The official trailer for Johnny Rocket really sells it. Johnny, sketched like an exercise-book doodle and animated like he’s in a flip-book, jetpacks into a wave of nazis, double-punches them, rips out their spines and pummels them into a tower, which collapses on them. A samurai Optimus Prime stomps in, only to be split down the middle with one of its own swords. It’s like the violent dream of a seven-year old made into the slickest of slick games.
Man, I want to play THAT game. Maddeningly, Johnny Rocket isn’t anything like it. There’s no jetpacking, no melee, no spines and definitely no environmental damage. There’s a robot, who wanders in as the level one boss, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t get to hoist him on his own katanas.
Sure, you could say that the trailer’s not necessarily representative of gameplay, but it’s a tragedy on two fronts: it’s going to mislead a fair whack of players, and it’s a glaring example of what might have been. Johnny Rocket shoots way wide of the trailer, and what we get is a short, broken shell of a game instead. Which, you know, isn’t quite what anyone wanted.
Johnny Rocket is a side-scrolling shooter like your Metal Slug‘s and Contra‘s. The game’s in stark black and white, like the sketches in an exercise book, and the enemies are the ‘Bazi’ Empire, who have apparently allied with aliens and the natural world. Walruses, piranhas, penguins and bears all strap on RPGs and join the Reich. Or Beich. Whatever.
This lasts for three levels – yes, three – each culminating in a boss battle, which are untelegraphed messes that are beaten mostly by guesswork. There’s a biplane bit in the middle, and when it’s all over in 45 minutes you’ll be scanning the title screen to see if you missed anything. I’m not sure whether to be outraged or thankful that it’s so short. Mostly thankful.
Johnny Rocket ultimately sits in the space between poorly designed and broken, and it’s a toss up whether each issue is a bug or not. Instead of firing in a pattern or according to some rudimentary AI, enemies will just fire when the player’s in their line of sight. This means they may as well be lasers stretching across the screen – they’re just undodgable damage. Since you can’t fire in any direction other than forwards, it’s a case of whether you can absorb the damage or not, or whether you can slink past. That ain’t Contra, soldier. He’s called Johnny Rocket and he rips out spines, damn it!
There’s no crouch, but the game sticks in shorter enemies and opponents on lower platforms anyway. There are constant spikes on the top of the screen, which often makes running across the bottom the best course of action. You (and the enemies) will be able to shoot through some buildings but not others. Floating platforms that look identical will fall away or take your weight on a whim.
I have a document in Notepad with another twenty or so of these. I could bore you to tears with more (get hit by anything and the amount of damage will seemingly be at random) but I won’t. It’s a wonder that it’s been playtested at all.
Games like Vanquish and Bayonetta will make you feel like you’re the best player in the world, even when you’re fumbling through the controls. The common theme with Johnny Rocket’s issues is that, no matter how good you are, it will make you feel like you are terrible at the game. It’s the anti-Bayonetta. There’s a reason Johnny Rocket gives you so much health with each life: there are so many cheap hits, automatic damage and untelegraphed attacks that you’ll have to use them up. You’ll stumble over the finish line and never quite be sure if you made it through any kind of prowess.
For £9.99 there are countless other, better ways to have a good time. Treat yourself to a new expertise book and draw your own stickman war. It’ll be more satisfying, and you’ll get a few bob in change.
Johnny Rocket is a complete misfire, spiralling noisily around your screen for 45 minutes. It’s broken, rushed and mercifully short, when it could have been a contender.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.