Smile Politely

Blowing stuff up in 2-½ D

Rocket Riot might not sport the production values of a summer blockbuster, but it could certainly match even the most bombastic Michael Bay flick in the number of explosions and pyrotechnics on display. Though not entirely devoid of strategy, this Xbox Live Arcade release probably won’t hold your attention for more than a few hours if you’re playing solo. But as an incredibly chaotic party game, Rocket Riot is a success.

You control one of dozens of potential tiny avatars, all of them armed with jet-packs and rocket launchers. Though your objectives may change from stage to stage, you’ll invariably be forced to blow both the levels and your opponents to smithereens. With endless ammo and frequent power-ups, part of the challenge in Rocket Riot is just keeping track of everything on screen.

The game was developed by small European shop Codeglue, responsible mostly for cell phone projects, as well as a couple Worms ports for the maligned N-Gage. The latter undoubtedly influenced Rocket Riot, both in terms of controls and general aesthetics. The terrain is completely destructible, so you can “burrow” into the ground to avoid incoming rockets. Like many of the weapons found in Worms, the rockets are fired in arcing trajectories, so aiming requires more than simply pointing at an exact location.

The inspiration carries over to the art style as well, as all of the little soldiers and creatures have personality — quite a feat, considering that they can’t be much more than a hundred pixels tall. Whether you’re controlling a court jester or a flying banana-man, you’re sure to make an impression online. And for such a small download, the “2-½ D” maps are visually arresting. (That basically means that the levels have a 3D appearance but the action takes place on a single plane.) All of them are drawn in big, chunky pixels, and it’s fun just watching them fall apart as a match progresses. As each rocket connects with the terrain, hundreds of tiny boxes break off and rain down. Granted, the destroyed portions regenerate after a few seconds, but the particle effects still look splendid.

However, even with all of the flash, Rocket Riot just doesn’t hold up as a single player experience. The game comes with 80 stages, and while some levels have clever twists — dodging zombies until the sun comes up, for instance — too many of them are simple “kill-everything-that-moves” endurance rounds. Luckily, multiplayer is there to pick up the slack. There are plenty of fun modes and options, making this a more frenetic alternative to Bomberman Live. Plus, in a nice twist, you can unlock new characters by simply defeating them online.

Compared to last summer’s strong showing, the Xbox Live Arcade has been pretty slow lately. That’s not to say that the offerings have been lacking, but the majority have been released elsewhere. Rocket Riot might not have a grand legacy or a big marketing push, but it’s something that you haven’t seen before. And at 10 bucks, you’ll get plenty of bang (sorry!) for your buck.

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