Review: Rocketmen: Axis of Evil

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Do top-down arcade shooters like Smash TV and Robotron get your mojo rising? If so, do yourself a favor and go give Capcom’s new Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network title Rocketmen: Axis of Evil a try. It may not be in the same league as the aforementioned gaming classics, but it’s still a reasonably fun shoot ‘em up while it lasts.

Based on a constructible strategy card game from WizKids, Rocketmen thrusts you into the space boots of a hero in the Alliance of Free Planets fighting to valiantly defend the galaxy from the invading Martians hordes of the Legion of Terra. I’ve never heard of or seen the CSG before and therefore have no clue how closely this videogame version relates to it, but I can tell you that the story in the game is one of those throw-away plots that basically serves to hold the game together and nothing more. The dialogue is lousy, the frequent attempts at humor often fall flat and the comic book-esque cut scenes are rather dull and completely skipable.

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But hey, this is an arcade title, so it’s not like the story matters any way. What does matter is the gameplay, and for the most part Rocketmen puts on a good show. Whether you play solo or with up to three others locally or online, the gameplay formula is simple: move through each of the campaign’s 10 stages with the left analog stick, blast through wave after wave of deadly Martians with a variety of weapon power-ups (lasers, shotguns, rockets, grenades, ricocheting razor guns, etc.) by tilting the right analog stick in the desired direction, and occasionally mash a specified button to flip switches or open doors/containers. And well, that’s about it. It’s an unoriginal but very effective formula that can never go wrong in my book.

While the core gameplay is super simple to grasp, an underlying RPG system adds a note of depth that is surprisingly satisfying. As you play, you gain experience and collect various materials that can be used during intermission between stages to upgrade weapons, enhance armor and increase character attributes like Speed, Damage, Life, Evasion and so on. Being able to build your hero is ultimately what keeps the game compelling, although the difficulty doesn’t seem to scale all that well, so by the time you hit the mid-way point and have been able to upgrade your hero a fair amount the remaining levels don’t put up much of a fight, even on the hardest difficulty.

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Rocketmen has all the makings to be a must-buy downloadable title, but unfortunately one key flaw drops it down a peg on my scale. For whatever reason, the developers implemented an automated camera system that slowly crawls along at its own pace rather than a camera that moves at the player’s pace. This wouldn’t be so bad if the camera flowed at a quick clip, but it doesn’t, it moves as slow as molasses, thusly turning what should’ve been a speedy arcade shooter into more of a ploddingly paced dungeon crawl.

That’s not a terrible thing. I mean, I love dungeon crawls as much as the next hardcore gamer and have enjoyed my time with Rocketmen quite a bit despite its quirks. But for a shooter of this ilk, the slower pacing just doesn’t feel right to me. Maybe it will for you, though, so by all means go give the demo a trial run before deciding whether or not paying the $10 for the full version is right for you.

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Pros:
+ Rewarding RPG elements
+ Core shooter gameplay is simple but fun, especially in multiplayer
+ Fun assortment of weapons and power-ups to kick some Martian butt with

Cons:
– Automatically panning camera drags down the pacing
– Difficulty doesn’t seem to scale very well as you level or play with others
– Lame attempts at humor and poor dialogue

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3.
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games
Release Date: 3/5/08
Genre: Arcade Shooter
Players: 1-4

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!