‘Rochard’ Hands-on Preview – If ‘Portal,’ ‘Dead Space’ and ‘TF2′ Had A Baby

These days there are plenty of sci-fi action games. Usually they’re exceedingly dark and grim, with intense, gritty graphics and a serious cast of characters. “Rochard” is not one of those games. Despite its sci-fi premise, there’s a light-heartedness you don’t often see in the genre which I found instantly appealing. The clever, physics-based puzzles didn’t hurt either.

What’s In A Name?

“Rochard” is a PSN-exclusive side-scrolling platformer from Recoil Games. You play as John Rochard, an overweight space miner who happens to be on a terrible string of luck. His assignments send him all over the galaxy but his team haven’t hit pay dirt in ages. You meet John on a fateful day, however, as he discovers an alien artifact on an unassuming asteroid. Things basically go downhill from there (complete with space bandits).

Physics Is Phun!

Although there is action to be found in “Rochard,” it’s really more of a puzzle, platformer. John comes packing a physics gun which is able to pick up and launch objects like crates and barrels. Early on you’re just using these objects as stepping stones, but you’ll quickly realize that hitting someone in the face with a two ton crate is just as effective as bullets.

The basic crate puzzle mechanics are reminiscent of that 2D, Flash version of “Portal” that came out a few years back. Force fields prevent you from crossing through on your own, so you’ll have to toss crates ahead and find another way around. Later on, you’ll find generators which can be yanked to take out force fields and bridges. But don’t worry, there are also laser guns and enemies to blast, if that’s your bag.

Jump For Joy

One element that differentiates “Rochard” is its use of gravity. Most games have sections of the level wherein gravity can be controlled. In “Rochard,” finding the gravity control switch on a given level allows you to modify gravity whenever you want for the rest of the level. For example, you may need low gravity to get yourself more of a vertical boost or to cause a tossed crate to fly farther. Normal gravity, however, might be better for holding down weighted platforms and switches.

If this seems a bit overwhelming, it’s not. Within just a few minutes I was tackling the puzzles in “Rochard” with ease.

Charm To Spare

Although the puzzle-based gameplay is intriguing, the upbeat, campy nature of the characters makes the whole thing easier to swallow. Character design follows the cartoony, exaggerated look of a game like “Team Fortress 2,” with Rochard’s belly being the most obvious example. The dialog, too, is right up there with cheesy 70s sci-fi flicks like “Logan’s Run” (which the Recoil guys consider a definite inspiration).

There are plenty of side-scrolling shooters out there, but the blending of physics puzzles, platforming and an upbeat, campy storyline really helps to set “Rochard” apart from the pack. Just a few hours ago, I knew next to nothing about the game, and now I’m eagarly awaiting its spring release on PSN. Not bad for just a 30 minute demo!