Don’t forget the jammy scones as you work your way to the top.
Capitalizing on nostalgia has become a bit of a mainstay in the indie realm, harkening back to the games we grew up on and trying to replicate the wonderful look and feel. As primarily Nintendo-focused gamers, we see a lot of NES and SNES homages, but not often do we see a ZX Spectrum inspired title. Rock Boshers DX is just that. Twin-stick shooters have found a comfortable home on the eShop, but with its focus on clever level design, this one dishes up an equally fun and challenging experience.
Rock Boshers DX is a top-down twin-stick shooter, but unlike many of its competitors, it does not feature 360-degree aiming. Instead, firing in the cardinal directions as well as your diagonals, it gives you eight points of attack. Movement is methodical, which makes your positioning crucial as you weave in and out of enemy fire. At the outset of each area, you’ll only be equipped with a pistol that fires off a single bullet at at time. However finding ammo out in the field will allow you to use different weapons such as the machine gun. Sadly, with a very scarce supply available, I often found myself saving my weapons only for truly hectic moments instead of truly getting to enjoy using them.
There is a plot that sets up the story, but it really is more of a formality than a driving force. Queen Victoria, tired of her boring life, decides to adventure off to Mars, but is quickly caught and forced to work in the mines. The goal is to escape by reaching and taking the elevator to the next floor until you reach the surface. At first, each level consists more or less of snagging a key to open another path to grab another key until you eventually reach the exit. However, the level design ramps up and becomes more diverse as you get closer to the surface, including more complex puzzles that require careful planning. Strategically navigating each area is also import as dealing with a mass of mindless zombies can quickly become overbearing, but more often than not that guards that take cover and force you to fire off well-placed rounds are more troublesome.
Each stage is a solid length, but that can actually become a problem when the earlier portions of a given level are mundane and only the last bit is challenging. It got frustrating having to re-clear a lengthy but easy section of a level only to make small strides on the challenging part and have to start over again. Luckily, no one challenge is too difficult to the point of ruining the fun. That being said, later levels do get pretty tough and require smart and strategic play to overcome. Hidden within each stage are food items to collect, including the wonderfully jammy scones, which unlock a number of different arcade games you can play outside of the main campaign. These are score attack games that offer a nice variety of gameplay and work as a nice break.
Upon booting up the game, the option to select 8-Bit Console or 8-Bit Computer graphics is given. I first started on console, but switched over to computer to see the difference. There are minor but noticeable variations between the two. The most interesting to me was the bootup screen for the computer style which gives the true ZX Spectrum experience with the tape loader screen as well as the bleeps and bloops accompanying it. Other slight changes include how the characters, projectiles, and scattered rocks look, but nothing is so drastically different that it alters the experience much, as the visuals are extremely simplistic either way. The soundtrack works well with the package, offering catchy tunes I found myself humming along with as I mowed down enemy guards.
Rock Boshers DX throws its hat into the already crowded twin-stick shooter ring, but it does a nice job of presenting something different. Instead of relying on fast-paced bullet hell antics, it presents a more methodical and thoughtful approach to level and enemy design. This does become frustrating, however, as some stages can have difficulty spikes towards the end, making it a chore to go through the motions just to get back to where you were. Fortunately, this isn’t the norm and more often than not I found the clever level design to be a true treat.