Nostalgia runs deep with gamers– just look at the recent spate of retro-style titles on the App Store, like Mos Speedrun and League of Evil. The latest game of this type is The Last Rocket, an action puzzler that stars a surprisingly adorable pixelated rocket you must help escape from a spaceship that’s plummeting into a sun.
The game contains 64 puzzles in which you have to make your way from point A to point B without impaling yourself on spikes, burning up in a jet of fire, or being blown to bits by an explosive balloon. It’s kind of like an 8-bit To-Fu: The Trials of Chi, but with a metallic rocket instead of a gummy hunk of soy. New gameplay elements are added as you progress– fans, breakable walls, lasers– so the experience never feels repetitive or dull. And if you beat the game and want to try nabbing the seemingly impossible achievements, there’s plenty of replay value here.
In general, the controls are very good. You tap to launch your rocket and to make it reverse course in midair; when it’s landed, you can swipe to make it step left or right, and press and hold to make it duck. (Yes, in this game your rocket can duck.) Your movement is very limited, but figuring out how to maneuver your rocket through the level is what the game’s about.
The loneliest rocket.
But it’s no cakewalk. Things get tough, and it’s not always due to the cleverness of the puzzles. Some levels require you to ‘juggle’ the rocket in the air, meaning that you have to keep reversing directions between two killer obstacles. Doing this– or, to be more precise, failing to do this– caused us to rage-quit more than once. The tap controls for reversing your direction in midair aren’t as precise as they need to be, which resulted in hundreds of cheap-feeling deaths.
For some gamers, however, the occasional psychotically challenging level is all part of the retro appeal. The game also eschews modern conveniences like the ability to skip levels or to replay earlier levels out of sequence after you’ve beaten them. The levels go in order from first to last, and if you miss a memory gear you wanted to collect, you have to replay the whole game from the beginning. Probably the most modern thing about the game is that you get unlimited lives.
On the whole, any issues we have with the game are overshadowed by its smart level design, mostly solid gameplay mechanics, and pixel-perfect retro presentation (which includes a delightful chiptune soundtrack). It might not break any new ground for puzzle games, but The Last Rocket has style to spare. If you dig old-school gaming and are up to the challenge, this game will keep you busy for a long time to come.