Rex Rocket

A game by Castle Pixel for PC, originally released in 2014.
Rex Rocket stars a former war hero and savior of humanity whose glory days have passed, and he now finds himself escorting a group of scientists as they travel across the galaxy in a starship called the S.S. Montana. In the year 28XX, scientists have bio-engineered a newly-discovered species called Terra Oozlings, and they plan to use them to terraform a distant planet and make it suitable for population by mankind. Terra Oozlings are unique in that they can mimic any life form, making them ideal for the task. But, when the crew enters their cryo-tubes for the long journey, something goes terribly wrong, and Rex finds himself fighting off Oozlings, former crew members who have been converted by the Oozlings, and a mad computer AI.

Players are able to choose the sex of Rex by selecting a captain named Rexford Rexington or Rexanna Rexington. At the start of the game, you awake in your quarters beside your trusty goldfish companion (who is destined for a hilarious end), surrounded by posters of yourself and medals hanging on the wall, reminders of your heroics from 10 years prior. You quickly find yourself needed, as repairs are required aboard the ship, offering up an excuse to explore the command deck and the surrounding area, and to familiarize yourself with the game’s controls.

Rex has a high 2.5x variable jump, and he is able to wall slide and wall jump. Wall jumping sends him launching far away from walls, so it can’t be used to ascend vertically, but it does allow for some impressive distance when triangle jumping. At the outset, Rex has no weapon, so he is only able to explore the ship and speak to NPC’s who offer charming and humorous quips, pop culture references, or a bit of backstory. In addition, there are 90 “info nodes” to collect around the ship – many of which are available in the opening areas – and each of them offers some insight into the context of the Rex Rocket universe.

In his early explorations, Rex receives a quick instruction from the quartermaster regarding the game’s available pickups, which include permanent health increases, health restoration, and permanent ammo increases for your secondary weapons. Also available are yellow collectibles called Energon that support the game’s lives system. Collecting 100 units of Energon is equivalent to one extra life, and they come in 1-unit and 5-unit denominations, as well as a cylinder that grants 100 Energon units, essentially acting as a 1UP. However, the use of a lives system is undermined by the game’s checkpoint system.

Rex Rocket suffers from the same issue that plagues a number of neo-retro titles. Namely, developers feel the need to provide a system by which the player can earn 1UPs while simultaneously offering checkpoints and unlimited continues with little or no additional penalty for death. In Rex Rocket, the player may have 5 lives in stock, and then die, at which point he is delivered back to the most recent checkpoint with 4 lives in stock. Or, the player can be on his last remaining life, and then die, at which point he respawns in another area of the ship with a renewed stock of 20 lives. The only added penalty is the fact that you need to walk back to where you were when you died.

Furthermore, all of the items you collected remain in your inventory after death – even if you exit the game completely – and your exploration of the map remains intact. So, whether you lose a life, lose all of your lives, or manually quit the game and restart, no progress is lost. There’s not much point in risking death to grab a 1UP when the game has 20 extra lives waiting for you upon your final death, as long as you don’t mind taking a little walk from the ship’s teleporter to your last location.

After exploring the opening areas, there’s a sudden Oozling outbreak, and you are given a gun and asked to take care of things. This is the weapon that you will have throughout the game, although it is eventually supplemented with other secondary weapons. The gun has unlimited ammo and can fire in four directions. In Cave Story style, you can shoot downward to slow your descent, clear wide gaps, and even get a bit of extra lift when timed properly with a jump. Unlike Cave Story, however, the weapon’s fire is not automatic, so the player must continuously press the SHOOT button to slow his descent, which requires some pretty rapid button pressing.

Later in the game, you acquire a charge shot for the weapon that allows you to take down tough enemies in a single shot. This upgrade also lets you shoot downward to propel yourself into the air in a quick hop that’s a bit easier to use than hammering away at the trigger, but there are still many instances where you need to perform a boost jump and then repeatedly fire the weapon to reach out-of-the-way collectibles. You eventually acquire a jetpack-assisted double jump as well, which lets you reach even higher areas, but this also allows for more complex platforming challenges where the player must double jump, boost jump, and then fire the weapon repeatedly to hang in the air.

These complex maneuvers lead to tough sequences where the player must jump between walls and alternate between boosts and double jumps in order to stay aloft over pools of insta-death slime or spikes. Platforming challenges get tough fast, and they are often mixed in with enemies that push you back when you get hit, which is usually enough to send you plummeting to your doom. There are also a couple of optional pickups that require players to survive a long series of these platforming feats with no checkpoints in between, and completing these challenges leads the player to rewards such as explosive secondary weapons and a dash maneuver.

Most secondary weapons are acquired through defeating bosses, including weapons that act as a shotgun, machine gun, and spread shot. While your main weapon has unlimited ammo, secondary weapons are tied to a gauge that recharges slowly over time. Players eventually acquire grenades as well, and these are assigned to yet another meter. These recharging meters allow players to use limited ammo weapons as needed without requiring them to seek out ammo pickups. The meters may also be extended by thoroughly exploring the environment and grabbing canisters of the associated color.

Secondary weapons can also be used a bit in environmental navigation. For instance, the machine gun allows players to stay aloft more easily than using the manual fire on the primary weapon. Also, grenades allow players to blast their way through metallic silver blocks to access new areas, including additional collectibles and secondary weapons, such as the boomerang. Grenades, rather than causing localized damage, explode in a wave of projectiles that extends outward in all directions, making them ideal for clearing out clusters of enemies. Grenades don’t hurt Rex, so players may toss them freely without fear of finding themselves in the blast radius.

Players are essentially free to tackle the environment as they like, with new sections of the ship slowly opening as certain criteria are met. Players are free to backtrack into previous areas as they see fit, and there is often more than one path to reach a specified goal. A Metroidvania-style map shows the basic layout of the ship and all of the rooms that the player has discovered up to that point. Each new objective is clearly marked on the map, and it is up to the player to determine how to reach it. There is also a teleporter system that links major areas of the ship and allows for fast travel between areas as players discover each teleporter station.

Throughout the game, the player faces off against three primary enemy types: Oozlings, robots, and humans turned bad by the Oozlings. Despite the fact that Oozilings can apparently mimic the shape of any life form, they stick to a few basic shapes: small hopping blobs, medium sized blobs, bats, and skeletons that can toss bones like boomerangs. Some areas have pools of green slime that allow blobs to respawn indefinitely, and the placement of these pools is semi-random, potentially making some areas very tough, particularly when they show up in a tight corridor or near a ledge that you’re trying to climb up to. But, since their placement isn’t always the same, you may get killed and come back to find the pool replaced with a single patrolling skeleton instead.

Ooozling-converted humans act as basic soldiers, firing at you with guns and mortars, and robots fly around zapping the area in front of them with electricity, although some late game bots take the form of heavy duty tanks. Most of the bosses you encounter are robots as well, each with a series of attacks that requires that the player watch for telegraphs, wait through invincibility periods, and respond at the appropriate moment by unleashing a spray of photon death. These battles are generally lengthy ordeals, as bosses have long life bars that must be slowly whittled down while the player avoids major life-draining attacks. Checkpoints always appear directly before a boss battle, so players are free to return to the fight as often as needed, equipped with the knowledge gained from their past failures.

The first boss battle is notable in that it takes place against a giant snake-like ooze creature, rather than a robot, and this encounter provides a bit more atmosphere than those found later in the game. On the walls in the background are a number of humans that are cocooned in a similar fashion to the movie Aliens, and they make comments as the battle wears on. Little by little, these humans are converted into ooze-controlled skeleton creatures that you must defeat as well. Later in the game, the player encounters a few situations where humans are cocooned like this as well, and it takes a while before they are converted, so players may pass them by without engaging, as long as they don’t hang around too long.

Occasionally, the game introduces new mechanics that change things up a bit, including the ability to climb into a large bipedal mech suit and tromp your way through the area, blasting away scores of enemies with your 5-way cannon and smashing them with a melee attack. The mech can also jump very high and its bullets can penetrate silver metal blocks that are otherwise only affected by grenades (which the player won’t have earned by the time he reaches the mech).

The player is free to enter and exit the mech at will in order to move into areas that the mech cannot reach, but the mech has its own life bar and will be destroyed if it takes too much damage. Due to its size, it’s hard to avoid incidental damage altogether, but its life bar is long enough for skilled players to get it to the end of the mech-designated area before they hop out and continue on.

In addition to the mech, the player occasionally encounters robot helpers that join in on the fight. When activated, the robot flies behind the player and automatically opens fire on any nearby enemies. The robot’s lasers penetrate walls, making it very useful for picking off enemies during some of the tougher platforming sequences. The robot’s battery only lasts 30 seconds before it runs out permanently, so it’s best to make your way through the area quickly to take advantage of its attacks. Robots will not pass through screen transitions with you, but if you find a second robot, it will join in as well, allowing you to have two helpers at the same time.

There are also a couple of sequences where the player must outrun a laser that is being controlled by the mad computer AI, requiring precision jumping, proper boost jump timing, and quick reflexes to survive. And, appearing as random enemy drops are pickups that grant temporary infinite ammo for all of the secondary weapons, or temporary invincibility, allowing the player a few seconds of wanton blasting before reverting back to his former Rexy self.

Most of the games challenges center on shooting enemies and making your way through a number of traditional platforming obstacles, including pop-up spikes, insta-death smashers, pools of slime, and disappearing platforms. But there are a handful of environmental puzzles as well, often centering around the manipulation of laser barriers. By flipping switches, laser barriers can be turned on and off, and there are sometimes multiple barriers assigned to a single switch. In these cases, the player may simultaneously make a laser door disappear while also creating a laser floor (which is totally safe to walk on).

Bullets from all of the player’s weapons are able to penetrate laser walls, but grenades cannot. In addition, switches come in two varieties: those that must be manually pulled by Rex, and those that can be toggled on and off by shooting them. This leads to situations where a player may need to fire his weapon through a laser wall to hit a switch, or drop a grenade for a time-delayed effect, allowing the player to safely pass through an area before a laser wall is activated. There are also a few instances where mirrors are placed in the environment, allowing the player to deflect projectiles at 90 degree angles to shoot enemies along the ceiling and bounce bullets around corners to hit distant switches, often requiring precision timing.

Late in the game, the player gains access to a teleportation device that gives him the ability to drop a warp point wherever he likes, and teleport back to that spot immediately. This allows for some more complex puzzle solutions and creative combat tactics.

Making deft use of your skills often leads the player to stat-boosting pickups. In addition, there are a number of hidden areas that may be accessed by passing through what appear to be solid walls. Also, tucked away in some of the more tough-to-reach areas are records, which may be collected and played on a record player hidden aboard the ship.

Rex Rocket was developed by Castle Pixel, a studio founded by Rob Maher (Pittsburgh) and Tyler Bud (Toronto) in 2013. Music and sound effects for the game were created by Nigel Shields, a.k.a. Saskrotch. The game was funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013.