Rocket: Robot on Wheels

Developer: Sucker Punch
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: November 17 1999
Regions: NA, PAL
Genre: Platformer
Multiplayer: 1 player
Cart Size: 12MB/96Mbits
Saving: On-Cart
Rumble Pak?: Yes
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
On wheels? Rocket only has one wheel...

One of the N64's most abundant genres is the 3D platformer. More specifically, the kind where the goal is to collect all sorts of trinkets and items in a small number of large worlds. This particular sub-genre was popularized by Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, but soon there would be a glut of similarly styled games. Most aren't that memorable, but one in particular stands out from the rest. Rocket: Robot on Wheels.

On the surface, there doesn't seem to be anything special about Rocket. The name isn't exactly catchy and the theme gives off a "me too" vibe. But, under the game's half-hearted exterior, lies quite a pleasant surprise. The story of the game is somewhat simple, but easy to follow along. You take control of Rocket, a robot with only one wheel, who sees his master and owner of a lavish amusement park, named Whoopie World. The scientist looking guy leaves Rocket in charge of the park, as well as Whoopie the Walrus, the star of Whoopie World, and Jojo the Racoon, the Luigi of the duo, while his master goes out to a party for the night. All seems to be in order, but Jojo escapes from his cage, takes Whoopie, all the park tickets and tokens, and then begins a full scale assault on the park, dismantling and disabling various rides and causing all kinds of mischief. Watching all this happen in the game is actually quite amusing, seeing how not even one second passes after the Scientist leaves that Jojo suddenly wreaks havoc on the entire park. This cutscene alone should be enough to grab anyone's attention.

The actual game isn't quite as hectic as the first cutscene, but it doesn't need to be. Being themed after an amusement park, Rocket: Robot on Wheels does an absolutely impeccable job of creating a sense of whimsy and fun, like all amusement parks should. Every world has a unique motif, there's plenty of new moves for Rocket to learn and the collecting aspect sticks pretty close to the Super Mario 64 format, with "music notes" from Banjo-Kazooie sprinkled in. The basic goal of the game is, again, very similar to Nintendo and Rareware's staple platformers. Each world has a number of tickets to collect, which are Rocket's version of Mario 64's "star". There are also tokens, which are akin to Banjo-Kazooie's "music notes". The tickets are generally used to open new worlds, while the tokens are usually needed to unlock new moves for Rocket to use.

Although trimmings are nice and all, one of Rocket's most notable features, is its incredibly advanced physics engine. Unlike Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, which are pretty static in how objects react to the world around them, in Rocket, items, objects and even Rocket himself, move, bounce, roll and toss with a very real-world feel. The realistic physics aren't just for show either, the majority of the gameplay mechanics and puzzles rely on accurate physics, which gives Rocket an incredibly unique feeling on the N64. There are many vehicles to drive as well, which greatly benefit from having a physics engine. There aren't many other platformers that can match this impressive feature.

Visually speaking, Rocket is about mid-high end as N64 games go. It's graphics are very good, but it never really pushes the N64 past what most games do. Artistically though, the game is very nice. The carnival-like theme is very consistent throughout, even in a level like Mine Blowin', which is underground. Rocket carries a simple, yet distinguishable flair, no matter the level. Rocket doesn't use the Expansion Pak, but it still manages to be a very decent looking game. Some sections can be a bit dark, but otherwise, there's very few issues with the graphics.

The music in Rocket is a quirky subject. While it's very good quality and quite varied, all the tracks carry this oddly vintage vibe. Even the sound effects beckon to an older time of cartoons. It's strange, I don't know if the music and sounds actually fit with the game, but it's all very nice overall. Lots of great tracks, plenty of variety and the sound effects suit their utilizations. There's a small assortment of voice samples, pretty standard as N64 games go.

Where Rocket truly shines however, is not in its graphics or sound, or even the very innovative physics engine alone, but the level design and gameplay mechanics. Rocket is, put simply, an extremely fun game. There isn't a level found in the game that is boring, they all have clever and creative designs, features and mechanics, and they all in some way make excellent use of the game's physics engine. In fact, I would go so far as to say the first level "Clowney Island" is one of the best "first stages" in any game I've ever played. It perfectly demonstrates Rocket's advanced physics and how it can be applied to a platformer. There's a wonderfully responsive Hotdog dune buggy, along with two different races, a carnival tent with three different physics-based mini-games, a honey bee themed fun house and even a small, but surprisingly deep roller coaster builder - all packed into the game's very first level!

Rocket: Robot on Wheels is truly a rare specimen, combining the right mix of graphics, sound, advanced programming technology and creative gameplay to craft a uniformly fun experience. Few platformers on the N64 ever truly attain a well rounded-ness of every game's basic factors - and Rocket is one of those games. It's a somewhat uncommon game. Loose carts are around the $15 - $20 range, but it's well worth the price of admission. It's been an overlooked gem for years now, not many people talk about it, perhaps that will change with time.

Presentation: 9.0
Rocket possesses a distinct essence of child-like wonder that makes every step of the adventure memorable. The various themes are executed very well and it has excellent polish.

Graphics: 7.5
It doesn't exactly push any envelopes, but the visuals in Rocket work well enough. It's the sort of game that doesn't necessarily need to have high end graphics, but it would have been appreciated.

Sound: 8.0
The music is a bit of a mixed bag, but it really depends on ones tastes. All the music and sound effects eerily throwback to the '50s, or somewhere around there, which gives Rocket a unique profile, but it's not for everyone. The music feels a bit compressed, but seems to work with the style.

Gameplay: 10
I have a very difficult time thinking of a game I've had as much genuine fun with on N64 as Rocket: Robot on Wheels. The physics engine is not only executed well, but it used so masterfully in the level design. The game is ahead of its time. The first level is nearly perfect in every regard, it demonstrates just what a real physics engine is capable of. Such a feat is incredibly difficult. 10 might seem a bit extreme, but Rocket is no ordinary game in this regard.

Lasting Appeal: 9.0
Like most 3D platforming titles with a collect-a-thon angle, Rocket dishes up quite a bit of replay value if you didn't find every Ticket on each world. Even if you did, the creative physics-based mini-games, vehicles and platforming challenges will certainly bring you back to this classic.

Overall: 8.7

Written by Aaron Wilcott
March 9 2013