Review – Sparkster (SNES)

Sparkster Cover with the eponymous character hurtling toward the viewer.

Rocket Knight Adventures remains my favourite game on the Genesis, so it’s heartening to see that Limited Run Games has a collection on the way. I preordered the Ultimate Edition because sometimes you have to spoil yourself. I love RKA, and what other opportunities will I have to really express that in the form of consumerism?

But while I’m happy to see a collection of the 16-bit games of the series, I only really care about the original Rocket Knight Adventures. I’ve already told you that one of the follow-ups, Sparkster on Genesis, isn’t terrible but it is disappointing. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Sparkster on SNES is an entirely different game in all aspects aside from the characters.

If you were born after the cataclysm of Y2K, you might be surprised to hear that this was pretty common, but usually for licensed titles. For example, RoboCop Versus The Terminator was completely unique on Genesis, SNES, and Game Boy.

I may have already given away my opinion on Sparkster for the SNES, but don’t be so incurious. Knowing if a game is good or bad is one thing, but it’s the why that is the fun part.

Sparkster SNES Hanging from a branch.
The twice ‘tude new do.

ALL ‘TUDED UP

On the title screen of the Genesis version of Sparkster it claims it’s Rocket Knight Adventures 2. The subtitle is lacking on the SNES, which may suggest that the version on Nintendo’s side of the battlefield is more of a spin-off. However, between the two games, SNES Sparkster is the closest mechanically to the original.

While the first game had you fight pigs and the second game had you fight reptiles, on the Super Nintendo, you’re up against wolves. Wolves led by a lion for some reason. The opening cutscene is rather confusing, as it has the king sending the princess away with her abductors. I guess why delay the inevitable?

So, Sparkster, the eponymous rocket knight and brave opossom races off to her rescue because he was, I don’t know, off for the day when she was abducted.

Just like the Genesis Sparkster, the titular character has been ‘tuded up to look more in line with Sonic the Hedgehog who was the newest, hottest thing. I can tell you as someone who grew up in the ‘90s that, yes, Sonic was cool. The ‘90s began a period where everyone was worshipping anti-heroes, which is why Wolverine was so popular and Venom transitioned from a villain to a murder-hero.

So, the new look for Sparkster is noodle-y limbs and spikey hair. In the original game, he kind of looked like a happy rat in a garbage can, which is pretty appropriate for his species. Now, he just looks like someone painted Sonic and put clothes on him.

Sparkster SNES A mechanical ostrich fights a wolf in a Gumby robot.
There’s still some life left in there.

THAT OPOSSUM FEEL

However, unlike the Genesis Sparkster, the gameplay feels mostly unchanged. The first level is immediately reminiscent of Rocket Knight Adventures. You’re in a grassy field, there are branches that you can use to hang from using your tail, and gems and apples float in the air. However, you may also notice the first way that Sparkster is deficient from Rocket Knight Adventures: there is no environmental storytelling.

RKA didn’t have a tonne of story bits, but it used backgrounds and cutscenes to show how the opossum got from one place to the other. It tied the game together into a consistent story. Sparkster doesn’t do that. Or rather, it rarely does. You traverse a level until there’s a boss. You defeat the boss. And then you’re onto the next level. There’s no explanation for why the second level is a factory or how you went from grasslands to mountains full of gigantic musical instruments.

Unlike the Genesis Sparkster which employed Sonic the Hedgehog’s more open approach to level design and exploration, Nintendo got something in between. The levels are largely linear like the original, but there are a lot more open spaces to explore like in Genesis Sparkster. This mostly just means that the levels have better pacing than the other Sparkster, but are nowhere near as laser-focused as RKA. RKA knew how to get you from setpiece to setpiece, SNES Sparkster just knows how to funnel you to the end.

Sparkster SNES Jetting through musical instruments.
Wait. How did we end up in Rayman?

MY WEAKNESS: ABS

I really don’t want it to sound like SNES Sparkster is bad. It knows how to keep things fresh by adding things like robot-ostrich riding at Mach-3. The graphics, specifically for the characters, are lavish, colourful, and expressive. I made the mistake of pausing while a wolf was getting knocked out of his armor. I had the pleasure of noticing that the enemies are absolutely ripped under their clothes. Damn.

The horizontal shoot-’em-up sections from RKA didn’t make it over, which, in retrospect, were a pretty important part of selling the “Rocket Knight” angle. I’m just saying, they would have been a good way to show some narrative continuity among the levels. It also would have provided a greater tangibility to the character. Konami, if you wanted kids to love your Rocket Knight for being a cool, cool guy, you maybe should’ve emphasized his jetpack as more than just a method to smash into walls.

While the horizontal shoot-’em-up portions are lacking, there’s still a section near the end where you fly through space. In RKA this was a nod to Gradius because Konami used to be a fun company. However, here it feels much more generic because Konami was also a greedy, emotionless corporation at the top.

To add to the token feel, that shooter stage ends with a Rock’em Sock’em Robots fight. It’s a pretty annoying boss fight, but the fact that it just takes place in space on a star field backdrop sucks a lot of the energy out of the encounter. I’m looking a lot more favourably on that stage in the Genesis version where you sprint through a city in a stompy robot.

Although, the unkempt mole who fires you out of a cannon; I want to hear more about that guy. By himself, he illustrates that there are moments of playful ambition every so often, it’s just not on the level of Rocket Knight Adventures.

Sparkster SNES facing off with Axel while the princess is tied up in the corner.
So much sexual energy in this picture.

JUSTICE FOR SPARKSTER

And that puts it in the same camp as the other Sparkster. The games aren’t bad. They’re enjoyable enough to play, and they’re even better than some of the more middle-of-the-road platformers of the day. It’s just they have to be directly compared to their predecessor, and very few games can be compared favourably to Rocket Knight Adventures. That game had nothing to prove, just a lot of talent behind it, most of which were Contra folks. It played like a game that was made simply for fun’s sake, so there’s a tangible love behind it.

Sparkster and Sparkster both lack that. For all their unique moments, there’s a sense of routine behind them. They feel tangibly like someone felt Sparkster could be made into a marketable character, so they ‘tuded him up so he could sit at Sonic’s table in the lunchroom. Then they just had people make games with him in it.

It makes the games feel like they’re just products. The life that the SNES Sparkster has can again probably be attributed to the talent behind it. A number of them came from Axelay, and the sound design team features such legends as Michiru Yamane and Akira Yamaoka (even if this is hardly a good showcase for them).

But even with those mythical crafters on board, it wasn’t enough to bury the cynical purpose of Sparkster. Competence is fine, but if it doesn’t have the soul behind it, then it almost feels pointless.

Oh, are you wondering which is better, the SNES or Genesis version? Both. Or neither. It’s give and take and they both have their moments.

6/10

This review was conducted on an SNES with a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author. She has received press kits from Limited Run Games but not related to Rocket Knight Resparked, nor was she asked to mention it. It’s just relevant.

Encourage more complaints

If you like what I do please support me on Ko-fi

About Zoey Handley 243 Articles
Zoey made up for her mundane childhood by playing video games. Now she won't shut up about them. Her eclectic tastes have led them across a vast assortment of consoles and both the best and worst games they have to offer. A lover of discovery, she can often be found scouring through retro and indie games. She currently works as a Staff Writer at Destructoid.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*