Rochard (PSN 2011) Review

Many gamers love to think of themselves as hardcore, because they play games with mature content. In reality, the true hardcore gamers play games that are fun and challenging, regardless of their content. Thankfully, Rochard is a game with something for everyone. It will attract elite players with its sometimes mind-bending puzzles, but will also welcome casual gamers with its gentle learning curve and fun visual style. In short, it’s one of the smartest purchases any gamer can make.

In Rochard, players take control of astro-miner John Rochard (pronounced row-shard). His day is usually filled with breaking through asteroids with his mining crew, but on the day that players meet John, he and his team are attacked by a space gang known as the Wild Boys. What they want isn’t clear until John discovers something rare and ancient inside the asteroid he’s currently mining. Using his mining tools, his ability to manipulate gravity, and, of course, the player’s wits, John must save his team and learn more about the artifact before his enemies unlock its potential.

Rochard is a side-scrolling action/platformer/puzzler. The player controls John Rochard as he travels in 2-D within the 3-D environment, circumventing obstacles in his path, such as locked doors, crates, pits and several bad guys with guns. John’s main weapon is his G-lifter, which allows him to pick up objects and arrange them in ways that allows him to progress. For instance, several crates scattered on the ground can be stacked into a staircase, allowing John to reach a high ledge. In some cases, a fuse must be pulled out of socket and inserted somewhere else to open a door. In later levels, a form of rocket jumping is needed to traverse some areas. The G-lifter allows John to do all these things and more. Adding another element to the challenge is John’s ability to slow down gravity generators he finds. Doing so significantly reduces the gravity, allowing him to jump higher and move objects that would otherwise be too heavy to lift.

The puzzle elements are extremely well-made and gamers will feel sufficiently challenged without being frustrated. Red force fields prevent organic material from passing through, like the player, while blue force fields prevent inorganic material from passing through, like crates. So imagine a bridge made out of a blue force field. In order to cross it John must first move several crates onto the bridge to stand on so that he doesn’t fall through. That’s just a simple example of how the puzzles work. Later, the player will have to remember the differences between red, blue, orange and white force fields while standing on the ceiling because the gravity has been reversed while bad guys shoot at them and lasers try to cut them in half.

Despite everything to keep track of, Rochard never feels hectic and the player is rarely pressured to rush ahead. There is a gameplay timer, however, that encourages players to finish quickly and compare times with others, but most will ignore this feature the first time though. As such, players aren’t penalized for taking their time, figuring out how best to proceed. The most time consuming efforts will probably be made trying to nab the trophy icons devilishly placed in hard-to-reach-but-not-impossible spots. Furthermore, Rochard does a great job of easing the player into all of John’s abilities. By the end of the game, John will have a bevy of moves, like sticky grenades and G-swinging as well as several upgrades to his G-lifter. New abilities come in different stages and are perfectly paced to keep the game feeling fresh and each puzzle type feeling new. Finally, if the game ever thinks the player is stuck at an obstacle, a handy hint materializes to help the player along. The only problem with the puzzles is that John has so many abilities that the player may accidently activate the wrong one. For instance, dropping an object and firing a grenade use the same button, which typically results in misfired grenades.

The bad guys in the game are less like traditional enemies and more like obstacles with personality. The bad guys typically pace back and forth on their small patch, waiting for the player to walk into their line of sight so that they can attack. It’s up to the player to shoot, crush, explode and otherwise eliminate them. These action sequences – while satisfying – are the least enjoyable aspects of Rochard. Aiming isn’t always as precise as it needs to be at long distances and the player will sometimes take unnecessary damage or die because bad guys can aim over cover more easily than the player. Nevertheless, it’s fun to dispatch these foes because of their character design, which will remind of some of Looney Toons’ best.

The visual style of Rochard is excellent. While its in-game cutscenes are rather bland, the graphics work well for actual gameplay. The visuals are cartoony and seem to take their cues from games like Team Fortress 2, with exaggerated details and features in both the environment and characters. The dynamic of John’s agility and portly dimensions makes him fun to play and gamers will smile when they seem him float around low gravity for the first time. The many stages also offer a variety of environments to keep the player’s senses engaged, ranging from the metal innards of a mining station to the faux Western plains of a space casino – Rochard continually surprises.

Rochard is a game everyone in the family can enjoy without feeling like they’ve made any compromises. The gameplay is solid. The puzzles are challenging. The visuals are fun. Rochard isn’t perfect, but it comes close.