This might not make me sound like a super fun guy, but oftentimes the level of humor in a game is almost inversely proportional to my enjoyment of said game. A lot of entertainment properties in general try to get by on being cute, having a unique look, being ironic, or being hiply self aware. Of course, it's great when you can find a title that is funny and fun to play and presents a decent challenge, but all too often, especially in downloadable games, you come across nothing but derivative and formulaic gameplay wrapped in what the developers hope is a likable shell. Knowing next to nothing about Rochard going in, I was a little worried by the art style and the huge potbelly of the protagonist. I thought this would be another game that most players would sleepwalk through in an afternoon, chuckle (or groan) at a couple of times, and never play again.
Put Rochard on the short list for PSN purchases for 2011.
Much to my delight, it turns out that there's a lot more gameplay and a lot less goofiness in Rochard that I thought there would be. The hero, John Rochard, does have a unique look about him - well, unique for video games, since he looks like every fifth guy on the bus in real life. You wouldn't expect him to be able to run and gun or jump from platform to platform, but he does have an advantage that very few do: the G-Lifter. You see, John is a miner stationed out in space and he uses a gravity gun to move around equipment. When it becomes clear that the mining operation is being sabotaged, the G-Lifter becomes the means to salvation.
The beauty of Rochard, and what it shares with some classic A-list titles, is the way it scales up. You begin playing as someone who is about as much of a threat as John Goodman, but by the end of the game you are able to propel yourself through the air and land fairly gracefully while shooting laser blasts and bombs all the way. Though this is in some ways a Metroid-lite experience, there is a lot more emphasis here on puzzle-solving and the exploration tends to be limited to figuring out how to exit whatever room you're in. There are one or two spots where you get swarmed by enemies and have to put your dodging and shooting to the test, but you get by on your wits much more than your reflexes the vast majority of the time.
The G-Lifter shoots out a long, straight gravity beam the length of the screen. Most of the time, you use it to move crates and fuses into place to open up new paths, but it is also crucial for manipulating giant laser guns, opening trap doors, and swinging up to higher platforms. It can also be used to rip turrets out of the wall, snatch droids out of the air, and dispatch human enemies in creative ways. A tap of the Triangle button turns the G-Lifter into the Rock Blaster and allows for more conventional problem solving. Later in the game, different types of explosives become available. Rochard can also scan items and turn on a flashlight, but these functions are almost never useful.
In addition to the upgrades that are expertly spaced throughout the game, there are golden trophies to collect as a side quest. These are hidden well enough that they encourage you to seek out every corner of each room, but they never become a distraction. You could probably forgo finding them and finish the game in about six hours, but I decided to comb each area on my first playthrough and found it took me over nine hours. Even then, I missed a few trophies, but I was happy to go back hunting for them. The game keeps track of the ones you missed and tells you what stages are unfinished in that regard. Rochard is also one of the few games in history that tempted me to go back for a speed run, so it's like Metroid in that way, too.
Put Rochard on the short list for PSN purchases for 2011. Even if the setting and name seem a bit mundane, the fun factor is definitely there. Recoil Games put together a sharp presentation that is made to please.