Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#76 – The Rocketeer

A game based on a movie about a guy and a jetpack sounds about right.

One of the nicest looking NES title screens so far!

To Beat: Reach the ending
Played: 3/4/18
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
My Video: The Rocketeer Longplay

It’s already starting to become difficult writing introductions for some of these games. In this case, I don’t have any connection to The Rocketeer. I haven’t read the comics the character came from, nor did I even know they existed until today. I have heard of the movie but haven’t seen it. The NES game doesn’t do anything new when compared to games I’ve already covered. I’m sure the comics and film are enjoyable. I thought the game was enjoyable. Lacking any connection, it’s hard to know exactly what to say. Maybe The Rocketeer is something you have fond memories of. If I can help you stir up some nostalgia and say some good words about this game, that will make it all worth it.

The Rocketeer is a superhero created by Dave Stevens. He first appeared in Starslayer by Pacific Comics in 1982. Stevens sold the film rights for The Rocketeer the next year, but creative differences and rights changes kept any sort of movie dormant for a long time. Eventually, Walt Disney Pictures decided to take on The Rocketeer, though they insisted on making several changes and the ensuing negotiations delayed the film even further. After many script revisions, The Rocketeer released in theaters in June 1991. It received mixed reviews and was viewed as a financial disappointment. There have been rumors of a reboot as recently as 2017, and a Disney animated series inspired by The Rocketeer is currently in production and slated for a 2019 release.

There were two video games based on and called The Rocketeer. The NES game was released in May 1991, surprisingly one month ahead of the movie release. It was developed and published by Bandai. It is exclusive to North America only. The developer NovaLogic released a PC game in December 1991 which was later ported to the Super Nintendo in May 1992. The PC/SNES game is a collection of minigames based on the Rocketeer and is a different game than the NES version.

I’d say the cutscene graphics are shockingly good.

The Rocketeer on NES is a side-scrolling platformer with its story based on the movie. You play the role of stunt pilot Cliff Secord in 1930’s Los Angeles. He discovers a rocket pack hidden inside the cockpit of a biplane. With the help of his mechanic Peevy, they fashion a helmet to go along with the rocket with the intent to keep and use it. However, mobsters sent by movie star Neville Sinclair pursue both Cliff and Peevy in order to steal the rocket pack. Sinclair captures Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny to help convince Cliff to return the rocket pack. The six chapters of the NES game follow this and the rest of the story.

The controls are typical of this kind of game. Use the D-pad to walk left and right and press Down to duck. Cliff can jump with the A button and attack with the B button. The basic attack is a punch, but there are other weapons he can use. Press Select to switch weapons. Start pauses the game. If Cliff has enough fuel, he can also fly. To do this, press A to jump and then press A again before he reaches the top of his jump. This engages the rocket pack and now you can move Cliff in all directions with the D-pad alone. Cliff falls if he runs out of fuel, but you can drop early by holding Down and pressing A.

The top left corner of the screen contains a small status bar. On top you see your ammo count. Underneath that is a picture of your currently selected weapon. At the bottom of the bar there is a red meter on the left and a gray meter on the right. The red meter is Cliff’s health, and the gray meter is his fuel level. You can have up to eight bars of health and eleven bars of fuel. Pretty simple.

Cliff has several weapons already equipped and they all share from the same pool of bullets. You can press Select to cycle through each weapon, skipping the ones where you don’t have enough ammo. The default punch attack doesn’t require any ammo. The pistol uses one bullet and fires a slow, straight projectile. The rifle requires two bullets, and although it is just as powerful as the pistol, the shots travel farther and much faster. The spray gun costs three bullets and shoots a three-way shot. Grenades cost five bullets and are thrown forward in an arc. Finally, the bazooka costs a whopping fifteen bullets. You won’t use it often, but it is very effective against large bosses.

There’s plenty of walking, punching, and shooting to go around.

There are item pickups to help Cliff in his journey. Red hearts restore one point of health, and purple hearts give a full health refill. A pack of bullets adds ten to your ammo count, and a pack of silver bullets adds twenty ammo. Finally, the gas can restores four units of fuel. All of these items can be found lying on the ground. Sometimes, defeated enemies will drop a red heart, a bullet pack, or a fuel can.

There are several different enemies that get in your way. Standard black enemies just run at Cliff. They often come out of doorways in the background and they just keep coming out one at a time if you stick around. Red soldiers stand in place and fire bullets. You can duck underneath his fire, but usually he stands behind a crate or something and you have to get close to take him out. Purple soldiers are annoying. They kneel on the ground and fire fast shots, so they are tricky to defeat without getting hit. Some enemies have rocket packs of their own. There are other types of traps and devices such as cannons, mines, and even tiny tanks.

The whole game is structured by a chapter system that feels a lot like Ninja Gaiden. Between chapters or major sections of the game, there are cutscenes that drive the story. You can speed up the text by holding A, or just press Start to skip them entirely. Each level may contain sublevels and sometimes there are story segments between these scenes within a chapter. Some chapters end in a boss fight. Of the four bosses in the game, two of them are large encounters with your full complement of weaponry. The other two are smaller scale encounters and you are limited in what you can use to fight. The game does a decent job of explaining these forced limitations through the story segments.

You can fight a 1930’s helicopter.

Cliff only gets one life, and if you die, you get to see a cutscene of his death. You will probably see that a lot in the game. The Rocketeer has unlimited continues and you get sent back to either the start of the chapter or sometimes to a scene in the middle of a chapter. Not only that, but there is a password system too. You get a password between every chapter. The passwords are nine digits long, broken up into three groups of three digits. Maybe they are a little too long for this kind of game, but not too bad.

This was my first time playing The Rocketeer. I remember when I tried out this game after I bought it. I missed a jump in the first chapter that sent me back a distance and that’s when I stopped playing. I don’t see this game around much, but I’d still say it’s a common NES title. I own a complete copy of The Rocketeer that I acquired piecemeal. Several years ago, I purchased a nice lot of boxed NES games which included The Rocketeer. All of the games in that lot were missing the manual so I must have acquired one separately.

I ended up beating the entire game on my first attempt. I have gotten back into the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to do some chores and play NES before going back to bed. This night I fell asleep early, so I had more time to work with than normal without feeling like a zombie the next day. It took me right around two hours to beat the game blind. I knew there were only six chapters in the game but I didn’t think I’d get through it all right away. The next evening, I recorded my longplay which took over an hour. I got it done before midnight, so I managed to beat The Rocketeer within one calendar day.

There’s not as much flying around as you might expect.

I rated The Rocketeer a 4/10 in difficulty, but the game is a bit more challenging than the score would let on. Some of these areas run on for a while and it doesn’t take much to run out of health and have to start all over. You will need to memorize the levels and enemy points, but lucky item drops can be the difference in surviving to the next chapter. There were a couple of areas where I survived for long stretches with almost no extra health. There is a gradual increase in difficulty as the game progresses, though I had more trouble with Chapter 5 than the final level. Of course, all these issues are heavily mitigated with infinite continues and passwords. Also, if I could beat the game in one night without having played it past the first area before, it can’t be that hard.

Here are some techniques I came up with while playing The Rocketeer. I tend to use only punches until I reach about 50 bullets. Then I switch over to the pistol. It’s cheap to use and gives you much longer range, and if enough enemies continue dropping bullets, you can keep using it for a long time. I used the Bazooka for a couple of the boss battles. Other than that, I didn’t bother with any of the other weapons because they simply weren’t as cost efficient. The standard runner enemies are timed to pop out of doorways just as you cross their spawn point if you always run full speed. I learned that the hard way. Whenever I see a doorway or somewhere I think an enemy will appear, I pause for a bit. Another thing I learned is that enemies that shoot at you will stop briefly whenever they get hit. If you can get near an enemy and hit them, you should be able to keep shooting or punching and they won’t retaliate. Finally, I was not able to consistently get the hang of beating the purple enemies out in the open without getting hit at least once. What seemed to work the most often is jump the first two bullets, immediately crouch and fire, and then jump the third bullet. That stuns the enemy and you can beat him quickly after that. I started figuring that out near the end of my second playthrough. It’s tough to do, but I don’t have a simpler way other than using heavier firepower.

I think The Rocketeer is a pretty decent game. The graphics and cutscenes are all nicely detailed and look really good on the NES. The music is good, although not super memorable. The controls are simple but effective. There are a few issues. One complaint I have is that jetpack movement feels very slippery. I had a hard time lining up with targets while airborne. Some of the jumps are a little too long and they are easy to misjudge and miss. Enemies spawning right on top of you is mean design, and it happens all the time if you aren’t paying attention. This game can be fun, but it feels ordinary. This is one of the best examples of an average game I can think of. If you like most NES games, you’ll probably like this one too.

#76 – The Rocketeer