Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • JP 09/23/1994
    • US September 1994
    • UK November 1994
Score: 75%

This review was published on 05/08/2017.

Sparkster: Rocket Knight Adventures 2 is a side-scrolling platform video game developed and published by Konami for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was originally released in Japan on September 23, 1994, North America in September 1994, and Europe in November 1994. As its subtitle implies, this game is a direct sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures, which was also developed by Konami and originally came out on the Genesis in 1993. It should be noted that the game was only subtitled Rocket Knight Adventures 2 in Japan; it was simply known as Sparkster in all other regions. On that note, Konami made another game called Sparkster with the same box art that came out on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the same year, but oddly enough, it's completely different from the one on Genesis. I already reviewed the SNES version of Sparkster, so this review will solely cover the Genesis incarnation. Besides their names and box arts, there's one other thing the SNES and Genesis versions of Sparkster have in common: they're both disappointing.

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Rocket Knight Adventures 2 is set in a world of knights, magic, and machines called Elhorn. Near the center of this fantastical world lies the enchanted Kingdom of Zebulos, a land inhabited by anthropomorphic animals. In the previous game, an army of anthropomorphic pigs led by the Devotindos Empire invaded Zebulos with a powerful spaceship referred to as the "Pig Star." Thanks to the courageous efforts of Sparkster, leader of an elite fighting force of anthropomorphic opossums known as "The Rocket Knights," the dreaded imperial army was defeated. Afterwards, Zebulos entered a period of peace. Unfortunately, said peace did not last. In every region of Elhorn, tribes formerly held by the Devotindos Empire turned violent, and from this mass of confusion arose another evil empire that eventually became known as "Gedol." The Gedol Empire soon took control of every region of Elhorn using its army of anthropomorphic lizards. Additionally, the King of Gedol sent Sparkster's rival, Axel Gear, to kidnap Princess Cherry, the cousin to Princess Sherry from the last game. Once again, Sparkster must save the day by taking down another evil empire.

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Stylistically, this game looks closer to the Sparkster on SNES than the original Rocket Knight Adventures. In other words, this game is a huge graphical upgrade over the original. It's got big sprites, big backgrounds, big foregrounds; everything in this game is big. The details on all this stuff are also off the charts, resulting in some really snazzy looking environments. There's an incredible amount of vibrancy to the environments, as well, which is thanks to the impressive color palette. A fair amount of the backgrounds contain multiple layers of parallax, too. However, while the graphics and colors are much improved from the original Rocket Knight Adventures, they still don't look as good as the visuals from the SNES version of Sparkster. That's to be expected, because the SNES is packing superior graphical hardware to the Genesis. Still, Rocket Knight Adventures 2 doesn't look that much worse than the Sparkster on SNES. This goes to show that the Genesis can keep up with the SNES if there are talented coders at the helm.

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You'll once again be taking control of the titular Sparkster as he rockets around at the speed of sound. Pressing directions on the d-pad allows Sparkster to walk around and crouch, while the B button makes him jump, the A button makes him attack with his sword, and the C button makes him use his rocket pack. Like most Genesis games, you can change these controls in the Options menu. As with the previous title, Sparkster can hang off horizontal bar-like objects with his tail, and climb left or right on them by pressing those directions on the d-pad. He can also fall through certain platforms by jumping while crouching. Unlike the other games, Sparkster no longer shoots a beam out of his sword, so his basic attack range is far more limited. You can grab a power-up that causes his sword to become fiery, increasing its damage output, but it still won't shoot beams. Also, Sparkster loses the flame sword as soon as he takes damage, making this a temporary luxury. Compared to the first game, the controls are more sluggish. They still get the job done, but they could certainly get it done better.

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Being that he's a Rocket Knight, Sparkster is equipped with a rocket pack. The rocket pack works differently in this game compared to the other ones. Instead of charging it manually by holding down a button, the rocket meter at the top of the screen charges automatically. When the bar fills up once, you press the C button to do a normal rocket propelled boost in the direction held on the d-pad, allowing you to fly for a few seconds and damage enemies that are in the way. You can even rocket boost diagonally! If you press the button after the bar fills up twice, you'll do a corkscrew rocket boost, which is more powerful and can break through certain obstacles. In addition, the corkscrew rocket attack can unscrew screws to open doors and activate gadgets. Activating the rocket pack without pressing any directions on the d-pad allows Sparkster to do a spinning sword slash, similar to Sonic's spin dash. On top of that, it's now possible to repeatedly do rocket boosts in the air, effectively allowing Sparkster to remain airborne indefinitely. While the rocket boost isn't as fast as it is in the other games, it's far more manageable now and lends itself better to exploration.

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The very first thing you see when beginning the game is Sparkster in a giant robot going up against Axel Gear, who's also piloting a giant robot. You'll then be thrust into a robotic duel, similar to the one from the first Rocket Knight Adventures. It's a cool start to the adventure, though it doesn't play as well as it did in the first game. Winning this fight isn't necessary to continue the game, and it's even possible to skip it by pressing the start button. However, you do get a prize if you win. At any rate, there are only six stages to this game, but some of them are rather long. Each stage is broken up into multiple sections, some of which feel like entirely separate stages. In the first stage, you begin in a grassy field, move on to a jungle-like area, and then end up on a transport truck in a bit with automatic screen scrolling. Similar to Sparkster on the SNES, playing the game on too low of a difficulty will significantly shorten the stages. You'll want to avoid that, because some of the omitted sections are pretty good.

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Design wise, stages are very different this time around. Instead of the tightly designed, highly focused, action packed stages from the original Rocket Knight Adventures, this game places a greater emphasis on exploration. Despite ultimately leading to a single goal, which is generally located to the right, stages often have multiple paths and plenty of secret areas. However, there's not much of an incentive to explore your surroundings and find said secret areas. Aside from the occasional fire sword power-up, you'll primarily find blue and red gems while exploring stages. A single red gem counts as ten blue gems, and gathering ten blue gems awards you with a randomized item. These randomized items include apples that replenish some health, meat that replenishes all health, rocket packs that immediately trigger Sparkster's rocket pack when picked up, and exploding bombs that hurt him. The problem is that you almost always wind up getting useless junk like rocket packs, bombs, or more gems. Therefore, the maze-like stages do nothing but serve to obfuscate your path to the goal, as there's no particular reason to explore them... aside from the special swords, that is.

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Besides the mostly pointless gems, there is one other reason to explore, and this one is a little more worthwhile. There is a special sword hidden in each stage, and Sparkster can collect them for a special reward. Similar to the Chaos Emeralds from the Sonic the Hedgehog games, collecting all seven of the special swords will allow Sparkster to transform into Gold Sparkster. However, unlike Super Sonic, Gold Sparkster isn't invincible; he's simply more powerful than regular Sparkster. Further, Gold Sparkster can only be used during the final battle, making him an even less rewarding reward. Getting Gold Sparkster is also essential to seeing the game's true ending, but you should be prepared for disappointment on that front, too. Having said all that, the seven swords do add some replay value to the game. Plus, they give you some much needed incentive to explore the stages, so their inclusion does help the game's overall design.

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Many of the people that worked on the original Rocket Knight Adventures didn't work on this one. It's for this reason that this game feels so different from its predecessor and lacks the same level of quality. While it certainly looks better, this game doesn't play better than the original Rocket Knight Adventures. The controls are sluggish, the pacing is much slower, the stages often have confusing layouts, the bosses lack punch, and the soundtrack is a step down. If you expect this game to be as good as or better than Rocket Knight Adventures, then you're in for a rude awakening. However, it's by no means bad. Sparkster on the Genesis is a disappointing sequel, but still a good game.

Word Count: 1,604

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