Most games have at least one notable aspect of risk versus reward. Action games often tie that directly to the player’s ability to quickly strategize and react. The yearning that humans feel to test limits is often known as “pushing the envelope”. Rocket Racing is a 2D racing game built around that yearning.
You may recall DesertEagle’sprevious review of the Xbox 360 version of Rocket Racing. While he wasn’t especially fond of it, I enjoyed it more. The 360 version required careful use of the 360 controller’s bumpers. It makes total sense that some would enjoy this and some would not. The PSP version is more accessible, providing only one control scheme very similar to the 360 version’s, “good for beginners!”, stick control option. Playing the PSP version has even made me better at the 360 version, though the same effect should happen by initially playing the 360 version with stick control.
Lately, developer Halfbrick seems to be almost directly competing with PixelJunk, building games around simple but clever gameplay concepts. Rocket Racing is no exception, being built around “grinding”. In this case, grinding refers to getting the rockets on the back of your vehicle as close to tracks’ walls as possible, which provides extra thrust. On turns this is especially powerful, as you can ride along the outside curve, finessing your turning, so as not to collide with the wall. On a recent episode of our podcast (iTunes link), I vaguely likened this aspect to Thrustburst‘s grazing, though they are very different games.
After that core mechanic, this is a simple but attractive little racing game, with variety provided by track design and the different objectives in each stage. (i.e. score this-many grind points, finish in first place, finish under this time limit, etc.) The stages are often very short (but plentiful), but provide significant challenge in requiring both reflexes and planning. If you’re ok with continually hitting “retry”, while you refine your skill and strategy, Rocket Racing won’t let you down. There is also a “Grand Prix” mode, that features a more traditional competitive racing experience.
The music is pretty underwhelming, sounding a bit too much like music to meditate to. The sound is sparse but does its job, and it’s even helpful in gauging how much you should be turning. The graphics remind me of high-resolution Super NES graphics and this, combined with the music, creates a nostalgic vibe, calling to mind games like Uniracers.
The PSP version of Rocket Racing lacks multiplayer beyond a pass-the-PSP “Party” mode, but it seems to make up for this with additional single-player content. It’s a bit puzzling, however, that the PSP version is $4.99 USD, while the 360 version is 240 points ($3 USD). If you greatly value simultaneous coop, you may want to opt for the 360 version. If you’re looking more for single-player action, the PSP version is the way to go. If you find yourself a fan of either version,you should know that the versions differ from each other enough to warrant owning both.