Best Games You’ve Never Played: Why “Rochard” Is A Game You Need To Play

“Rock is hard.
John Rochard is harder.”

This may sound like the movie byline of a sexually charged 70’s blaxploitation film, but trust me when I say it’s way more awesome. Developed by Recoil Games, Rochard–named after the game’s protagonist (and is pronounced “ROW-shard” or the equally acceptable “Rock-Hard!”)–is a downloadable, side-scrolling game that is equal parts fun, challenging, and nostalgic, and totally worth your time.

On the surface, Rochard is what it looks like: yet another side-scrolling, platforming puzzle/adventure game that gives you a guy on a quest to stop another guy, all for about 10 to 15 bucks. Under the hood, it’s a side-scrolling puzzle/adventure game that harkens back to the simplicity of controls inherent in the greatest 8-bit and 16-bit games, the engaging (but not punishing) puzzles / challenges of its most popular peers, a fantastic soundtrack, and a simple narrative inspired by the frame and dialogue of an under-the radar summer action flick–that is to say most times humorous, at times mellow, and a few times serious or moody.

The Plot, The Protagonist

The story follows John Rochard, your average joe space miner, doing what he does best: using his G-Lifter device and mining with his team for the Skyrig Corporation. When they accidentally stumble upon the remains of what appears to be alien ruins, they’re attacked and chased by space bandits, employed by a mastermind who’s trying to unravel the secrets of the ruins for his own benefit… and at the cost of Rochard and his allies’ lives, of course. With this basic premise, Rochard–with the help of his only surviving teammate Skyler–have to find out how Skyrig, the antagonist, and the ruins connect and put a stop to their nefarious plans.

Rochard doesn’t attempt an Oscar-worthy story, but what it does give you is a stellar presentation. John Rochard is voiced by video games voice-over veteran Jon St. John (most known for voicing Duke Nukem in the 90’s, among many other games) and comes off not as the macho, steroid-fueled space soldier of many FPS games, or the whiny, reluctant hero often found in RPGs, or the obnoxiously perky or adorably cute fuzzy mascots of many platformer games. He’s just your average joe. Understand that this shouldn’t translate into “bland”, “boring”, or “blank”: he’s not the voiceless hero of many games, not at all. He’s a stocky, slightly overweight (but strong) guy who works 9 to 5 doing hard labor and is used to putting aside his comfort and safety to get the job done. He does things because they need to be done. So it should come as no surprise that he makes for the perfect videogame hero.

Gameplay, Presentation

Perhaps taking a cue from Dead Space, the story and the game revolve around Rochard’s tools: namely, his G-Lifter. With it, he can grab and levitate most objects he grabs, limited only by their weight. And with it, he can stack things to create a makeshift path to another level, remove obstacles in his path, or launch it at foes. This simple mechanic is not only easy to follow, but provides for elegantly simple and effective level design. Like any game, it becomes more challenging when puzzles are created out of the environment and need not only your reflexes, but your problem-solving ability, to advance. This comes with more challenging enemies, more dangerous and lethal obstacles, and giving you–the player–the option of how you approach battles.

For instance, like Trine, Rochard‘s game play focuses a lot on real physics: if it works in real life, you can probably apply it to the game. So throw in the ability to manipulate low gravity, and now you’re given the option to leap large distances, survive perilous falls, and lift massive objects that normally your G-Lifter couldn’t dream of lifting. This also means that objects can be launched higher and further away, making it easier to get at hard-to-reach enemies or easier to get through obstacles barring your way. This also means you can jump–with an object selected by your G-Lifter–and then rotate the item under you, launch it, and push yourself higher into the air to reach even higher and further ledges. This also means that you can slow down action at the right moment and float over enemies as you blast away at them with your Blaster upgrade. This also means that your game just got more exciting.

But that’s not all: taking more factors from sci-fi, there’s also a heavy use of force fields involved. Blue ones can hold objects but not people; red ones can hold people but not objects; yellow ones can block energy (like energy blasts and explosions); and white ones can block everything. What adds on some complexity is that Rochard can use his G-Lifter to pull out the generators that feed power into the force fields, and in some cases switch them around to produce specific effects or manipulate the environment. Throw in some high powered lasers that can be used and manipulated to get past puzzles, and Rochard offers an extremely robust set of challenges. And of course, all of these puzzles can happen in the middle of a firefight, or can be used strategically against enemies when the situations fit.

Rochard utilizes the Unity engine to great effect: the characters–stylized with a slightly cartoonish approach–look good, the stages look great, and the lights produced from the force fields, weapons and other spectacles are gorgeous. Level design is properly paced with puzzles and action, with later levels providing some harder, NES-era difficulty. The story moves along fairly well, and all of it is wonderfully framed by the soundtrack, which takes its tones from an 80’s influenced ambience and a pinch of Blade Runner for an extra touch.

Last Word

Overall, Rochard is largely satisfying. Yes, there are a few times when you’ll be frustrated; yes, the story isn’t bad, but isn’t all that exciting either; yes, it isn’t always perfect. But it’s the best game about a miner who throws boxes at people in zero-gravity that you’ll ever find, and damn if it isn’t one of the best titles you can download from the PSN and Steam, ever. Everything from its personality to its execution reflects the character Rochard himself: it’s not looking to be like every other game, it’s not looking to have the biggest hype out there, it’s just looking to be a good game. And that’s just what it is.

Don’t pass this up–it’s a true gem. And you don’t even have to mine for it.

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