John Rochard's life ain't a walk in the park. It's more of a walk through an astro mining operation in zero gravity... with space bandits shooting at him. The first game to come out of Finnish indie operation Recoil Games, is something lazy games journalist would dub as Half-Life in 2D, but lazy doesn't always equal incorrect. Using your mining tools and the ability to manipulate gravity is key to John saving his comrades and seeking out the secrets of an ancient alien civilisation, and well, take down his boss and resident bad guy - Maximillian.
At its core Rochard is a puzzle platformer. Sure there are enemies and you can shoot them, but there are usually smarter ways of dealing with space bandits than trading laser salvos. Drop boxes on them using your G-lifter, use various barriers and puzzle elements, or ricochet their laser back at them with items you lift. Rochard strikes a balance between having you perform precise acts of platforming, and letting you use a bit of brute force to progress. After all, John Rochard, isn't a man of elegance and finesse.
As far as the concept goes it is rather brilliant, but at times I wish it would have relied less on physics and been more of a traditional puzzle game. Stacking boxes with the g-lifter in zero gravity can be frustrating at times, especially when you're gunning for that hard to reach collectible trophy. There are nice twists to the gameplay such as having to traverse levels that are upside down, and shooting boxes downwards to jump higher in zero gravity. The level design is impeccable for the most part, you never get stuck in unsolvable situations, and at times there are different ways of solving one problem.
Rochard is rather linear, and exploration is limited to finding secrets within a level. There is no backtracking, no map, no extra secrets to search out with new tools or upgraded skills. It doesn't bother me much, but fans of Shadow Complex and Metroid should not expect the same kind of experience from Rochard.
We briefly touched on the story, and well, it doesn't really need any more explanation. It's rather basic, and I found myself losing interest during the brief cut scenes. Rochard isn't about story, even if the voice acting does a good job of delivering the cartoony feel of the experience. It's a nice contrast to the gameplay that for the most part require you to be both precise and clever.
As far as presentation and technical aspects go, Rochard isn't overly pretty, but has a nice cartoon-esque design, the loading times are a bit tiresome at times, especially when you're stuck trying to solve one puzzle. There are instances where more camera control would have been nice, but there are rarely any instances where there is a real need to see outside of the screen. As far as the visuals goes, there is a lot of attention to detail, and the backdrops are just gorgeous in places.
What we get with Rochard is a single player campaign, no more, no less. It's a good size campaign, which will take you a handful of hours or slightly more to complete in your first run, depending on your ability to quickly find the correct solution to the various puzzles. You might go back for trophies, but there is not really any other reasons to play this once completed. The puzzles are naturally not that exciting to figure out the second time around, but then again that might be your chance to achieve that speed run trophy (complete in under 3 hours) och pick up collectible trophies you may have overlooked. Some kind of co-operative challenges or such would have been a nice addition as the concept would lend it self well to that in my opinion. But for the price Rochard commands you still get good value.
While the game comes across as original in terms of mechanics, Rochard still has that retro appeal and an air about it that isn't too serious. It's a nice little diversion, and one that will both challenge and amuse you. If you're looking for something a bit different, polished and light-hearted in tone - Rochard fits the bill.