Rocketron

A game by Astro Port for PC, originally released in Japan in 2017, and released in the US in 2020.
Rocketron is set in the same universe as the developer’s previous mech-based actioners, Gigantic Army and Steel Strider. As in those games, you take on the role of a peacekeeping organization (and delivery service) called Argo Express. But rather than playing as a person piloting a lumbering mech suit through linear action levels, you instead take on the role of a cybernetic humanoid with the unlikely name of B.L.A.M. as he explores an interconnected metroidvania environment.


The year is 2049 and The Congregation of Gogoh has designs to take over a cyberhuman planet called Metnal 28. As a cyberhuman himself, B.L.A.M. has been enhanced to excel in combat and he is sent down to the planet to put a stop to Gogoh’s nefarious plans. As in previous games, things get off to a bombastic start, with the Argo Express delivery truck getting dropped into combat while the dropship clears the landing zone of enemy machines. The truck then drives forward at high speed, smashing through more bots before ejecting B.L.A.M. into the air for a running start, immediately blasting baddies with his rifle (which is apparently called a Rocket Musket).


The player has full 360 degree aiming, with aim adjusting to the left or right as he runs. Pressing upward at an angle allows the player to shoot diagonally, and the player is able to adjust to aim at downward angles while jumping. As long as the player isn’t moving, aim stays locked in the assigned direction, allowing him to target foes in any direction, and pressing UP or DOWN allows the player to adjust the angle. That said, most action takes place on a largely horizontal plane, so shooting to the left or right or at upward angles generally gets the job done.


The player has a low but floaty 1x nonvariable jump, but this is supplemented by a short rocket-assisted boost that can be used on the ground or in the air. The player can boost himself in any direction and change directions in midair, and he can follow up a jump with a boost to get some extra height. The boost takes a couple of seconds to recharge, so it’s not terribly useful for general traversal, at least at the start. Throughout the game, the player encounters boost powerups that lengthen the duration of the boost, and this is often used to gate the player from reaching later areas, in traditional metroidvania fashion.


Progress is also gated by the appearance of certain blocks that can only be destroyed by a drill powerup, which is equipped in place of a weapon. The drill can be used to defeat enemies as well, but its range is quite limited. Drilling through blocks occasionally leads to crystals or other powerups, or to shortcuts to make travel faster when backtracking. The game also features three tiers of keycards that unlock doors needed to progress in the main campaign, and the player can find visors that show hidden passages as well, which lead to hidden caches of crystals or the occasional optional boss encounter.


While the player begins the game with a basic rifle, he quickly picks up a machine gun and a shotgun, and he is free to cycle through these weapons as the situation demands. The machine gun has a faster firing rate than the rifle, with somewhat less focused shots, although it’s still a great way to deliver concentrated firepower in a straight line or against large bots. The shotgun, on the other hand, has a wide 5-way spread which is good for dealing with aerial enemies. It’s also great for running through areas populated by weaker foes, as the player can simply hold the SHOOT button to deliver a steady spray of death that wipes out all enemies… at least on the lower difficulty settings. The game offers Easy, Normal, Hard, and Insane modes to properly challenge players of any skill level.


Each of these weapons is set to auto fire, and their fire rates are all fairly high. Later in the game, the player finds exploding rockets, homing throwing stars, a solid laser beam, and a powerful energy weapon that fires projectiles in pairs that cover a wide swath. Ammo is infinite for all weapons, but they each have a different level of durability. Whenever the player takes damage, some of the equipped weapon’s durability is lost as well. Taking too much damage while holding any given weapon causes it to become temporarily unavailable.


This weapon system adds a bit of strategy and encourages players to think about the best weapon to equip in any given situation, as damage output is just as important as damage avoidance. This also requires players to become adept at using more than one type of weapon, as he may find himself needing to switch to another with little notice, and this is all the more important during the game’s many boss encounters.


Enemies occasionally drop small health restoratives – and less frequently drop large restoratives – which restore a bit of health and also replenish the durability of all weapons (not just the one equipped). Some enemies continuously spawn in the area, allowing you to farm a bit for restoratives, and all enemies reappear when leaving a room and returning, per genre standards. An added bonus is that grabbing a health pickup also temporarily increases the firing rate of the equipped weapon.


If a weapon’s durability meter reaches zero, not only does that weapon become disabled temporarily, the player must fully replenish its durability meter before it can be used again. And once the weapon becomes available again, it comes back online with only one unit of durability, thus requiring the player to refill it again lest it be quickly lost. This may sound like you’ll be spending a lot of time running around restoring weapon durability, but in practice, this design makes it riskier to use weapons immediately after they come back online… thus forcing you to gauge whether you want to go back to your favorite weapon, or move forward with another.


With the exception of the default rifle, all of these weapons can be upgraded to deliver larger projectiles and deal more damage. By exploring the environment, you discover crystals that can be applied to each of these weapons independently, and each can be upgraded six times. However, each upgrade gets steadily more expensive, so you need to determine whether you want to make all of your weapons more powerful or if you want to max out one or two of them. In addition, these crystals are used to permanently upgrade your movement speed – the default speed is quite slow – and your health meter.


Upgrading the machine gun allows you to deal fast heavy damage, wearing down heavy bots and bosses quite quickly. On the other hand, upgrading the homing shuriken lets you walk through areas while automatically destroying most enemies without much effort… but this weapon also has a low durability, so you risk losing it if you take a couple of hits.


Enemy behaviors are uncomplicated, with most simply moving toward your position, and enemies are easy to parse given their generally bright colors. Most basic enemies die in a few hits, with their primary threat lying in great numbers, and the fact that they continuously spawn. Larger bots require concentrated firepower to destroy, and these enemies can fire off energy projectiles, explosives, or solid laser blasts that deal heavy damage.


Bosses offer a bit more of a challenge, with each having a handful of moves available to them, and they take longer to wear down given their long life bars. Still, if you spend your upgrades wisely, you may have one or two weapons that deal massive damage, allowing you to take down most bosses – even those late in the game – before they have a chance to do much.


Per the conventions established in Super Metroid, the game offers a minimap in the corner that slowly fills out as you move from area to area, with a larger map view available in the pause menu. Finding map stations allows you to fill out unexplored areas of the map as well. Save stations allow you to manually save your progress, and some of these can be quite far apart, resulting in a fair amount of repeated gameplay if you are killed, and these stations do not restore your health. That said, you steadily grow more powerful via the upgrade system, making it unlikely for you to be killed while backtracking. You’ll tread a lot of the same ground in the early going, but the back half of the game places you in more linear environments with smaller branching paths contained within each area.


There isn’t much to the game’s narrative, with the player occasionally finding downed allies who have brief notes about dangers or obstacles in the area. There is one scene where the player walks in a boss encounter, only to find himself stuck while another character enters the room and kills the boss in a single shot, adding a bit of intrigue. Gameplay takes place across six themed areas, ranging from craggy mountains to mossy forests to industrial areas to lava-filled cave systems. The graphics are a bit on the muddy side, which is in line with the developer’s previous games. The game features three different endings, and your completion time, map percentage, and item collection percentage are shown at the end of the game.



2D CRED
Rocketron was developed by Astro Port, a doujin studio based in Japan. The studio previously developed the mech combat game Gigantic Army and its follow-up, Steel Strider, as well as Armed Seven. In addition, the studio has developed several shmups, including Wolflame, Satazius, and Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser, as well as tank action games Adventum and Super Tank Warfare: Adventia.


The game was published by Henteko Doujin, based in Hyogo, Japan, which previously published Astro Port’s Gigantic Army, Steel Strider, Wolflame, Armed Seven, Satazius, and Zangeki Warp (taking over publishing from NYU Media), along with numerous other indie shmups.


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