I’m going to preface my review of The Rocketeer on SNES with a little story from my childhood.
It’s Christmas 1992 and I’ve opened all of my presents, save one. So far I’ve gotten everything that I’ve wished for, namely my Batman Returns Bat-missile Batmobile and Batcave play-set; What could be in this mysterious box labelled From: “Santa” (thanks Mom and Dad!), To: Blair? Tearing open the wrapping paper I discover it’s a brand new Super Nintendo, something I didn’t even wish for because I knew I had already asked for enough already. Truly, this was true to life empirical, FACTUAL evidence that Santa Claus was indeed real.
That year must have been the year when not only I, but everyone in the sleepy town of Harbour Grace received a Super Nintendo because renting out a game to have something other than Super Mario World to play was proving to be quite challenging. Now, I grew up in a small town in the province of Newfoundland, Canada, and we didn’t have dedicated video stores like Blockbuster. If we wanted to rent out a game, we had to go to one of our local gas stations, restaurants, or convenience stores that rented movies and video games. That meant arriving at precisely 6:00 PM, the designated return time for rentals, in hopes of being there when someone returned a game they had out.
On one of these such times, I managed to get my hands on The Rocketeer. I’m not sure what exact thoughts were racing through my mind, but needless to say the thought of going home and playing a Rocketeer game on my brand new Super Nintendo made me feel like the luckiest kid alive. When I finally got home and plopped that sucker into my system…..it wasn’t too long before I took it out and put Super Mario World back in.
The Rocketeer is a port of a PC game that arrived in 1991 from developer Novalogic and publisher IGS that has little story to speak of, but from the opening vignette Cliff Secord is told by his partner Peevey that the second experimental rocket pack is ready to go (if you recall from the film the first was destroyed when it was stolen by Neville Sinclair), leading you to believe the game is a sequel of sorts. Subtracting those few lines of dialogue though, the game more or less follows the plot of the film: Secord gets the rocket pack, becomes The Rocketeer and then must save his girlfriend Jenny from a zeppelin.
It’s not very often that you can judge a game by its opening level, but if you bring up The Rocketeer in conversation with those who played it, you’ll more than likely hear horror stories about the dreaded unwinnable plane race. Whereas the NES game of the same name started you off in the shoes of the title character, allowing you to walk around and punch bad guys, The Rocketeer on the SNES places you in a thrilling biplane race, and by thrilling, I mean one of the worst, if not THE worst introductory levels to a video game ever.
So what makes the race so unwinnable you might ask, well let me explain it to you with the aid of a diagram:
Now, looking at the screen shot, you’d probably think that you would have to keep your eye on the yellow plane, right? Well, you’re wrong. How you actually win is by keeping your eyes on the tiny little screen between the order of racers and the number of laps you have left. Nowhere is this explained to you in the game so until you figure it out, you’re stuck flying a poorly controlled plane around in a circle, over, and over again or until you get annoyed and switch to another game entirely. Odin forbid that in a game called “The Rocketeer” you would get to fly around with a rocket pack, not play the gaming equivalent of eating your vegetables before you can get dessert, especially when you can play a game on inferior hardware that lets you do that.
Should you manage to win first place TWICE, oh did I forget to mention you have to win twice in a row? You discover that The Rocketeer is really a collection of mini-games, none of which are any fun. Level two places you in a perspective like level two in Contra where you’re in a plane hanger moving left and right shooting bad guys when their heads pop up until a meter below informs you that the stage is done. This is repeated once more after another race (this time with the rocket pack!) where the only real difference is that the end of the level is met with an easily dispatched boss.
Before entering the final “boss” where you easily walk along the tail of a zeppelin, punching a few goons for good measure until you can climb a ladder and save Jenny/the day, you play two stages back to back that take the form of 2-D shooters: one where you’re flying with your rocket pack with the second placing you in a plane. In my review of The Rocketeer on the NES, I mentioned that a way the game’s pace could have been broken up was with a section like the two I just described. After playing The Rocketeer for SNES, I take that statement back.
What should have been the best representation of being the main character, namely flying through the sky and shooting things are two of the most boring, tedious, stages I’ve had the displeasure to play. There’s no obstacles to speak of, just blue sky, leaving you monotonously shooting the same few enemies ad nauseam all the while your thumb is getting tired from hitting the “A” button. You’re progress in these levels is marked by an indicator on the bottom of the screen and let me tell you, watching either The Rocketeer or the plane you’re flying slowly crawl along that bar makes these levels feel longer than what they already are.
I’m sure one of the main selling points for this version of The Rocketeer was that it’s four games in one: racing, shooting, flying and fist fighting, but maybe instead of focusing on five terrible games, the folks at Novalogic should have but their efforts into making one. That, and for most people who play this game, they’re only going to see is a terrible playing race that’s worse than what they experienced in the original Pilotwings. In fact, there you go, if you want to play a better Rocketeer game, play Pilotwings! It has a biplane and a jet pack and is a much better use of your time than this poorly cobbled together excuse of a game. The only nice thing that I really have to say about this game is that the in-between level cut-scenes have some nice art, so if you transplant those back into the NES game, you’ve got the making of a pretty good Rocketeer game. I’m sure if seven year old me who thought every new thing they got their hands on was immediately the best thing ever discovered pretty quickly that this game is garbage, you can too.