Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rock On

Big Club

"Dealy beloved. Other time, other space, people live a damn boring routine life, although the world is so peaceful.

"Off course, some of them thinks they gotto get out of the life, and dreaming about getting a big fortune. To realize that dream, there's only one way left in that world, needless to say, its, some how, to find out the mysterious fortune, hidden by the ancient people.

"'Busters', it's the name who we call the fortune hunters. Now they're about to start a historic journey, that no one could come back alive from.

"That is to get the 'FISA''s, called legend by people.... But, except the one person, no one in the world can make it real who has got to be billionet and radical, physically and mentally....

"Yes, you are the one!

"Now the whole world is watching you and looking for your success.


Those are the poetic words that scroll up the screen as super-dramatic music plays in the background when one begins a session of Rock On. Considering the, uh, "liveliness" of this textual prelude, I can't imagine why the game is ridiculed so often. But I didn't particularly care about its reputation coming in, as I enjoy a number of shooters that others scorn and ridicule (Deep Blue and Legion come to mind). Screw those foolish haters and jokesters!

Then I saw the goofy cover art and began to understand the hatred and laughter. I'm sure it doesn't help that the game was developed by "Big Club," a group perhaps best known for publishing the heavily battered samurai-harrier game, Jimmu Denshou. I'm a big Jimmu fan, but as we all know, that cool title was Wolf Team's work, so it did nothing to raise my hopes for Rock On (though I was interested in finding out how the Club would fare on their own).

The immediately despicable in-game visuals also do little to bolster the game's reputation. After undoubtedly pointing and laughing at the intro transcribed above, the player finds himself staring at the most boring of "starry" backdrops and controlling a slow, chubby, stupid-looking ship. Most folks don't get the chance to wash away that initial bad taste, as, like Legion and Deep Blue, Rock On doesn't go easy on people.

So yeah, considering all this ridiculousness and the game's tiny-budget aura, I guess I can understand why it's viewed the way it is. But, of course, I stuck with it... and discovered that it's flawed in ways even more egregious than most will ever know.

Actually, most will indeed become acquainted with the horrors of the game's ship-speed system. As alluded to before, your craft is extremely slow at the beginning. Not to worry--speed-up icons present themselves almost immediately. This is good. Unfortunately, if you grab more than just one or two of these things, you'll find yourself blazing all over space at ridiculous, uncontrollable speeds. "So just don't grab more than you need," you say. Yes, that's a nice idea and all... but they appear all over the fucking place, at times making Rock On feel like a manic shooter where the goal is to dodge speed-ups rather than bullets. And while it can be kinda fun to zip around at hyper speed as you're blasting through waves of villains in open space, things get a little tense when it comes time to navigate tight segments like this one:

Yeah, good luck with that.

A similar issue plagues the well-intentioned and almost well-implemented weapons system. Rock On provides you with lots and lots of ways to kill your enemies; we're talking cool stuff like 8-way shots, snake bolts, laser beams, lock-on missiles, fireballs, napalm, and flame throwers. You can hold three weapons at once and switch between those three as you like. There are some spots where it's crucial that you possess a certain gun; it's not just a matter of making life easier... it's LIFE OR DEATH. And that's pretty fucking cool in my opinion, as I sure don't mind a little trial and error and some item management elements in my shooters.

But that brings us to a problem: switching to another weapon requires a press of the Run button, which feels really awkward and is required at the worst of times, like when you've got a slew of enemies firing fast spread-shots your way.

And there's another problem: as is the case with the speed-ups, weapon icons appear everywhere. So if you need to hold on to a particular gun, you'll consider the many icons crowding the screen to be your worst enemies.

One last annoying issue (albeit one that only hard-core Rock On fans will ever be concerned about, and since there will never be any hard-core Rock On fans...) involves the game's money system. As you can tell from the fantastic opening bit of text, earning millions of dollars is the protagonist's main goal. This wouldn't seem to require you to go out of your way or anything, as money is basically your score with a dollar sign tacked on. But Rock On has a "happy ending" for those who earn big bucks, and if you have hopes of viewing that ending, well... forget it. You can crush all the bosses, make perfect use of your weapons, survive the adventure on one life, and pick up every piece of treasure you come across...

...and still not even come close to earning enough cash to view the happy ending.

But anyway... now that we've established that the game is severely flawed and pretty much impossible... let's examine what makes it so wonderful!

Yeah, it seems quite horrible at first, what with the broken speed system and the boring space background. But things start to pick up once you reach and duel with this speedy midboss. Defeat him and you'll earn the extremely useful 8-way shot.

Then there's a really nice sequence that basically has you pick your poison. The playfield is essentially two screens tall, a la Lightening Force, so you can decide if you want to take the high road and navigate an asteroid field or the low one and contend with dozens of camouflaged mecha.

Up next is the boss of the stage, a giant ship outfitted with lots of cannons. There's nothing new about making your way around such a behemoth-craft, and this one certainly isn't as cool as the R-Type Stage 3 vessel or Revenge Shark, but it's still a pleasant surprise at the conclusion of a small-fry-dominated stage. I bet it could beat Cerberus.

Jokes about cinematic quality aside, the intermission screens actually give you some really important tips.

The city background is much more impressive than the opening zone's star field, and it's neat how the color of the sky gradually changes as time passes. If you reach the red ball thing with a lock-on missile in your arsenal, you can take it out with one shot and end the stage then and there, without ever having to face the mini-boss. If you don't have the lock-on weapon, the stage will loop.

The third stage is the dreaded Labyrinth Zone. It's really fucking cool how this one level contains so many different types of areas: the cavernous main hub leads to bases; subterranean streams; lava lakes; and, ultimately, a palace. But the layout of the level is extremely confusing, with areas that loop, passages that take you back to the beginning, and warp icons that teleport you all over the place. So allow me to be your guide:

First of all, don't use any of the warp icons. There's no reason to, and they only make matters even more confusing.

When the path forks for the first time, take the bottom route. Do the same when it forks for the second time and the same for the third.

Now you're in the underground stream area. You can reveal a gemstone by destroying a falling stalactite near the end of the strip. You'll want to have the F-cls weapon in your arsenal when you're done with this part.

The path forks again; this time, take the top route to a base area. Use the one-off F-cls weapon on one of the energy beams that stands in your way (yes, on the beam itself), and then fly on through when the other beam is automatically shut off. You can get a gem by wrecking a certain machine near the end of the strip.

The path forks again; take the bottom route to the lava section. You can get a gem by defeating the mini-boss here.

The path forks yet again; take the bottom route to a different base-type place. There's a gem tucked away in a niche here; you don't have to destroy anything to reveal it, but you have to act quickly in order to nab it and get back on course.

The path forks one more time; take the top route up to the palace, where you'll encounter the dragon boss.

Use a standard weapon like the laser to blast the three orbs that hover around the dragon and the circular joint connecting the beast's head to its body. But save your lock-on missile for the creature's cranium, which you'll have to annihilate in order to uncover the level's fifth gem.

The fourth stage is straightforward blast-'em-up fun, a nice change of pace from the long, tortuous third level. These two guys probably aren't the caliber of boss machine you'd hope to run into at the end of a game, but they make for decent opponents anyway.

To think, all this craziness happened a mere twenty years ago, and history has already forgotten about it. But perhaps you'd like to know what happens if you yourself do something unforgettable--like accomplishing the pretty-much impossible and actually meeting the requirements for the game's happy ending. Why, I'll show you!


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