When bravery is not enough
All platformer heroes were not meant to be. Konami’s Sparkster made his debut on Sega Genesis in 1993 and spawned two sequels, one on Genesis and the other on SNES. They were a marvellous bunch of games that were well-received and loved among gamers. And yet after his SNES debut, Sparkster disappeared.
In one sense Sparksters disappearance is understandable. The character is an opossum dressed in an armor, destined to save a princess. What else is new? The environments are your usual mixture of forests, castles and such. So yeah, maybe a touch of originality would have done the character well. Even the enemies are kind of generic and not very rememberable.
But wait! He is a Rocket Knight, after all. What this means, is that Sparkster can boost through enemies and obstacles with this rocket pack and man, it is awesome! He can fly anywhere! And not just that, his sword shoots these strange energy-sickles! And yet again, even though everything works, nothing is really that original to stick with you. Even the character, though cute but radical, is a pretty basic 90’s cartoonface. You’ve seen such creatures in a bunch.
But let’s forget about that, because what is there, is just plain awesomeness. The graphics are great, the music is great, the action is paced perfectly and the controls are spot-on. It’s no surprise really, as the mastermind behind the game was Nobya Nakazato, who designed also such classics as Contra. To be honest, the game sort of feels like a cute version of Contra. The graphic-style is the same and the action is paced pretty much in the same way. No wonder the games are so great. There’s an arcade-y sense of progress here and the sense of adventure is great. The levels are clevery laid out and the whole thing is pretty much seamless.
The first two games on Genesis are still among the best games on the console and that applies also to the SNES-game. They are three different games, but they do play the same way for the most part. The biggest differences are in the use of the rocket-unit. In the first game, the rocketpack took a while to charge while in the SNES-game the loading speed was decreased significantly. In the second Genesis-game, the rocket pack charges automatically and allows Sparkster to stay in the air for a long time. The action is all of the games is immense and even somewhat difficult and though the games are easy to pick up and play, they take a good while to master. There’s not that much of variety in the game, but the action itself is diverse and satisfying enough.
And still Sparkster failed. None of the three original games were as successful as they should have been and I’m blaming the aesthetics. There were a bazillion other platformers in the stores at the same time and a good bunch of them were based on well-known cartoon characters. Sparkster tried it’s best to look like them, but failed to stand out. It’s not that Konami didn’t try either. Sparkster was featured in smaller side-roles and cameos in several other Konami-games, but aside from the fans, I doubt that many people even noticed. Just a touch of originality would have done a lot good.
The series got finally a fourth installment in 2010, when Climax Entertainment revitalised the franchise on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Store and Steam. Nobya Nakazato was not involved in the process of making and thus, Rocket Knight was not as good as the originals were. It’s a good game however, but a far cry from the older classics. The biggest problem with the fourth Sparkster was the lame difficulty and the lenght of the adventure. The whole game could be completed in half an hour on first try, which is pretty bad for a game that isn’t a remake. And I guess it’s just me, but the game felt soulless and bland. The intensity and sense of danger were gone. But still, it is a game worth at least a trial.
So which one you should play then? In my opinion, all of them. If you are going to play just one game however, get the SNES-version. It looks and plays the best and the music is outstanding.
Playing these games after all these years makes me feel sad and happy at the same time. They are truly great classics that deserved much more than what they got.
– TK –