A dual-stick shooter in the oft-invoked spirit of Geometry Wars, simple controls and focused levels make the gameplay compelling, but it is its style and personality that will set Rocket Riot apart. The game opens with an off-the-wall story of legless pirate Blockbeard stealing the lower limbs of an entire town, setting the stage for you, a legless soldier with a jet engine in place of your pooper. Between you and me, that’s all I need to know before I go on a missile shooting spree.
Use the left stick to steer the jet-propelled torso around, then aim and fire with the right stick. Angle, speed and distance of the rocket launched depend on how long you hold the right stick in the firing direction. Ammo is unlimited, and as you get a feel for the right stick firing controls there is moderate control over the distance of your shot, but really the gameplay is imprecision-driven. The control scheme is designed to promote reckless firing and destruction. If, however, the gameplay is stumping you try out Playground, a tutorial for learning the basics.
Power-ups affect both offense and defense, and some are a downright nuisance. Don’t worry, the colored boxes leave little mystery: green is offensive, blue defensive, red is a no-touch and yellow power-ups just seem to make things a little sillier without actually affecting gameplay. Some power-up highlights include one that allows you to travel through blocks, another that makes you move like a drunken sailor and one the fires only a flag reading “bang”.
In the campaign mode you and the floating torso progress through a medley of deathmatch battles where you must defeat a fixed number of enemies that pop out of hidden doors with a peppering of more objective based missions. For example, a football game where you must collect a football and bring it back across the map to the goalposts, another where you must destroy these golden boots throughout the stage, and my favorite: a game of Warmer-Colder. A meter in the upper left indicates how close you are to a hidden enemy on a hot or cold scale, then you blast the blocks to reveal him as you get warmer. Every tenth stage is a fight against a boss, bigger and badder than that minion “Jeff” you just wasted with one shot.
At a level’s close there is a detailed breakdown of your efforts, from number of shots fired to lives used. At this screen you are prompted to continue or go back, making it easy to keep rolling through the levels without returning to the menu. The single player campaign moves quickly in these bite-sized doses. Achievements include things like destroying a million blocks, taking out twenty enemies within a minute, and one for tasting twenty power-ups. Longshots are also rewarded, but the frenzy of enemies often favors some quick and dirty short-range rocket-born death.
In addition to the primary campaign you can try out Endurance mode, taking out wave after wave of increasingly nasty enemies until death strikes. Multi-player features up to 3 friends locally in Deathmatch, Co-Op, which is like Endurance mode with back-up, and Golden Guy in which players don the golden suit of armor for as long as possible while the suit keeps you from firing. Online includes Deathmatch and Co-Op and adds two competitive modes: Rugby Riot and Destroy the Object. In Rugby Riot you snatch a ball and take it to your goal, and Destroy the Object is a race to destroy the enemy’s object while defending yours. Online supports up to eight players, though it can be hard to find a match. The single player campaign is a blast, but multi-player – preferably locally – is predictably where it’s at. Your friends are smarter than the AI and they don’t go down in one shot. Leader boards track each game mode, so fight for bragger’s rights.
The bold art style is all 8-bit pixel brilliance. Action is side view, but the blocks are in a low relief so you get 3D snippets as you chase Blockbeard through pirate ships, motherboards even a laboratory. Environments are both destructible and regenerating, so a path you clear through solid block will rebuild itself behind you. At first, only one character style and simple color modifications are available for you to play with, but you quickly start unlocking all sorts of wacky characters from the predictable pirate and ninja types to Merlin, a Banana and Santa Claus. The level tunes are great, and I really enjoy both the level won and lost themes, but the music at game start-up is obnoxious.
Dual stick is riding a wave of popularity, and Rocket Riot is $10 of game you have more or less played before. However, it’s done well, is particularly playful and features vibrant pixel art. If you love the prospect of a dual-stick romp with your pals or just really wonder what it would be like to float through an 8-bit world with a jet engine on your tush it’s money well spent.