What do you get when you take the best parts of Mega Man and mix them with the best parts of Metroid? The answer: Rex Rocket, which has finally come to Xbox One, five years after its original release on Steam. And after playing it, I can say that that’s five years too late. The game is brilliant, and absolutely nails just about every aspect of a successful 8-bit platformer.
Our hero is Rexford/Rexanna Rocket, a war hero who spends their time transporting people around the galaxy. On this mission, you’re escorting a crack team of scientists on the S.S. Montana, who are looking to implant a new species – the Terra-Oozlings – on a distant planet. As you might expect, it doesn’t go to plan. When you wake from cryo-sleep, you discover that the Terra-Oozlings have escaped. Even worse, half the crew is dead and the ship’s AI – LAUREN – has been corrupted and is now out to murder everyone still alive. It’s up to you to sort it all out and save the day.
The first thing that will strike you is the presentation. Put simply, Rex Rocket is a beautiful game. The pixel-art is all handcrafted and brilliantly done, and this is by no means a drab experience. The star-ship is packed full of greens and purples and blues and reds, making for a bright and colourful experience. And the chiptune soundtrack is just the cherry on the top. It’s really the perfect accompaniment for this retro-inspired interstellar adventure.
But behind this charming personality lies a game that is really, really hard. I can’t remember the last time I died this much playing a game. The bosses and the platforming are absolutely brutal. Bring your A-game because Rex Rocket isn’t going to hold your hand and you’ll need to get on top of the new mechanics and weapons the game gives you. Things like teleporting and charged boost jumps quickly become essential for progression, and you need to master them if you want to get anywhere near the end.
But you should know that the game isn’t out to cheese you. Every death is completely within your control, and has nothing to do with any shortcomings in the gameplay. In fact, Rex Rocket handles great and the controls feel tight and responsive. They have to be, because of the number of precise jumps and enemies you need to deal with.
I understand that dying constantly sounds frustrating, but I found it to be the most positive thing about the brutal difficulty (apart from the inherent challenge it poses). Nothing felt better than finally beating a particularly hard section or that boss that seemed nigh unbeatable. Each death, I felt, was a learning experience and necessary in order to understand how to progress.
Rex Rocket doesn’t just deliver on the difficulty. It comes packed with plenty of opportunities for exploration too. For a start, there are tons of collectibles to find, including info nodes, books and records. But there are also items hidden all over the Montana that are directly beneficial for Rex. The most basic of these are ammo, health and grenade capacity upgrades, but there are also dash boots, a jetpack and even a grenade launcher to unearth. And that’s not to mention all the good stuff that the bosses drop too.
Of course, the very best pieces of equipment are locked behind some of the most difficult challenges in the entire game. Dying here hundreds of times is almost guaranteed, so perseverance is key. It sounds like a recipe for frustration and it often is, but Castle Pixel have done a good job at making all this extra work seem worthwhile. It really pays to find all this loot because it’ll give you an easier time in the long run. At the start of the game, a gust of wind could kill Rex. But by the end, you could have a Rex that is a complete tank, equipped with all the best gear and upgraded to the nines. Those Terra-Oozlings won’t know what hit them!
These new items also help keep the game fresh. You’ll find that you can reach places you couldn’t the first time around, or nab collectibles that were previously out of reach. And with so many options available, you can mix up how you deal with hordes of enemies. Will you spam grenades, or go to town with a rocket launcher? Will you use your railgun to inflict massive damage, or rely on the constant fire of your assault rifle? It’s always up to you, and Rex Rocket never forces you into using any one weapon or playing a certain way. You can run-and-gun the way you want to.
After spending more than a few hours getting my arse kicked all over the S.S. Montana, I can safely say that Rex Rocket on Xbox One is three things: it’s brilliant, it’s beautiful and it’s brutal. The game is bursting with charm and it’s clear that a lot of time, effort and care has been put into it. Anyone looking for a retro gaming fix, akin to a Mega Man or a Metroid, should definitely pick this one up. And even if you’re not, Rex Rocket is still worth a look, especially if you’re up for a challenge. Rex Rocket is by no means easy, but it’s damn fun to play.