the last rocket, a review

The Last Rocket is a new action puzzler for iOS by Shaun Inman. For those of you who haven’t heard of Shaun, he’s a designer/developer with a penchant for fine tuned pixel graphics and 8-bit music. He put his soft spot for retro gaming to good use, making The Last Rocket a fresh experience that emanates nostalgic vibes for any veteran of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

You assume the role of Flip, the last rocket to come off the assembly line as an intergalactic war comes to a close. A fun intro cinematic brings you up to speed. You are in a race to escape your starship, which is under threat of a solar flare. Along the way, you’ll collect whatever gears you come across in an attempt to salvage what you can from the ill-fated vessel.

The core mechanic of the game consists of launching your rocket with a tap, and landing on the opposite wall. You fly around avoiding spikes and other traps as you make your way toward the exit where you complete the level. It’s easy to draw some trivial comparisons to the recent platformer VVVVVV, but rather than strictly a platform game, The Last Rocket is more established by its puzzle elements. It brings a collection of new mechanics to the table, and there is constant variety and interest in the design.

Each level is set with a uniquely shaped layout, fitting within (but generally not filling) a single screen. This solution nicely eludes the problem of displaying the same levels on both the iPhone and iPad where the aspect ratios don’t match, and it makes for some really clever designs. Speaking of the iPad, The Last Rocket plays as well or better on its large screen. With plenty of spare room to make the tap and swipe gestures that control Flip’s movement, it’s a great experience.

As a one man show, Shaun has ultimate creative control, and can follow a singular vision in a way hard to match by large development teams. Not only has he brought his pixel magic to bear with colorful, animated sprites, but he has an equal gift for composing music. In fact, as I write this, I’m listening to the game’s soundtrack using another of Shaun’s creations, NoiseES, a chiptunes player for the iPhone. The music he’s crafted for The Last Rocket is on par with some of the best of the NES generation. There is a healthy mix of both lighthearted and intense tracks, rekindling memories of Kid Icarus and Mega Man 2.

I managed to complete my first play through in just over 86 minutes, though, mileages are likely to vary. Levels have a pretty smooth ramp up in difficulty as you progress through the game. And going for 100% completion by collecting all the gears certainly increases the challenge quite a bit in some later levels.

All in all, this polished retro experience is worth well more than the sticker price. Go buy it. I’ve got my fingers crossed that we will continue to see delightful projects like this coming from Shaun down the road.

August 10, 2011 at 10:54 pm

@skoda on @technochocolate on