Justice Playthrough #182: Rakete

A goofy little physics trifle designed to make you and someone you love very, very irritated with each other. Yet another game that winds up testing whether I’m a half-full or half-empty kinda gamer nerd. Is it fun? Yup! Is it everything it could be? HELL no. Not even close. I’ll be enumerating the opportunities it missed in just a moment. But it IS fun, and that counts for quite a bit.

Page 40, Game 22: Rakete by Playables

You have a spaceship. It is on a black pad. You would rather it be on the blue pad. Now get to it.

Boxes of adventure!

To fly your spaceship, you’ll fire-off the rockets. See that washing machine? That washing machine is your ship, and those five little nubbins beneath it are your rockets. Each of them has a key associated with it. Hold down the key, fire the rocket. Easy-peasy.

Failure in five … four … three….

Except, of course, like any good physics-based nightmare, what you want to do and what you actually wind up doing will likely have sweet fuck-all to do with one another. Particularly if you play the way the developer intended: as multiplayer. Everybody gets assigned one or more buttons. How you coordinate moving in the right direction and not, say, spinning helplessly through space or into the scenery is your problem. And oh, what a vexing problem it is.

And like any good game, it gets more complicated the further you go on. Soon, you’re not just hopping to the right; you’re having to go UP. Or go AROUND shit. Or find these annoying blue balls that you’ll need to collect before you can successfully land. Or deal with force fields that shove you in directions you’d rather not deal with.

Fuck it up, and the game will play a noise like a really annoying text message notification and start you over.

The first problem is the obvious one: the graphics. The most charitable adjective I can muster is “Functional.” They convey where you are and what you’re trying to do … and that’s pretty much it. It’s all just boxes, leavened by the occasional sphere. There’s no creativity here, no spark, nothing to enhance the sense of maddening consequences that are at once pure chaos yet somehow all your fault. Your rocket ship is a big white box powered by tiny grey boxes, fer fuck’s sake. It’s just kinda there.

Ditto for the consequences of touching terrain that isn’t a landing pad with something that isn’t one of your five rocket nubbins. No fiery death animation, no mocking explosions; touch the red blocks, hear an annoying noise and start over.

And boy howdy, do you hear that noise a lot — even if you’re playing solo. Rakete is about as forgiving as Tywin Lannister after hearing some asshole diss the family; even the slightest touch and you’re fucked. And you do NOT have a lot of room to maneuver; as the game progresses, you’ll find yourself trying to snake the USS Maytag through block chimneys that aren’t that much wider than it is, possibly having to maneuver to compensate for some force field trying to slam you into the walls.

I played a few rounds of the game as intended with my wife controlling the right rockets and me controlling the left, and we had fun. We spun around and antiseptically smashed into things and eventually got where we were trying to go, and cheered, and then did something else after playing a few levels. But as the game progresses, it gets brutally difficult in SINGLE player mode; the various puzzles take perverse delight in killing you even if it’s just you working the rockets. I was actually unable to get all the way through the game; I have absolutely no idea how you’d do some of those levels with multiple players.

I don’t mind games that are challenging, but this one just feels fussy. It’s so tight and unforgiving that it just stops being fun after a while. When you decide you’re done with a game because you beat it, that’s fun; that’s satisfying. Deciding you’re done because you’re sick of getting your ass handed to you is less fun. I have to think that far more people who’ve played Rakete are in the latter group than are in the former.

The game also feels weird and subtly wrong. It claims you’re controlling a rocket ship, but … are you, really? The environment feels viscous. There’s some sort of ambient resistance that will bleed off your momentum, to say nothing of the very clearly defined gravity. It feels less like you’re maneuvering in space and more like you’re operating some sort of deep-sea submersible. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s a hint that the game might have done better with entirely different theming.

So the graphics and sound feel less “minimalist” and more “eh, fuck it, whatever,” the gameplay quickly becomes less “challenging” and more “brutal,” and the overall feel is less “rocket” and more “clumsy submarine.” But … well, see the cold open. I had fun. A good puzzle game will make me feel like a very clever boy when I finally defeat whatever challenge it has laid out before me, and yeah, Rakete gave me that feeling quite a few times. The raging chaos of mutiplayer had my wife and I laughing.

Rakete is clearly not the best version of itself, but it doesn’t suck. If anything about this sounds fun to you, or you’d like to torment a loved one with almost but not quite managing to coordinate with one another, then by all means give it a look.

(Just one advisory, however. For some reason, the game played VASTLY better when I had an external keyboard plugged into my laptop. For some reason, when my wife and I were sitting on the couch using the built-in keyboard, we could only get it to recognize two buttons at a time. I’m guessing this is more a limitation of the hardware than the game, but be warned it’s a limitation you might run into as well.)

What physics nightmares await me in this next game?

Page 27, Game 9: Pixel art Forest by edermunizz

Make your own forest!

Ah, falling trees and such. Will there be bears? I’m hoping for bears.