If I had to give Rochard another name, it’d have to be Diet Portal. The game features a ton of character, a distinct look, and gameplay that involves manipulating physics to progress from room to room.
Just like most diet products though, it’s a slightly misleading experience that tends to leave an odd taste in your mouth once you’re done with it.
The protagonist of Rochard is, you guessed it, a portly guy by the name of John Rochard. A space miner on an asteroid colony, John is minding his own business when he stumbles across something bigger than his daily blue-collar life, and must do his part to, well, I don’t quite know. Although Rochard is brimming with personality, with characters that exude some great wit and charm, the plot gets pretty muddled halfway in, and by that point your mind starts to wander at the narrative. The titular character is voiced by Jon “I’m Mother***king Duke Nukem” St. John, and his immediate likability as a voice actor and overall awesome person is definitely apparent in this game as well. The dialogue is written very well, with the banter between Rochard and his colleagues witty and endearing. Unfortunately, this is marred by the plot, which starts off strong and a fresh, but quickly turns bland and commonplace. It’s almost like the writers got sick of the narrative and started phoning it in; this is certainly the thought that crossed my mind at the rather puzzling, abrupt ending.
It’s fine though, because as with most puzzle platformers, it’s all about the gameplay, and for the most part, it delivers. Your main weapon is the G-Lifter, a device that can manipulate and lift objects, and throughout the game you can upgrade it to lift things like sentries and eventually enemies. Additionally, you can manipulate gravity itself on the colony with a press of the shoulder button, making heavy crates liftable, and making Rochard himself jump higher.
The puzzle sections are fantastic, albeit a bit rote and not too puzzling at times; as a puzzle platformer, it’s more about the latter over the former. Most, if not all, of the puzzles involve manipulating crates through areas blocked off by various “laser gates” which block specific objects; there’s only so many variations of that you can take before you start to become bored. Luckily, the gravity mechanic is enough to keep your interest through it all, and the advanced platforming techniques that are introduced late in the game are not only satisfying, but fun. Decreasing the gravity in a room and shooting a crate below you to launch yourself across a particularly long blind jump is much more exhilarating than initially thought; the intuitive controls make it all the easier to feel like a flying badass.
The gameplay only runs into a hitch when the combat is introduced. Yep, Rochard is going to encounter space pirates, which is unsurprising. The problem is that they’re often frustrating, and something tells me it’s not by design. Early in Rochard, you’ll run into them sparingly, as a brief respite from the puzzling aspects. It’s a great way to change things up a bit for the player, and keeps them on their toes.
As the game progresses though, it quickly becomes the spotlight, and soon you’re focusing more on beating up enemies and trying not to die, rather than figuring out how to cross rooms. Late in the game you’ll run across rooms full of enemies that you’ll somehow have to take down, as if you’re in a 2D version of Gears of War. Since you don’t have a gun though, 90% of the time you’ll have to resort to picking up crates/objects and dropping them on enemies’ heads. If you manage to get close enough you can melee them, but with how rapidly your health decreases, and the heavy concentration of pirates in later levels, this is pretty much suicide. This heavy emphasis on combat definitely kills the momentum; the mechanics were clearly built for puzzles, not for taking down enemies, and it just becomes more and more apparent. If this is the intent of the developers, that’s fine, but it doesn’t make it fun.
Rochard will take six or seven hours to beat; for $9.99, that’s not too shabby. I would’ve liked to see less combat and more love for the puzzle and narrative elements, but for the most part it’s still a fun experience that’s worth the money. While I can’t recommend it during this autumn rush of crazy good AAA games, it’s definitely worth your time if you want to take a break from any high-production epic that requires your undivided attention.