Forget “Metroidvania,” this is “Metroidvalve.” Rochard takes the familiar formula of a Metroid style game—a series of interconnected rooms, locked doors, vents and tunnels, power-ups and upgrades—and adds physics puzzles.
The game stars John Rochard (pronounced “row-SHARD”), a space trucker and asteroid miner who returns to his mining colony just in time to get sucked into a series of events beyond his control. His main tool is a G-Lifter, a device use to grab, carry, and launch heavy cubes. Using this and the ability to temporarily turn down the colony’s simulated gravity, you’ll help Rochard navigate through a series of puzzle-like force field-laden passages.
The puzzles involve several different types of colored force fields. You can pass through blue force fields, while cubes and similar objects can’t. Red force fields are the opposite, with cubes able to pass through, but not you. Meanwhile, both cubes and your character can pass through yellow/orange force fields, but bullets can’t. The goal initially is to launch cubes and replace fuses in order to make yourself a path through these puzzling rooms, and I loved every minute of it.
At first, the only bullets you have to worry about come from hanging turrets, but eventually human enemies with guns also enter the picture. Personally, I found this addition a little disappointing, after the beginning of the game did such a good job of replacing enemies with puzzles. Likewise, I enjoyed that some of the earlier “boss battles” mainly involved puzzle solving, but was similarly disappointed when the end of the game involved a more typical boss fight that didn’t require any puzzle solving skills at all.
My only other complaint is that I wish the controls were more customizable. There are certain quirks in the way the buttons are mapped that led to some minor annoyances, such as not being able to aim with the G-Lifter with the right thumbstick while jumping, because pressing jump also requires using my right thumb. Also, there were a few times where I found myself accidentally launching an explosive while trying to drop a cube that I hadn’t quite managed to grab, because both actions are mapped to the same button.
Interestingly for a “Metroidvania”-style game, you’re not given any sort of viewable map to of an area’s layout. But that’s okay, because the level designs are simple enough that there’s no chance you’d ever get lost anyways, with very little backtracking required. This might disappoint people who were hoping for a more complex map to dig their teeth into, but it kind of works with the tone of the story, which seems like it’s going for an all-ages approach.
Instead of getting a map when you press pause, you get a timer in the upper right corner that lets you know your elapsed time. They clearly had speed runners in mind for this game, including a “Speed Run” trophy. Though they’ve also got three trophies related to finding all the collectibles, for those who like to take their time and explore.
The story is probably the game’s weakest link. The character designs look somewhat reminiscent of Team Fortress 2, but the dialogue seems dumbed down, with no attempt made to appeal to both kids and adults. Rochard is presented as a space redneck, which is either going to draw you in or repel you, depending on your reaction to playing as a character with a “git ‘er done” personality (a phrase that he makes sure to get in within the first ten minutes of the game). When Rochard is amazed by something, he makes nonsensical exclamations that sound written to try and make kids laugh, like “spit in the fire and call the dogs,” and “I don’t know whether to pick my nose or scratch my butt.”
The story becomes problematic in the second half, where the redneck theme extends into having the villain’s henchmen later in the game all speak with campy effeminate lisps, and talk about things like manicures. Needless to say, if you’re a gay gamer, seeing the enemies in the second half being portrayed as stereotypical gay men for the redneck character to defeat might take you out of the game enough to make you regret your purchase.
I was also pretty surprised by the ending, or should I say non-ending. In the middle of Rochard’s ally Skyler explaining to him (and us) the significance of what they’ve found buried in this asteroid, it’s like the writers give up and decide to just quit mid-sentence. At first I wondered if maybe the abruptness of it was related to my play time, and I’d have to do a speed run to get the complete ending, but this appears to not be the case. There’s a difference between a satisfying cliffhanger ending and an ending that comes across as incomplete, and Rochard is definitely a case of the latter.
But don’t let that deter you. If you can look past the weak story, you’ll find a creative platformer filled with stimulating puzzles, well-designed levels, and a bit of action as well. It’s not quite PSN’s answer to XBLA-exclusive Shadow Complex, but it makes for a solid addition to any “Metroidvania” fan’s PSN collection.