"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.
"NOW LET'S GO FOR IT!!!"
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 effort 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, 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.
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.
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!