--------REDEMPTION FOR THE ROCKET KNIGHT?--------
What was once considered to be a great exclusive character to the Sega Genesis, Sparkster the Rocket Knight would eventually emerge on a Nintendo console around the same time as the Genesis RKA sequel, much to the joy of several Nintendo gamers and absolute disgust of a few more Sega loyalists. Was this a good idea? Well, one has to think about what made the first game back on the ol' Genny such a success. It had lots of action, style, and grace... and we know this system can handle at least two of those things. It's the action portion that would rightfully make any gamer who knows about the SNES' hardware wary. Let's face it, Sparkster without over-the-top adventures is like going up a creek without a paddle or being a heterosexual straight male and french kissing another gentleman; You just don't do it. But there's also something else we have to rememeber; Konami has a way of turning bad ideas around and pull off a 180, proving a skeptical crowd that they were wrong. What do you get when you put roughly a baker's dozen worth of some of the most talented folks in the gaming industry in a room and tell them to make a good follow-up to RKA? They go and make a good follow-up to RKA.
While working with the team who made the original RKA, the folks over at Konami used just about all the "gimmicks" they could find on this console and worked around a lot of things to attempt to bypass severe displays of the system's obvious lack of "blast processing", creating a version of Sparkster much unlike the Genesis game and tracing their steps back towards RKA's roots. That's right folks, SNES Sparkster delivers the goods, and while it doesn't claim to be a sequel to the series unlike the Sparkster game for the Sega Genesis, it doesn't have to be. It brings back the creative level designs, crazy bosses, debonair heroism, and all the over-the-top action you've known and loved if you played the original Sega classic... almost.
--------WOLFS AND LIONS AND ROBOTS, OH MY!--------
In the SNES iteration of Sparkster, Konami decided to move the timeline of the game forward without making the game a direct sequel, and as you might have guessed, there's a largely new cast of characters. After Sparkster destroyed the evil Emperor Devligus Devotindos and his army of freakish porky pigs in RKA, Sparkster's reknown only intensified throughout the land and peace lasted for several years. For a while, it seemed like there wasn't an evildoer alive who would stand up to the legendary Rocket Knight, but this game would cease to exist if that were the case, so who's the lucky son of a gun this time?
Generalissimo Lioness, come on down! This lion man with the silly name bands together with an army of wolves led by Colonel Wolfheim to once again wreck havoc throughout the land... but that's not all. What kind of game would this be at this point without an appearance from everyone's favorite little 16-bit anthropomorphic black knight, Axle Gear? Axle Gear still has a score to settle with his old arch rival Sparkster, so what better way for Axle to grind Sparkster's gears than to join another evil empire suspiciously skilled at making lots of robots and kidnap another cute anthropomorphic girl, Princess Flora? There's no legendary treasures to collect here folks, Konami left the chaos emeralds for Sonic and his crew this time around. All you need to worry about now is fighting, fighting, and more fighting. If it sounds like it doesn't quite make a whole lot of sense, that's probably because it doesn't, but who cares? It's just what I needed; another darn adventure!
--------PUTTING THE SPARK BACK IN SPARKSTER--------
When I played the Genesis version of Sparkster, I had to wonder if its visuals and overall presentation had surpassed its predecessor, to which there was no clear answer. In the case of the SNES version, the answer is clear: YES. The visuals of this game are nothing short of spectacular... it's almost not worth describing when I've taken the liberty of grabbing over one hundred screenshots, but I'll do it anyway. The levels are marvelously detailed, the level designs are great, and all the animations and the like are on par with the Sega Genesis version (in other words, they're good). The thing that makes the game look so phenomenal is that Konami took nearly full advantage of the system's hardware. For instance, let's take the beautiful opening level. The river is flowing beneath you, the mountains are rich with detail, the flora is brimming with life (no pun intended) and all the background and foreground elements are richly colored to a tee. Just take a look at the big trees... look at the wood... there are so many different shades and hues of brown to try and make it look as realistic as they possibly could. In the event that you can't see the pictures, the trees look about as close to real trees as you're gonna get on the SNES, give or take a few games with greater artistic direction. There is some slowdown here and there, but it doesn't hamper the experience much.
The music in this game is also superb, but I'm not saying this simply because it's on the SNES. The overall composition of the tunes in this version are designed very well, and most of the tracks add to the levels, such as the zany music land level where you'll run over piano keys and fight a giant robot who plays a ditty while a wolf throws explosive maracas. The boss tunes are more intense than ever and all the sound effects (while not always realistic, but who cares) are adequate. It's all good stuff. If there is one gripe I have with the presentation (other than the slowdown), it would be that the game could have used a few more intermissions to move the story along like the original. There's more in this one than the Genesis version, but less than the original RKA (and this one has no pre-level screens).
--------STRIKING A BALANCE?--------
While there isn't anything indecent about the way the Genesis Sparkster handled, the SNES game has a formula that differs from any of the other games in the series. For starters, Sparkster has more life in the SNES game than in the Gen/MD version of this game (seven hearts to five) but less than he did in the original game (seven to eight). Sparkster has also honed his blade once again, this time for the better. His sword throws beams once again and they travel across almost the entire screen (as opposed to RKA where they went about halfway) and he can now do a "Rolling Attack", where Sparkster wraps flames around his sword and does a short distance attack, trying to split his foes in half. The rolling attack isn't just useful for racking up additional damage, it's also useful for blitzing your way through levels and acts as a cancelation to his rocket thrust. In this game, Sparkster spazs out from a rocket attack just like he did in the original, but a rolling attack can cancel that effect. However, rolling too much will cause him to lose control even longer than he normally would, so it puts a limit on how much you abuse the boosting mechanics in the game. Combining all of Sparksters enhanced new fighting skills can help you make short work of bosses.
Just like both RKA and RKA2, this game also spices things up each level by adding new elements to the stages or a different way to play. For instance, you can ride a friendly bird robot (who doesn't look very friendly) called Stampy-Do that runs so incredibly fast that it can run up steep mountains, go beyond a sea of clouds and pratically reach outer space! If that doesn't strike your fancy, you can float around inside of a bubble, get lost inside of a pyramid, or play a vertical shooting level similar to the ones found in other Konami games like Pop'n Twinbee, not to mention do other things. Regardless of what takes place, this game has more levels than any other Rocket Knight game (Nine versus RKA having seven and RKA2 having arguably eight) and the game has enough interesting elements to rival the first Rocket Knight Adventures. This game also uses a fancy password system to make the game easier to manage and has nine levels. As to be expected, playing under different difficulties alters the endings and what levels you gain access to. It's all great stuff... but I do have a few gripes here though.
The (what appears to be mandatory) giant robot battle against Axle Gear is in this game, but it's a pretty cheap fight. You can guard, punch and shoot projectiles, but your arms can get broken and then you can't block anymore. This isn't such a problem, but Axle Gear is relentless during this fight! Be sure you destroy him quickly and swiftly, or you're finished. More importantly, I'm very upset that there isn't a sound test, especially since this game has excellent audio.
--------ROCK ON ROCKETEER!--------
While this game couldn't recapture all the magic of the original Sega game, it comes pretty friggin' close, and is an excellent addition to any SNES gamer's collection. Sparkster looks great, Princess Flora is possibly the prettiest of all the RK princesses, Axle Gear returns closer to form (the way he plays the organ at the music land while waiting for you is epic) and Colonel Wolfheim is funny, not to mention he has more involvement than either Paeli or Fleagle (henchmen from the other games). We also shouldn't forget Generalissimo Lioness, who isn't as interesting as Devligus or Gedol, but oh well... you can't win them all. Sparkster may not be the last Konami game for SNES, but it's arguably the last GREAT Konami game released on the system (unless you count Dracula X) and some consider it to be Konami's SNES swansong. The game seems to be pretty expensive these days, but don't hesitate grabbing a copy if you spot it for cheap!
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -