The first moments of Recoil Games’ Rochard feel like stepping into a happy mixture of Cowboy Bebop Heavy Metal Queen and Firefly—and it only gets better from there. Enter John Rochard, the far from stereotypical protagonist who proudly displays a beer belly and graying moustache. He is no ex-soldier looking to relive his glory days but an asteroid miner whose day-to-day life is turned upside down and he suddenly finds himself faced with extraordinary circumstances. This puzzle platformer’s witty writing will keep players chuckling and the dynamic gameplay mechanics will keep them returning for stage after stage of intergalactic fun.
The story opens with John and his crew on the precipice of losing their jobs at the Skyrig Corporation unless they start producing. They soon discover an alien structure deep within the asteroid and find themselves fighting for their lives against pirates and betrayed by the very company that employs them. It is here that John is forced to do as he must to save not only himself and his perky partner Skyler but the universe itself from a diabolical megalomaniac. Enter into the mix a little ancient technology and treasure maps and players have themselves a game. It may not be the most ground-breaking storyline the world of 2D platformers has seen, but top-notch writing and humorous one-liners make for a charming experience. The story only falls short in the last few chapters of the game where things start to seem rushed and then players collide head-long into the brick wall of abrupt endings. Does this open-ended cliffhanger mean there might be a sequel in the future? This is a question that players will find themselves asking as they stare dumb-founded at the closing credits.
Rochard is not an overtly artistic game aesthetically speaking, though the graphics are crisp and colorful, players will hardly be spending hours foaming at the mouth over them. Instead, the physics-based mechanics and gravity-based gameplay will be the topic of the day. The basic formula is much the same as many of Rochard’s predecessors– players navigate through levels of enemies collecting upgrades and moving towards the final boss. Instead of focusing on combat, however, John moves through a variety of puzzles to reach his goal. John is equipped with two primary weapons in order to complete his quest: the G-Lifter and Rock Blaster. The G-Lifter shoots out a beam which is able to pick up heavy objects (and later on enemies) and move them to different locations. Players can launch boxes at enemies, move heavy obstacles, and grab fuses with this device. The Rock Blaster is John’s primary offensive weapon and is effectively a gun which can be used to destroy enemies and obstacles. Along the way John also collects a variety of explosives to complete his arsenal. Most importantly, however, John can control gravity. With a push of the button players can switch to low-gravity to aid in solving puzzles and save themselves from a brutal fall.
The developers put a lot of thought into how these gameplay mechanics interact with the puzzles that John must navigate through, and it is this that makes the game well worth the $10 price tag despite the short play time. The game forces players to make use of all of John’s abilities and weapons in order to navigate the environments. A player might come across a metal grating that can only be destroyed by a sticky bomb. Or one of the many multi-colored force fields may stand between John and his goal. These force fields are color-coded and block items, people, and explosions at various intervals making for often times tricky puzzle-solving.
Rochard’s only downfall is the battles. The game, at times, leaves the impression that it was not quite designed for combat. There is far too much of it. Players will rush into an environment to find themselves overwhelmed and outgunned by space police and pirates. Luckily, the game has so many well-placed checkpoints that these mishaps do not significantly hinder progression. It is, of course, frustrating to have to blast through the same group of too-many enemies to get to the game’s real heart—puzzles—but it is a small price to pay for such a rewarding experience.
Rochard is one of the better downloadable games in recent memory. Instead of being focused on artistry and visual candy like so many other indie games, Recoil Games has clearly put a great deal of time and effort into the actual gaming experience. The tight way in which players interact with environments makes this a must-have for anyone who enjoys puzzle platformers. Admittedly, this reviewer was a little skeptical to step away from her normal artsy-fartsy fare when she was generously given a review copy of Rochard. In the end, however, it was a charming and rewarding experience. Readers can bet this player will be heading back through the levels to collect the remaining trophies and revisit the expertly crafted puzzles of Rochard.