Steampunk wasn’t really a 'thing' back in the heydey of 8-bit video game development, but if it had been, there’s a good chance something like Rock Boshers DX: Director’s Cut would have appeared in glorious cassette or cartridge form. With its Victorian dandies on a space-age adventure for gold and glory, developer Tikipod has given us the kind of silly period sci-fi that would have had H.G. Wells jumping into his time machine posthaste.
Coming from the same studio that gave us Aqua Kitty UDX (look out for plenty of Easter Eggs for said underwater feline scattered across the game), this unusual indie started out as a PlayStation Mobile exclusive before being given the ‘Director’s Cut’ treatment on PC and consoles almost four years ago. It’s even had an outing on PS Vita, so its debut on the semi-handheld Nintendo Switch certainly seems fitting. And while it's yet another port of a game that’s long been lauded elsewhere, its mixture of retro aesthetics, feet-tapping chiptunes and twin-stick shooting shouldn’t be so swiftly dismissed.
After all, this is a game that places you in the shoes of a young Queen Victoria, who decides the recent advent of rocket engineering and a plan to colonise Mars shouldn’t exclude members of the Royal Family. So Queen Vic dons a disguise (including goggles and a top hat, as befits a punk of steam) and rides a bullet-shaped rocket directly to the red planet. Of course, all is not as it seems and our crownless monarch finds herself unceremoniously thrown into a labour camp. She soon escapes, grabs a gun and starts unleashing some royal justice.
So yes, it’s ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. But that’s what makes Rock Boshers DX so enjoyable as a result. The developer has perfectly recreated the look and sound of a proper ZX Spectrum game – right down to the roughness of the audio to the cassette tape-esque loading screen – making it an ideal fit for the eShop’s pro-retro track record. But while it has all the hallmarks of an ‘80s top-down adventure, there’s still very much a modern twist to be had.
Victoria can move and shoot in any direction, with an unlimited supply of shots with her pistol and limited ammunition for a variety of other guns she’ll pick up along the way – ranging from machine guns to rocket launchers and beyond. This is a twin-stick shooter after all, and with movement mapped to the left stick and your firepower to the right, it takes seconds to get a feel for Tikipod’s steampunk adventure.
The further you push into the story and its many single-screen maps, you’ll find the same basic premise – locate various colour-coded keys that systematically remove any blocks of the same pigment anywhere on the map – then reach the elevator to rise further through Mars’ crust. Of course, it’s never that simple and you’ll encounter myriad foes along the way, each with their own threat and tactics. You’ll need to dodge the fire of red guards and spray and pray when mowing down waves of respawning yellow zombies, for instance.
The real fun is learning how best to take each one down, especially more than one kind are spawning at once. Orange larvae will slither towards erratically but can be briefly knocked away with a well-placed shot, while pink centipedes can’t be killed and will follow you wherever you go. You’ll need to lead them through a complicated path if you want to grab a key from a chamber or dead-end and avoid... well, a dead end. It can get really tricky the further you progress through its many levels and areas, but with a wealth of hearts to collect (each hit removes a heart) there’s always an ideal route through each map.
A lot of work has gone into recreating that retro feel, from the choice of playing in 8-bit computer or an 8-bit console (with the former adding in that tape-loading intro and a more basic set of colours and details) all the way down to the brilliant chiptune soundtrack Electric Café has served up. The soundtrack is a selling point all by itself, and will have classic VGM enthusiasts nodding with approval. Sprinkle in zombies, moustache-twirling villains and in-game arcade cabinets and you’ve got one bizarre little curio that deserved to shake off the death sentence release that was its PlayStation Mobile exclusivity.
At this stage, Nintendo Switch has plenty of retro-inspired titles to its name – the eShop is practically brimming with them – but despite such considerable company, Rock Boshers DX: Director’s Cut saunters in with gameplay that confidently straddles the old gaming world and the new. Fans of the ZX Spectrum days will lap up Tikipod’s faithful recreation of the 8-bit era, and with a ton of levels and modes to unlock there’s plenty of replay value to be had with Queen Victoria and her Martian odyssey.