include a the PS2 games), it’s got to be Death.  The Grim Reaper is like Dracula’s best pal, albeit a slightly bony, and mildly psychotic friend for the ages.  And of course, he makes an appearance in Rondo of Blood, once right at the beginning of the game, where he tries to punk you out before you even reach the castle grounds, and secondly by being the boss you fight prior to Dracula, which is where he generally pops up in all Castlevania games.

Regardless of your exposure to the different Castlevania titles over the years, chances are you’ve run into a Death fight a time or two (unless you’ve only played the original Game Boy titles).  You have a rough idea of what to expect in every single fight, he comes equipped with a large sickle, and likes to throw around a lot of smaller ones, all the while flying around the room in various patterns.  His fights aren’t typically multi-staged affairs like a Dracula fight, but certain games do sport different forms, like Castlevania 3 and Portrait of Ruin.  He also tends to be one of the toughest boss fights in every single game, and chances are if you can succeed against Death, you’ll be able to best Dracula as well. 

There’s only so much you can do with Death’s appearance in game, being the Grim Reaper and all, there’s a certain look you generally need to maintain.  His design doesn’t tend to go off the wall that much, but there are certainly some exceptions.  Circle of the Moon is one of the worst culprits, offering up a Fat-Man version of Death that flies back and forth at the top of the screen for most of the fight, and then turns into a giant slow moving spider form of Death towards the end.  Spider-Death?  Not his best look.  Of course, there’s also the much maligned anime version of Death from Portrait of Ruin, but I’m actually ok with that style.  Reminds me a bit of Skeletor, sure, but it fits in with the rest of the game’s art design at least.

Personally, I’m pretty fond of the traditional sprite of Death from the first three NES Castlevania titles, and to an extent the sprite used in Castlevania IV and Order of Ecclesia.  Or course, this being a Rondo centric week, I have to mention Death’s appearance there too.  He plays a bit of a second fiddle to your encounter with Shaft, but it’s a pretty cool fight overall, taking place on the mast of the decrepit boat that makes up the entirety of Stage 5.  It’s not the hardest Death fight in the series either, but comes with two forms that look pretty bad-ass, especially the ground based second form that goes at you with nothing but the Scythe.  Like I mentioned, Death is a precursor to the Shaft fight in Rondo, and Shaft is nothing but a boss gauntlet of the bosses from Castlevania 1, which I suppose Death fits into as well.  Of course, I imagine Death isn’t a big fan of playing second fiddle to anyone else besides Dracula, so this is about the only occasion where he’s not the second to last boss fight. 

The only other thing that’s as constant as Death is Dracula himself, who makes an appearance in some form or another in just about every Castlevania title, which obviously makes sense.  It’s also worth noting that he has one dominant style of form and attack, wherein he teleports around a room, fires off fireballs or other energy, and then changes forms to some big demon thing about halfway through the fight.  It’s an established set-up with the first Castlevania game, but was more or less ignored in the second and third entry. 

When Castlevania IV picks it back up, it became the default way his fight would go down in every Castlevania title past that point.  In Rondo, it plays out exactly the same as the beginning of Symphony of the Night, with tall Dracula tossing out three fireballs or two balls of black energy at differing heights, and then switching forms to his big Gargoyle like monster attack that hops around the room after you.  Rondo’s Dracula fight isn’t really hard, in part because I’m so used to the fight from all the times I’ve played Symphony of the Night, and because his second form is pretty lumbering and slow.  The fireballs are even easy to dodge, and overall this battle feels a hell of a lot easier than some of the boss fights that came before it. 

So yeah, if you’re ever looking for an indication that you’re playing a traditional Castlevania game, you never have to look farther than this particular team up that’s lasted for more than two decades worth of games.  Sure, one could argue that it’s kind of odd that Death is a second stringer in anything, but obviously his working relationship with Dracula has been pretty good.  At least good enough that if one of them dies the other does his damnedest to resurrect them.  Actually, Death does seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not, doesn’t he? 

And with all this talk about final bosses and last stages, it’s time to bring this week of Rondo love to an end.  The blog will pick back up on Monday with a new game of the week to focus on, (I’m thinking something featuring a particular rodent), so tune in on Monday for the next weeklong retrospective. 

GAME OVER.

Dracula X vs Rondo, all Vampires must die!

March 18, 2010

When Rondo of Blood launched on the TurboDuo in 1993, import gamers were singing it’s praises pretty early on, but with some lackluster support for Grafx anythingl in the States at that point in time, the hope of an American release for the game was pretty much out of the question.  Konami,  however, had other plans. 

Enter Dracula X for the Super Nintendo, a re-imagining of sorts of Rondo of Blood, and the point of contention for many a Castlevania fan still today.  A lot of folks seem to look at this as the inferior version of the original Rondo, while others seem to appreciate it as another entry into the series that differs itself enough from Rondo to stand on it’s own two feet.  Personally, my experience with the game stems from being a lot younger, so my memory is a little hazy.  I do remember it being tough as nails, I never made it to the Dracula fight, so I can’t really form a total opinion on how it stacks up. 

But that’s why the Internet gave us Youtube! 

So here’s a couple quick and dirty comparison vids of different points in both games, just to give you a rough idea of what changed between the two:

The final Drac fight from Dracula X (I know, it looks easy!)

Versus the final Drac fight from Rondo of Blood.

A lot of  you guys will be pretty familiar with the Rondo take on it, since that’s nearly identical to the way Symphony of the Night opens up (it’s retelling this particular event and all).  It’s definitely different in style and art to the SNES version, what with the giant pillars and bottomless pits, and the big change in Dracula’s big monster form.  Also, notice the difference in how Richter moves between both versions.  Looking a little sluggish there, Rick. 

Here’s another comparison, this time on the Werewolf boss fight from both versions.

In Rondo of Blood, he’s the boss from Stage 2:

And in Dracula X, he’s the Stage 5 boss: 

These two fights are almost identical, as opposed to the Drac fight.  The background has changed a bit, but the moveset of the Werewolf hasn’t seen any change, just some animation differences, most notably with the fireball attack.  Notice though, the SNES version moves considerably slower, with both Richter and the Werewolf.  Current CV fans of the GBA and DS games will also recognize the Werewolf, who has become a more run of the mill enemy in the current Metroidvania style games. 

Finally, let’s do a quick music comparison too:

Rondo of Blood’s rendition of Bloody Tears, a personal favorite:

Dracula X’s version:

To be fair, these are pretty close too.  However, what a huge difference CD quality music makes over a cart, right? 

Overall, if I had to choose between Rondo of Blood and Dracula X, I’d say Rondo is a clear cut winner.  That said, I think Dracula X is totally worth playing, and something that I need to seek out again in the near future.  Maybe Konami / Hudson will grace us with a VC release of this too, before I have to shell out $50+ for the hard copy.

Maria unlocked, let’s double jump!

March 17, 2010

Continuing my play through of Rondo of Blood, I unlocked Maria last night, making the game inevitably easier by doing so.  Whereas Richter portrays all the classic control elements of the Belmont’s that came before him, with his slow gait, stiff jumps, and just an overall sense of bulkiness, Maria plays on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Some players are going to be familiar with the character of  Maria Renard prior to setting foot in Rondo of Blood, she had an appearance in the PS1 version of Symphony of the Night, and she was even playable in the import version of the game that appeared on the Sega Saturn.  Taking it one step further, the PSP remake of Rondo of Blood, Dracula X Chronicles, had an unlockable version of SOTN that also had a playable version of Maria present, but was actually different than the playable Maria from the Saturn import.  So yeah, chances are you’ve probably run into her a time or two by now.

In Rondo of Blood, she’s still a little girl, as opposed to the more grown up version you’ll encounter in SOTN.  Here she comes equipped with a double jump ability, which is ridiculously useful since you can change direction mid-air with it, and her standard attack uses two doves in quick succession.  She also has a completely different sub-set of weapons from Richter, using differnet animals, like a Turtle, giving her a completely different playstyle from Richter.

 

I know a lot of people argue that once you unlock her you kind of break the game, what with her ability to get to higher spots quicker than Richter, and a couple of her attacks being pretty overpowered by comparison.  I won’t really argue that either, but I’m always a big fan of secondary characters with different playstyles being introduced, and sometimes it’s fun just to see what you can get away with if the game hasn’t been super-balanced with that second character in mind.  She is prone to a quick death though, it only takes about four hits from a basic enemy to do her in, so while she might be ideal to use during a stage, she feels relatively weak in comparison to Richter when it comes to boss fights.

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention her appearance in Castlevania:  Judgement.  You know why?  Because that game totally doesn’t exist!  >_<

Rondo of Blood makes this week awesome.

March 16, 2010

Pretty nice surprise to wake up and find out Castlevania:  Rondo of Blood was finally hitting the Wii Virtual Console, eh? 

Trust me, I was suitably amped.  My only experience with the game stems from the remake and unlockable port from Dracula X Chronicles on PSP, and I’ve been pretty aware of the emulation problems that particular version has.  Being a fairly big Castlevania nerd, I had given some serious thought to picking up a TurboDuo at some point, and hunting down a copy of Rondo to go along with it, but man, that’s a pretty expensive venture. 

So, I’ll gladly fork over 900 points of Nintendo brand currency for the chance to play the definitive version of the game.

I didn’t have a lot of time to sit down and play it this evening, only making it to the end of Stage 2 before switching gears to other things (hello Yakuza), but I really, really like it.  Great animation, fantastic soundtrack, and it’s nice to play this on a big screen.  Pretty happy that I held off on that TurboDuo purchase at least.  This will probably be my retro-focused game this week, so expect another post or two on the game down the line. 

One thing I wanted to point out about this particular game that I miss in the Iga produced era of Metroidvania titles, is the familiarity of the castle grounds that carried over from the sidescrolling titles.  Whereas most of the games post Symphony of the Night change the layout of the castle and area surrounding it, there were generally familiar settings between all of the games produced during the 8 bit and 16 bit eras.  Rondo capitalizes on that early on, giving you the familiar outside castle grounds, the village from Castlevania 2, and the interior first area of Castlevania 1 (complete with zombies), automatically striking a chord in my old nostalgic heart. 

Needless to say, I’m looking forward to playing through this one then, and I’ll keep the updates coming.

Obviously this blog is a new thing for me, something I wanted to make and tie-in at the site that I write for ( www.Gaming-Age.com ), and this gives me an outlet for old retro stuff that I enjoy that doesn’t really fit in anywhere else.  I’ll probably touch on a thing or two outside of the old-school, but for the most part, expect the musings here to be pretty much focused on a time where 2D was king.