Developer: Gungrounds | Publisher: Mad Head Games || Overall: 8.0/10
I’ve always been a bit soft on bullet hell shmup games. I mostly get frustrated at how cheap some of the elements can be and well, just the ridiculous amount of <curse in Xartraxian> flying around never screamed “fun!” to me. Rocking Pilot is a top-down twin-stick shooter that nestles right in with others in the genre. The titular character is a sarcastic romp through a futuristic war story that has the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek and rockin’ tunes keeps the pace up, the adrenaline flowing, and the decibels rising!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAHHHHH!!!!!
Rocking Pilot is a pretty simple concept. You shoot stuff and stuff blows up. However, the unique feature is using your helicopter’s propellers as a weapon as well. You can consider it a “melee attack,” going right up to the enemy, mowing them down, or enabling Overdrive, which makes you temporarily invincible and empowered to kill and deflect everything. Besides that, using Overdrive tactically is a necessity, otherwise you die, so you cant really use it on cooldown. Many enemies also require you to use Overdrive to kill them, so having a limited amount of Overdrive charge becomes an important resource to manage.
Game progression is interesting, taking its cue from mobile game trends. There are four worlds to unlock, each with about 10 levels. When defeating a level, you’ll earn an assortment of awards, each independent classification (such as “Keys,” “Crowns,” and “Skulls”) unlocking their own string of levels and/or weapons. Eventually, unlocking all of the weapons available makes your helicopter the most badass helicopter in all of history and all of the upgrades work in tandem. Power-ups will show up on the board and you’ll temporarily use one of your unlocked weapons; there isn’t much agency here to “choose” which weapons you want to use, but you take what you can get and use it all up.
There’s not much more to the game, but there’s a lot of gameplay to be had. I had spent about two hours and beat the main storyline, but there were still quite a few levels left to unlock, and most of the upgrades had yet to be discovered. Once you acquire upgrades it’s well worth going back and trying previous levels you left uncompleted to see if you can earn even more upgrades. The upgrades definitely make things easier for you and also keep things fresher. The Score Attack mode available seems to be based on leaderboards, and challenge you to get higher on the board before awarding you, which can be quite an ask. You can also restart your progress by deleting save data, so if you pine for the half hour where you only had a minigun, no missiles or shotguns and <curse in Xartraxian>, then it’s there for you. Also, since you die a lot, having to wait a few seconds and physically confirm two times between each retry can get a bit tiresome, and breaks up the fast-paced feel the game tries hard to sustain.
The art is not too bad; it starts out generic at first then gets a little bit more wacky. Eventually you start fighting aliens and that’s when the art begins to please. There are some talking-head characters which are very nicely drawn, but this creative look doesn’t seem to carryover at all into the actual game for some reason. The helicopter is also just some generic-looking helicopter, but maybe that’s the point there. The sound is also very important in creating the experience of fast-paced craziness.
Rocking Pilot is mostly a challenge waiting to be had. Once you get through the main story, you’ll have to go back and clean up what you didn’t do the first time around, and then some. There isn’t anything in the way of a “free play” mode other than the Score Attacks, but those aren’t available on every mission anyway. You’ll be heading into each mission with particular objectives in mind, most of them fairly unique. The price tag is also very reasonable and if you are looking for a simpler, contemporary shmup, Rocking Pilot might be your <curse in Xartraxian>.