As a kid of around 6 or 7, I had little to no knowledge of The Rocketeer’s history in comics, but what I did know is that there was a movie about this golden helmet wearing character zipping around in a jet-pack, shooting gangsters and saving the day. As you can more than likely tell, all of these factors had me in love with the character even when I could barely understand what was going on in the movie. Not havinG read the comic or really comprehending the film stopped me from removing the slime-blower from my purple Ghostbusters II play pack and pretending it was a rocket pack, lifting off from…nowhere really, but the power of imagination knows no bounds when you’re at that age.
To my pleasant surprise I found out there was another way to fulfill my Rocketeer fantasies in the form of an NES game from publisher Bandai and developer Realtime Associates. the wizards who brought us the detestable Captain America and The Avengers on the SNES. You can put your fears aside though, as this game is nowhere near as bad as that unrecommendable piece of garbage. That being said, The Rocketeer on the NES is an average at best game that’s not the worst thing you’ll play, but at the same time it won’t really stick with you either.
Following the plot of the 1991 Disney film of the same name, The Rocketeer puts you in the role of the down on his luck pilot Cliff Secord who stumbles upon an experimental jet-pack that draws the attention of some less than reputable characters. This includes one Neville Sinclair, who has plans of his own for the jet-pack as well as Cliff’s girlfriend, Jenny.
Being an NES game, The Rocketeer downplays any connections to the Nazi party that were prevalent in the film, but it does a decent enough job of recounting the events of the film it takes inspiration from otherwise. One way in which it does so is through the use of between level cut-scenes that look pretty bad, even by NES standards. Ninja Gaiden II this game is not, but nevertheless they serve their purpose and help bridge the game’s six chapters.
The great thing about NES games though is that by and large, story isn’t important as long as the game plays well, and The Rocketeer does for the most part. Like most games based on a license, this game is a 2-D side-scroller that has all the tropes of the genre: You move left to right, punch and shoot bad guys as well as robots and jump onto platforms. In the movie the title character mainly stuck to his trusty pistol, but Cliff has a pretty hefty arsenal to play with here. Starting out you have to rely solely on your fists, but after gathering some ammo you can cycle through a decent amount of weapons by hitting the select button.
The most basic tool in your arsenal is your pistol that has a limited range but uses the least amount of ammo. The next tier is up is a tommy gun that doesn’t rapid fire but travels farther than the pistol for those enemies out of reach. These are followed by a gun that fires in three-directions, an arching grenade and a bazooka that’s best saved for the few bosses you come across.
While it’s great to have diversity in the tools you have access to, the game may have been better if they were cut down to two: the pistol with a full-screen range and the bazooka. Cycling to the right weapon on the fly when you’re getting shot at from one side and rushed by an unarmed combatant on the other is a pain, especially when you’re trying to conserve ammo for when you need it the most. The enemies you face, mostly 30’s gangsters in various coloured outfits, are pretty easily dispatched, but nevertheless you still can take a few hits while you’re trying to get to just the right weapon.
Seeing as this is a Rocketeer game, the lingering question I’m sure that’s on everyone’s mind is do you get to use the jet-pack? The answer is yes, but it’s in a somewhat limited capacity. You can only fly when you have fuel and some levels don’t even provide any. Lift-of is accomplished by double tapping the jump button where you can then control The Rocketeer quite easily and land on any solid platform when you want to cease flying. Having the ability to become airborne is a pretty awesome tool to use in any game, but it’s not really used in any creative way. Most of the time the only time it will only ever be used is to reach a higher than you can jump platform, and once you’re there you can more or less stay grounded. Each of the levels play more or less the same so it would’ve been nice to have a stage or two thrown in where perhaps the perspective switched to a space shooter where the player got to experience flight without penalty. What’s present isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it just feels like a lot of other games of this type that are much better.
As far as licensed games go, The Rocketeer is of the most fair challenge wise though it’s not exactly a cake walk either. You have no lives but you have unlimited continues and a simple nine-digit password that will put you at the start of the last chapter you completed. There’s no pit fall deaths to speak of so the only real way to die is by losing all your health. You can find health upgrades within the games stages, however they only fill up one stick of energy until the last stage where I discovered the first ever power up that fills up your bar completely. Dying won’t set you back that far though, mostly to the second or third part of a stage, so once you figure out where enemies are coming from and equipping yourself accordingly.
The Rocketeer has a few bosses but they’re of the easiest I’ve come across in an NES game in a long time. They come in one of two varieties: one where you’ll have to fly up, take a few shots and recover your health by killing thugs or a larger than normal enemy you can kill with a few well-timed hits. Much like the regular stage enemies, they don’t provide much of a challenge nor are they very memorable either.
There’s not a lot to say about The Rocketeer honestly than it’s a pretty average and typical NES game. As far as licensed games go on the system, it’s one of the better ones that isn’t hair-pulling out difficult, yet it doesn’t make an impression on you in the same way that something like Sunsoft’s Batman: The Video Game did. If you come across The Rocketeer for cheap, it’s an inoffensive game that will help kill a few hours, but you’re not really missing out an anything by not playing it either.
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