--------THE AWESOME OPPOSSUM IS BACK?--------
Sometimes, companies make really good games that people constantly want sequels to, but they don't always see the light of day. Other times, companies make great sequels to great games. There are also times that companies make sequels to games that aren't so great but you figure you should be grateful for what you got. Konami took the awesome oppossum from Rocket Knight Adventures for a second journey and boasts even more than they did with the previous game. They even took clear stabs at other game developers (*cough*Nintendo*cough*) with lines like "Come on. Don't waste time on games that were designed for somebody's little brother. Take Sparkster for a spin and feel what real adventure is!" If this game was just as good as the previous game, I'd give them credit, but there's a lack of creativity and overall effort in this game, and it's vastly different from their SNES version of Sparkster. I was so perplexed by this game that I hopped in my time machine, cranked the dial to take me to 1994, and I took to the streets once again to see what Tomikazu Kirita (the producer, whom I've dubbed Konami) had to say about their "sequel" to Rocket Knight Adventures.
Bel: "Yo Konami! You call this a sequel to RKA? Is this a joke!?"
Konami: "Of course not. Why would it be? It says Rocket Knight Adventures 2 even whilst you play."
Bel: "Fair enough. You say there are eight levels on the back of the box but only admit in the manual that one of those is a demo level and the first level is considered two levels so that kinda means that there are six true levels, which brings it one level short of the original. Do you care to explain this to your fans?"
Konami: "Yes. The demo is a optional level, that is, it is optional if you wish not to achieve the true ending. Playing the demo is necessary to obtaining your first legendary treasure. The first level is one of the longest levels in the game and due to its variety constitutes as two levels. We are also proud of our final level, which delivers as much excitement as any full length level due to the climatic boss action scene. In short, if you want to replay this game over for no good reason, skip the demo and legendary treasures. The length of the game overall is about equal to its predecessor."
Bel: "Speaking of legendary treasures or "Keys to the Seal", why did you make seven this time around for the player to collect that makes Sparkster all shiny and golden when collected? Do you intend to make Sparkster into something he's not, such as a furry blue hedgehog? Also, why is Sparkster's sword lame now?"
Konami: "We do not understand the meaning of this question, but our intention was to take Sparkster in a whole new direction. You collect treasures to add diversity to the game and Sparkster has twice as much rocket power as before. We removed his projectile to add emphasis to his swordsmanship and to make his rocket skills more practical."
Bel: "Okay, I GET all of that. My biggest question now is why did you take Sparkster's spark? Where's all the visualized story elements, great level designs, over-the-top action and amazing boss characters you advertised on the box. All I see here are a bunch of lizardskin hand bags for carrying my lady's bare essentials in, strange tree spirits and elementals, drab Axel Gear appearances and a few cornball robots, one who has the nerve to color-swap. To be blunt, what did you do to the Sparkster I loved? Is he by any chance on vacation?"
Konami: "...We are sorry that you are disappointed in our latest product, but be sure to buy our others. You do so and we love you long time. You are very very strong! Kthxbai!"
Bel: "I'm so mad about this. If you didn't make other good games besides Rocket Knight, I'd boycott your products!"
Okay, now that I'm done joking, the truth of the matter is that I wasn't expecting Sparkster or "RKA2" to be better by a mile. After all, Konami set the bar for quality so darn high with the previous game that one would be satisfied if they could have even stayed the course. The thing that bothers me about this game is that the drop in quality isn't just obvious, it isn't just really obvious, it's almost Captain Obvious.
--------OMG! THIS GAME HAS CONTINUITY... SORTA!--------
Here's what I know about the story in this game everybody. Without explanation, there are now seven "Keys to the Seal", Axel Gear isn't in love with anyone anymore and just wants to destroy stuff and kidnaps this game's new princess (Princess Cherry) apparently just to get on Sparkster's nerves, Princess Sherry dyed her hair, looks less intriguing and serves little purpose in the story other than to say "Hey, I'm back!", and you have two new villains who are waaaaaaay more generic than Emperor Devligus Devotindos and even Captain Fleagle. This time around you must contend with the main bad guy's flunky, Paeli, who is the leader of the Gedol Ninja (if by ninja they mean wierd magician, then I agree) and Evil King Gedol himself who is so lame that they summed him up in one sentence. Let me just do you a favor and copy-and-paste what it says in the manual: "He's the king of darkness who plots to destroy the world using wicked means." Niiiiice. Even the manual's introduction section is a lot weaker and basically says "Devotindos is gone, Gedol is here. Gedol controls the country by any means. Stop Gedol."
There's also no way of knowing how long this game takes place after the original, making it less specific than the SNES game. One can make obvious distinctions that the game may have possibly moved foward in time since Sparkster himself looks older and taller (though his sprite is actually smaller). Anything else besides that? I wish. As one who didn't play the original at all for its plot, if they didn't care that much about the characters and story segments in this game, you can only guess that other portions of this game could (or "would" in my opinion) be lazily done too. If this game didn't have so many of the original characters and that whole "RKA2" screen, you couldn't even convince me that this game was supposed to be a sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures.
--------IT'S MISSING THAT SKIN-DEEP BEAUTY--------
When I look at this game, I almost get the impression that Konami didn't know what they wanted to do with this game. The game is nicer looking than the previous game in a lot of ways with cleaner environments and an edgier looking Sparkster, but the level design and presentation is a mixed bag overall. The brown tile sprites at the very beggining of the first level for example are really hideous and look out of place when you see the gothic-looking architecture and quirky new enemies running all over it, but the forest within the same level has amazing depth and beauty. Another example is the airship level, which has so much orange (the whole level is bland actually) that it's an eyesore and yet "The Battle Of Gedol" is another great looking level. The Sparkrobo city level is generallly "meh", while the Desert Pyramids level looks pretty decent. One of the main draws for the original RKA, which were the bosses, seriously aren't as well thought out in this game as they were with the previous game.
When you add all of this with a game that has scarce level intermissions (that don't quite function the same as those found in the original) and nearly no dramatic level segments (like finding Axle Gear in the dark waiting for you in the original game), the game doesn't have the same impact that the original had. Also... why is Sparkster's rocket pack broken? I mean, the flame is almost always on. It looks really dumb falling from great heights to see that the flame can't keep up with his pack and will literally be half an inch or more away from himself. Whatever. The only interesting foe in this game isn't even Axle Gear (gasp!), it's King Gedol himself (and he's supposed to be the lame guy!), but I'll talk about him in the gameplay department.
On a positive note, I can say the music is still great. It's basically RKA 2.0 in that regard, although it still doesn't match the original, but it's at least as good as the tunes found in the SNES Sparkster, if not better. The upgraded level one theme (when you enter the forest sector) is really cool and the Egyptian Pyramid theme is particularly awesome. Hell, speaking of the forest, they should have just started the game there and omitted the crap before it. The sound effects are more or less the same, and don't really impact games of this kind unless they're really atypical or annoying.
--------MOVING FOWARD AT A GLANCE?--------
I was originally going steal a line from Soul Reaver's Raziel and compare the gameplay of this game to "excrement from a boot", but after 307 rewrites (okay... I didn't really rewrite it), I decided that wouldn't be fair to my readers... so I took a deep breathe, dined on some Take-Out from my local Chinese Restaurant, and played RKA2 thoroughly, so that I wouldn't have any doubts about what I'm about to say. This game...has taken some steps forward, like one and a half, whatever half a step looks like (*thinks of Stubbs the Zombie*). It's also taken two steps back. It's not a terrible lose, but a lose is a lose in my book.
Sparkster (as stated before) has a whole new rocket pack in this game to compensate for his less-than-impressive new sword. It has two levels and takes longer to reach maximum power. However, he's also gained more control in this game and doesn't spaz out from boosting, so he can almost fly in a sense, unlike the original. When his pack is at maximum power, he can do what's known as a "Screw Attack", which is even more powerful than a standard charge. You can also get a flame power-up which makes Sparkster even more powerful, though he loses it the moment he's hit. In the beginning, you'd think Konami was thinking outside the box, since you need Sparkster's handy new screw attack to open passageways and skewer large machines by removing their, well, screws. Sadly, this new found potential and possibly interesting element is only used on the very first level. Potential gained and potential wasted. Konami also included a roulette wheel of sorts in this game when you grab enough jewels. It's not unlike Tatakae Genshijin 2's system.
If you haven't guessed it already, there are also two little robot fight scenes in this game (the "demo" and the normal one), though the moment leading up to it is pretty lame and the fight almost seems like it was tacked on as a somber afterthought. Most of the level elements aren't nearly as interesting or varied as either the original or the SNES version of this game. Paeli can turn ya into a defenseless Pygmy, if that floats your boat, or you can become a target to a bunch of annoying spikes that lock-on to your position, but that's about the height of the game's appeal. Hmm... let's see... what else is there... oh! I couldn't forget to tell you more about this game's rendition of Chaos Emeralds, the legendary treasures or seven "Keys to the Seal". It's like this: You search the levels looking for swords stuck in the ground. Find all seven and you get shiny gold armor that makes you much stronger, faster (your rocket pack fills up almost instantly) and nearly "invincible" as the manual puts it. It improves your ending a little if you get them all. Then there's the whole difficulty thing that made the original game cool. It's here, but with less style.You get to play all the levels regardless of which difficulty you select, but Easy mode has a twist; all the levels are incredibly truncated... and you get an incredibly crappy ending, even crappier than the "Try Higher Difficulty" thing I'm used to seeing. There is one other subtle, though interesting thing about the seals and difficulty though, and it lies with King Gedol.
You have an invisible "willpower" parameter so to speak, depending on the difficulty and the seals. One of Gedol's attacks is to suck you into a vortex that swaps bodies with you in a fashion similar to Captain Ginyu. If you have the legendary armor on, you'll be unaffected by this attack, but if not, different things will happen depending on the difficulty. For instance, if you get caught on Normal difficulty, Gedol will take your body and try to kill himself (now you) with Sparkster, but it's only momentary. However, getting caught on Easy shows how low your will is. Not only will you switch bodies, you'll even have a warped face of Sparkster when you switch into Gedol's body! You won't ever revert back to your normal form if you don't capture Gedol with your own vortex! It's an odd little twist that I find slightly peculiar.
--------DISCONSOLATED BUT NOT TOTALLY DISAPPOINTED--------
I'd be lying if I said I didn't think this game was a letdown overall, but it's not a major flop and the game admittedly had huge shoes to fill. Still, I would have much rather prefered the game to have kept up with the original instead of falling into the ranks of "just another action game". The SNES game makes me feel much more confident that Sparkster could be revived and made into something great, but then again, Sparkster for the SNES isn't Rocket Knight Adventures 2 and THIS is not what Rocket Knight Adventures 2 should have been. If you're a fan of the first game, didn't know about this game, and you spot this game for cheap, I see no reason why you shouldn't pick it up, but don't set your expectations too high. If you're looking for great action games, Sparkster for the Sega Genesis doesn't quite make the cut in my book.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -