After recently re-affirming my love of Rocket Knight Adventures, it was time to move onto its sequel, Sparkster. Did you know, Sparkster is the only loose Genesis cart I own (aside from Sonic & Knuckles)? It’s true! And also not very interesting.
It only makes sense, though. Rocket Knight Adventures is sometimes cited as my favourite game on the Genesis. However, my previous attempt to play through Sparkster was thwarted by my irrepressible disappointment. Don’t let that set the tone, however, I change my mind on games all the time. I’m desperate to play some more games with my favourite Rocket Knight in them, so I guess now is the time to give Sparkster another shot.
THE ADVENTURES OF ROCKET KNIGHT ADVENTURES 2
I must note that there are actually two games called Sparkster, one on SNES and one on Genesis. Despite being part of the same series, being released almost simultaneously, and sporting the same title, they’re completely different games. For clarity, we’re talking about the Genesis one today.
For the Genesis, the titular hero Sparkster has to save the princess once again, this time from an attacking army of lizards. They’re different from the pigs of the last games by merit that they don’t have a Death Star. They also decorate their stuff with lizard heads, rather than pig noses, but otherwise, they’re the same. They have the same sort of airship, their cities are steampunk, and they’re utterly ineffective.
Don’t let that make you think this is a re-tread of the previous game, however. It’s significantly different than the original both mechanically and in design. The jetpack system has been revamped so that it constantly charges when not in use and you unleash it with a press of a button. This doesn’t change platforming at all, but it does mean you can attack without fear of interrupting your charge.
READY TO GAMBLE, KIDS?
The level design is also completely different. Rocket Knight Adventures was something of a situation rush title, like Battletoads or Earthworm Jim 2. You were never really doing the same thing twice. Platforming was frequently overshadowed by flight sequences and boss battles upon boss battles.
Sparkster, by contrast, is much more of a typical platformer. The levels involve more traversal and exploration. They have something of an open design to them, providing multiple routes to your goal. Sort of like Sonic the Hedgehog, and that’s not likely going to be the only comparison we make to that series.
The exploration allows you to find health when you need it and also gems to help you gamble. Yeah, 10 gems and you get a spin of the slot machine, which sometimes drops bombs on you but occasionally gives you a 1-up. It’s kind of a dumb mechanic, but it doesn’t exceedingly suck.
The biggest reason to explore is to gather the six swords hidden throughout the levels. Doing so, and I swear this is true, turns you into “Gold Sparkster” for the final boss. You know, like Sonic the Hedgehog’s Super Sonic. Which, I guess is fair, because Sonic just got it directly from Dragonball Z. However, you can tell that Sparkster is only doing it because it wants to be Sonic so badly.
IT WANTS TO BE SONIC SO BADLY
We might as well address the fact that Sparkster has been given an updated look to appeal to the Sonic crowd. He’s been given a tuft of spiky hair, a sleeker, more imposing look, and sharper-looking ears. Sparkster may have looked a bit goofy before, but it was nice to have a ‘90s mascot that was heroic without a douche-y edge.
That doesn’t have anything to do with the gameplay, though, which is… fine. It would be hard to live up to Rocket Knight Adventures, but Sparkster doesn’t even come close to that zenith. It certainly has its moment, but when you directly compare them to what RKA did, it doesn’t hold up. The levels are much emptier, the art isn’t as impressive, and it feels like there’s less imagination on display. Most disappointing was the final boss which was… a final boss. Whereas RKA had this awesome sequence to cap off the game.
There are some highlights in Sparkster, like the cold opening. It’s a mech-bot fight with series foil, Axel Gear. It can sometimes seem like a fight you’re supposed to lose, especially because the game still continues if you do, but don’t. You’re rewarded with one of the swords if you can topple Axel.
There’s also a sprint through Lizard City in the same mech. Despite how awesome that sounds, it’s actually kind of lame. You just point your fist and fire, then jump over bombs on the ground. Still, it’s a cool look and a hint of the variety that was shown in the first game.
THERE’S EXPLORATION, I GUESS
Sparkster’s major problem is that it has to be compared to Rocket Knight Adventures, and it comes up short in essentially every aspect. The level design is more mundane, the challenge isn’t as stiff, and the bosses are nowhere near as interesting. If there’s one place that I think it improves, it’s that… No, wait. I was going to say that the damage system is more consistent, but then I remembered I couldn’t tell if a full-power spin attack does more damage than a half-power one.
I guess the exploration is okay. I just find it kind of pointless when the only thing you really need to find is the swords. Otherwise, I found it better to just get to the end of the level as quickly as possible since I’d more often drop lives when exploring and the biggest advantage to exploring is more lives. Still, if you wanted something to point to that Rocket Knight Adventures didn’t have, it’s the exploration.
It’s not that Sparkster is a bad game. I enjoyed it, but I was mostly happy to play another game with Sparkster in it after replaying Rocket Knight Adventures. It just lacks so much of the spark (heh) that brought RKA to life. The feeling of inventiveness, of pushing the boundaries of platforming; it’s not here. It was made by a different team, and given its adjacency to Sonic, it’s easy to see corporate meddling and far less passion.
So, while it’s not unenjoyable, it’s a disappointing follow-up to one of the best games on the Genesis. There’s some merit here — some fuel still in the gas tank — but it never really takes off.
This review was conducted on a Sega Genesis using a cartridge version of the game. It was paid for by the author.