Some of our readers have already noticed that I have a special affection for projects developed by small studios and solo developers and today I bring you a review for another one of these projects. Developed by studios HEDE and KG Games and published by the Ukrainian studio Restless Corp, Johnny Rocket is a hand-drawn 2D shooter and platformer where your main objective is to help Johnny, our hero, to fight Evil Forces – namely, Nazis – in a wannabe comic adventure.
First available for PCs through Steam since 2018 and how ported and upgraded to consoles through a successful Kickstarter campaign, Johnny Rocket started as an animated cartoon that became very popular on Reddit. A few months (and some Scotch whiskey) later, the development of the game started and now we’re about to check everything this title has to offer. Shall we begin?
What we liked!
- Visuals: From the first time I saw its trailer, Johnny Rocket won me from its visuals, like Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers back in the day. But differently of those colorful titles from The Behemoth Studio, Johnny Rocket is totally in black and white, like a hand-drawn adventure that comes to life! Do you remember that very talented friend from our school days that, instead of paying attention to the classes, was always drawing something (usually pretty good)? All levels, characters and animations in Johnny Rocket look like they’ve come from that student’s notebook! It’s lovely to be able to play such kind of game nowadays! Even though not always a bed of roses…
- Sound: The soundtrack in Johnny Rocket is pretty good! With a strong rock and roll background, the 3-men team behind the game did all the work by themselves. Kudos, guys! The sound effects and voices, though, don’t show that same quality: songs are very simple and the dubbing tries to be funny but ends up sounding goofy.
- Humor: I totally understand that humor is something very particular for each person. But the toilet humor in Johnny Rocket is hard to swallow. From the beginning of your adventure (that starts in a toilet seat, by the way) to the intermission animated scenes, passing by some curious-looking enemies and toilet papers that represent your energy, the jokes in this title are everywhere. It’s just a pity that they all feel pushed and uninteresting. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me getting too old for this kind of humor…
- Simplistic gameplay: The gameplay in Johnny Rocket is overly simplistic: our hero can walk, jump, double jump, shoot enemies and destroy things with his head. And that’s all. It works perfectly for the game concept but starts feeling dated pretty quickly. Even his signature move – headbutting enemies and constructions – was useful only in a few times, making you rapidly forget about it.
What we disliked
- Short: Only three levels? For real? Even though levels felt unique and have some variation (especially in the second one, where you will fly a single-engine WW1-inspired aircraft), the game will be over before you notice it. Even with all the respawning. If you want a longer and more challenging adventure, you can always try the hardcore mode, but it’s so frustrating – as you will soon know – that replaying the adventure for that single achievement left is almost (almost…) out of question for me.
- Unpolished gameplay: Do you remember about the trailer I mentioned above? I believe someone here has been taking classes with Ubisoft (not the ‘2020 Ubisoft’, but the ‘beginning of 8th generation Ubisoft’). The gameplay from Johnny Rocket isn’t quite smooth as shown in the trailer. Au contraire mon frère. You will find yourself frustrated after every enemy that pops up on the screen. They all must be wearing x-ray vision goggles and can hit you before you can see them. Eventually, you will understand their shooting pattern and identify where you must be to avoid their fire and hit them before they can hit you (especially in the hardcore mode where you die after every hit). But only after countless respawns (that thankfully, aren’t too far away from the other). Most of the time the game feels very unfair with the player, turning what would be an interesting and funny adventure in some moments of discomfort and anger. And last time I’ve checked, we’re not playing Dark Souls, Battletoads nor Contra here, right?
- Story? What for? Johnny Rocket doesn’t waste your time telling you a story about who our hero is or why he’s fighting the Nazis (although we actually don’t need a reason to fight them). Maybe it’s just me being too spoiled for games always giving me reasons to ‘fight the bad guys’ but playing Johnny Rocket felt like playing with an empty shell: a game with no soul. I’d love to see more of these cool animations telling a story here.
- Where and who are they? It doesn’t interfere with the score of the game, but it’s worth mentioning: Surprisingly, information about the studio that developed this game was really hard to find. All behind-the-curtains information I got about Johnny Rocket came from an interview the developers gave to Indie Game Picks blog (credit to where it’s due, friends!) back in June. So, I thank them for bringing us more info about this game.
Disappointed. That’s how I felt after playing Johnny Rocket. And not even the rock soundtrack and all that hand-drawn magic were able to cheer me up. The game tries to be a lot of things – among funny and challenging – but ended up being just frustrating. I really hope the studio behind it can flush away its core problems (and why not, some of its excessive toilet humor too) so Johnny can be the hero he was intended to be.
With a history of gaming that goes from his old man’s Atari 2600 to his Xbox One, Rafael or RAF687, our Brazilian editor, has a love for games as old as he can remember. He has already spent countless hours in many consoles (Mega Drive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, PS1, PS2 and Xbox 360) and is always ready for more (as long as his wife is asleep). Raf has been writing for LifeisXbox since 2017, with a passion for games of almost all genres – though we know he has a special place in his heart for RPGs, racing games and anything that includes pixel art. Writing about games has always been a childhood dream to Raf, dream that he has fulfilled reviewing games for you here. You can drop him a message at Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Live at any time.