The Super Nintendo is home to dozens and dozens of platformers. As with any genre, it comes with a wide range of quality. Some are well known and excellent (Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario World) while others are a bit more obscure and not too shabby in their own right (Dino City, Harley’s Humongous Adventure, Hook). Then there are downright awful ones that are better off forgotten about. It was merely a sign of the times. Speaking of which, the early-mid ’90s became the age of the me too mascot platformer. Sonic the Hedgehog created a massive stir when it became a mega smash hit for Sega in 1991 and had countless companies clamoring to throw their name in the hat with their own mascot platformer. Animals with attitude were the order of the day and Irem was no different when they released Rocky Rodent. The question is, does Rocky Rodent make the grade? Let’s find out.
25 YEARS OF… NITRO PUNKS?!
Exactly 25 years ago today, Nitro Punks: Might Heads (what a title) hit the Japanese market. July 30, 1993-July 30, 2018. Yet another game from my youth turns 25 — gawd damn I’m getting old. Nitro Punks was renamed Rocky Rodent and was released in North America during the fall of ’93. I remember seeing Rocky Rodent in various game rental stores throughout my area in late ’93. I never got to rent it but I always wanted to. Alas, you know how older brothers often get their way, and sadly for me, Rocky Rodent never piqued my brother’s renting interest. The box of Rocky Rodent would come to haunt me as its titular rodent would seemingly sneer at me at every turn. In my own mind I envisioned Rocky Rodent being a pretty fun and competent platformer. It became one of many SNES childhood curiosities I would finally quell following my SNES resurrection in early 2006. Sometimes, your gut was right all along. Other times, not so much. Which one you gonna be, Rocky?
HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
Various spray cans litter the stages waiting to be picked up. Each hairdo not only grants Rocky certain abilities but an extra life as well (Rocky dies if he’s hit when bald). It’s a pretty cool gimmick although you can still hop and bop to your heart’s content. But the zany hairdos definitely steal the show.
The Braid allows Rocky to swing as well. The Mohawk leaves Rocky vulnerable when tossed. Technically, you are bald when chucking it, so be aware of that.
Use the Spring to reach new heights. The Bird Nest Wig unleashes Picky, a bird who acts as a computer controlled helper (similar to the option helpers from Gradius III). Each hairdo has its own pros and cons. They add to the game’s quirky atmosphere.
THE STORY GOES…
Rocky, a dine and dash artist with an insatiable appetite, finds himself in a… ahem… hairy situation. Apparently Rocky has gone and done it again, trying to cheat yet another restaurant.
Fortunately for our anti-hero, Rocky runs into the Rose Restaurant owner whose only daughter Melody has been kidnapped by Mafia member, Don Garcia. He makes an offer Rocky can’t refuse — save Melody and it’s all you can eat on the house. It’s a very nonsensical plot but there’s sort of a cheesy charm to it all.
Remember Sparkster from Rocket Knight Adventures (and er, Sparkster)? The very first enemy you encounter in Rocky Rodent, an armored armadillo, looks awfully similar to Sparkster. Just a random coincidence though, as Rocket Knight Adventures came out on the Sega Genesis almost exactly one week later (August 5, 1993).
Spruce up your style with a brand new hairdo. Not only will you look cooler, but it’s vital to staying alive longer. Not to mention all the cool new tricks you’ll be able to do with a new ‘do.
Rocky’s cling and fling technique with this first hairdo is sure to impress the ladies.
Impale enemies with your spiky hair and toss them back to take out an entire row. Works just like the Koopa shells from the Mario games. Use the water sprout for a much needed lift.
Speaking of lifts, bounce off the café awnings to reach the rooftop where Rocky will be greeted by all his favorite yummy treats. I like how he slides on the roof. It’s the little details!
Similar to Sonic, Rocky is a fast little sucker. However, be careful about when to exercise said speed. Here, it’s required. But most elsewhere, speed kills.
Platformer rule #72: There must be some kind of auto scrolling stage. Bingo, you’re looking at it. Race down this freeway and avoid the various hazards. I like how you can see the sun gradually setting over the horizon.
Hightail it, Rocky! Chuck E. Cheese’s reject sighting!
Gorgeous… but deadly. Oh so deadly.
Bizarre doesn’t begin to describe this game. Mutant rats driving a ’70s Volkswagen while a Mob boss attempts to mow you down with a Tommy gun? Yeah…
Mohawk acts like a boomerang. Sick.
Mohawk also allows Rocky to cling and fling.
Makeshift boost as well! Nice.
Whoever owns this apartment is going to curse Rocky for all the property damage he’s causing.
Platformers sometimes need a way to impede certain routes at least for the time being. These funky door blockers earn Irem bonus points for creativity. Best of all, when you eventually do reach the other side, you can ram Rocky’s spiky hairdo up their you know what! Hey, it’s the little things. Also, hit those markers to save your spot
should when you die (this game is freaking hard).
Falling chandeliers and going down random tubes are the order of the day.
Crumbling blocks lead us to… Slimer and friends?!
Apartment with a random teeter totter and anvil? Alright then. It sends Rocky sky high.
Admire and enjoy that cool night air, because it’s going to be hot once you get back in.
Poltergeist shit starts to go down. Hey, this place isn’t called Ghost Apartment for nothing.
Random furniture and crap start coming Rocky’s way fast. Be quick!
Haunting the apartment is the ghost of Mr. Potato Head. He seems tricky at first but he actually has a very easy pattern.
Man, they’re really taking this “Mascot with Attitude” thing seriously, aren’t they?
Yeah, that’s not creepy at all…
Rocky Rodent has its fair share of sight gags. They don’t cause any harm to Rocky; they’re just there to make you smile.
I kinda miss the days when mascot platformers had all these wacky sight gags. It was sort of a sign of the times. It felt like everyone and their brothers were doing it. Endearing when done right!
Here is the controversial scene Nintendo didn’t want you to see!
Just wait ’til Rocky puts the moves on her.
How Irem managed to slip this past Nintendo remains a mystery to this very day.
Rocky Rodent wasn’t their only SNES game mired in controversy.
Irem CEO: Hey! Why the dirt on our good name, sir? What wrongs have we EVER done?
[I’ll handle this… -Ed.]
Irem CEO: *sweating* … oh right, THAT. Um, look over there! Quickly Smithers, TO THE BASEMENT!
[At long last, sir! -Smithers]
See the trouble you’ve caused now?
Back to Rocky Rodent, then…
The ad typified the times we were living in, back in good old 1993. I remember sort of drooling over the ad thinking that Rocky Rodent was a great name for a mascot platformer, Rocky was cool and that the game would probably be pretty good. It somehow reminded me of the spirit of NES games from the early ’90s, and I mean that in the best possible way. Just made me think of lesser known obscure NES platformers like Totally Rad and Werewolf for some reason…
I remember seeing this as a kid back in 1994 and thinking “Damn, Rocky Rodent must be super hard.” And it sort of is, especially once you get to the second half of the game. Starts out easy enough, but absolutely wrecks you later on. EGM wasn’t kidding!
Yeah, get ready to see plenty of that.
Thankfully there is a cheat code for infinite continues but EVEN THAT is hard to do! Press start at the title screen and Rocky begins his mad dash. Press Y, A, R, A, B, A before he reaches the end. I can’t consistently pull it off because that bloody Rocky is quite the runner, the bastard.
The later levels are so hard that your heart will feel like that playing it. Oh and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Rocky Rodent has the coolest (and grossest) 1-UP icon in the business.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Rocky Rodent fared well with the critics, at least the ones here in North America anyhow. They thought that it was a very solid and even surprising semi-hit of sorts. They also voiced their desire for a 16-MEG sequel in 1994. Of course, it was never meant to be as this is Rocky’s one and only showing. EGM gave it scores of 7, 7, 8 and 8. GameFan gave it ratings of 79, 82, 85 and 86%. Super Play, on the other hand, was not impressed. No shocker there as they were notorious for being harsh on “me too” platformers and beat ‘em ups in particular. Super Play rated Rocky Rodent a paltry 50%.
Mascot platformers were a dime a dozen back in 1993. Sonic the Hedgehog more or less kickstarted that whole “me too” movement that would inevitably flood the gaming market (a much different and not so serious me too movement from the one we’ve seen in recent times). You had to be special to stand out in a crowded genre. You had to be different. Distinguished. Some, like Rocket Knight Adventures and Plok, managed to rise above the ranks and captured the hearts of many. But too many others failed to make an impression and quickly faded away into obscurity. Rocky Rodent, for me at least, lies somewhere in the middle. Though sadly, its fate is still that of one that has vanished into the ether.
Rocky Rodent got lost in a crowd of countless me too platformers that overflowed the Super Nintendo in the early-mid ’90s. It’s not a shabby platformer at all. The different hairstyles add some strategy and depth to the game. The game looks relatively good for its time and the music was actually pretty catchy and a tier or two above most games of this ilk. I found myself bobbing along with the soundtrack at points. The music in the Ghost Apartment was far creepier and more sinister sounding than I expected in a “kiddy game” such as this.
Even though Rocky Rodent is fairly paint by the numbers, the dressing is slightly different enough to make the game feel like Irem actually put in a good effort. And that effort certainly shows at times. The different hairstyles are fun to to use and the stages are designed around the abilities of said styles. Sure, Rocky Rodent might come off as a bit generic at times but I think it’s got some soul to it as well. Irem injected a good dose of humor and personality into the game. Look no further than the various sight gags or that random shower scene in the apartment. So wonderfully odd and memorable! On the downside, the control is not as crisp as I would like. The insane difficulty, combined with a lack of password system, definitely brings down the game a bit. But hey, there are far worse platformers you could play on the system. *cough* Bubsy *cough*
Interestingly enough, the game has a bit of a 1940s look to it. Just take a gander at some of those old vehicles and buildings! In addition, it admirably refrains from regurgitating the same old tired themes such as wood, fire and ice-based stages. It somehow manages to come off smelling like a slight breath of fresh air despite being standard platforming 101. It’s by no means an all time classic but if you’re in the mood for a simple yet challenging platformer, this may suffice (and in some cases, even satisfy). As such, Rocky Rodent is a worthy addition for anyone looking to expand their Super Nintendo library beyond the usual suspects.