Recently released exclusively to the Playstation Network, Rochard is an impressive platformer title with hints of Metroidvania that will feel a little familiar to players of the Xbox LIVE Arcade title Shadow Complex. Presented with a 2.5D design, Rochard follows the journey of John Rochard the outer-space Mississippi miner as he embarks on a quest of discovery, combat, well-implemented gravity control and pleasant Southern stereotypes.
The discovery of an extraterrestrial ruin deep within the asteroid John Rochard and company have been mining kickstarts John’s story as he races to unlock the mystery of the ruins before antagonist Maximillion can do the same. The story follows Rochard from his mining colony home out into the wider universe, spanning across three distinct locations and five robust chapters that offer roughly 5-6 hours of gameplay overall. Whilst the plot is by no means complex, it offers enough to keep you interested throughout the campaign. The visual style of Rochard is a Technicolor marvel, with characters and backgrounds alike sticking to simple, bright palettes. It’s great in that Rochard seems to be giving the one-finger salute to the general view of most modern space-set games that space should be brown, grey, or dark blue. The Team Fortress 2-like design of the world and its inhabitants is a great match to the overall feel of the game and story, which doesn’t take itself too seriously in the first place.
Gameplay consists of fairly standard platforming fare, with health and weapon upgrades scattered throughout the game as well as hidden trophy unlocks. The major element of gameplay is your control over gravity with the G-Lifter, a device that has all the earmarks of the gravity gun from Half-Life 2. You can pull in objects like crates and robots and shoot them like projectiles much like the gravity gun, but an extra layer is added in Rochard. Early in each chapter you’ll unlock the ability to control your personal gravity to give you bigger jump heights, but more importantly allowing you to lift heavier objects and throw things farther. By game’s end you’ll find yourself tapping in and out of low gravity without a second thought, as the various uses of this ability are revealed in a well-paced manner to let you adapt and adjust to them.
Throughout the game you’ll find yourself completing basic puzzles revolving around moving power sources from one device to another, modifying the direction and level of gravity, and others that take advantage of the various types of force field found in-game. Red barriers block only organic matter such as Rochard and his human enemies, blue barriers block machines or inanimate objects, orange barriers block projectiles and weapons fire, and white barriers block all of the above. The force fields are used as both wall and flooring through the course of the game, requiring you to consider where you stand AND where you walk as you progress.
One thing I did find curious was the usage of stereotype throughout the game and its story – Rochard is a Southern gentleman voiced by none other than Jon St. John, better known as the voice of Duke Nukem. You’ll hear him drop taunts to his foes like “Y’all come back now!” and a few “Yeehaw!”s throughout the game, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel forced or overplayed (although he does refer to the alien ruins as ‘extra-Tennesseean’ at one point, which was more confusingly random than anything else). Beyond Rochard there’s also a Native American character who despite living in space still wears eagle feathers in his hair, and the Sky Police enemies of the later game who all sound stereotypically gay – lisping out “I spotted him!” or “Oh no, he got awaaay…” in effeminate tones. I’m honestly not sure why.
By the final stage of Rochard you’ll have unlocked a wide and varied stable of abilities that keep gameplay interesting, without overwhelming you. Puzzles in the tail end of the game are tricky but manageable, and there’s no major punishment for failing a puzzle or getting yourself killed along the way – just a fairly quick reload to the latest checkpoint. The story is clearly left open at the end for a sequel, which is for the best as I’d be happy to see more of this world from developer Recoil Games.