It's common for people to throw around the word "retro" when it comes to any video games that are characterised by pixelated graphics, chiptune music, arcade gameplay, and the like. Most of these would never actually run on older consoles since they are more complex and modern in other areas, but something like Shovel Knight is what we would call a pure retro game – it utilises all of the aforementioned elements and more to make it seem as though it's truly from the 80s. Rock Boshers DX: Director's Cut takes an even bigger step; developer Tikipod has fashioned the game as if it were designed for the obscure, decades-old ZX Spectrum – and the faithfulness of this love letter to retro gaming is evident in every corner. It may be amusing to think that this is crafted for Sony's modern machines, but you would be wrong in assuming that the game doesn't rock for what it is.
The title is so much of a tribute to the ZX Spectrum that a video before the title screen simulates the original booting process for the system. Everything is in 8-bit graphics as well, with levels and menus being represented with a miniscule colour palette and the most abstract of shapes, including characters that are made up of no more than 25 pixels. It's commendable how the visuals exactly match the style of what the ZX Spectrum could handle, and researching games for the system assures this claim's validity. However, the contrast of the simple, bright colours and the zoomed-out levels that you play on can cause your eyes to hurt and strain at times, and we sometimes lost where we were on-screen due to how small a good amount of the characters can be. Regardless, this didn't stop us from enjoying the nostalgic visual flair on display.
The premise is utterly absurd, but seems intentionally so, again, to mimic some of the oddball games from the 80s. You play as Queen Victoria in an alternate history where England finds a way to shoot spaceships from cannons to Mars. In disguise, the young queen sets off on this adventure and discovers that everyone being sent here is put to work and processed through underground facilities for unknown reasons. If that wasn't enough for you, zombies, lasers, and other sci-fi conventions are thrown into the mix for the heck of it. There's an underlying playfulness in using these stereotypical story elements, and while the plot is hardly a reason to play the game, it serves as something amusing to liven up the textual dialogue.
All you've got to do during the gameplay is move around and shoot in any of eight directions with your standard pistol from a top-down perspective, occasionally switching between different weapons like a rocket launcher and machine gun that will help you to take out large groups of enemies in a pinch. However, the old adage of, "easy to learn, hard to master" is more than applicable here. Although it may not prove difficult to some, there are some boss fights and levels in the three to five hour campaign that will test your limits in a good kind of way. Over time, you'll need to pay attention to so many obstacles and enemies at once while shooting and moving around that we sometimes wondered how we were going to do it. It's not so much that reflexes matter here, but rather your ability to multitask and keep track of everything around you, lest you have your low amount of health depleted in an instant by a horde of zombies or a barrage of lasers.
Those who love the challenge of hardcore, old school games like Mega Man might find Rock Boshers somewhat easy, but we believe that it strikes a nice balance between providing difficult sections reminiscent to older games while being more forgiving by providing a decent quantity of hearts and special weapon ammo when necessary. There's even the incentive of collecting British food and beverage favourites such as scones, tea, and cheese that are scattered throughout levels in a manner of ways. Some are hidden in the rocks that act as obstacles and useful barriers throughout the game, while others are in plain sight behind blocked-off areas that you open once you unlock the elevator to exit a level. Choosing to storm these areas is usually a daring risk, but it was an exciting gamble for us to take multiple times.
These collectibles will help you to unlock four small arcade games that are surprisingly addictive. One has you playing as a cat in a submarine that must collect gems as they float down from above – all while you're defending a milk pipeline from robotic-like squids. Preposterous, yes, but getting far in any of the four minigames is hardly a pushover, and trying to beat your high score can make you lose track of time. There's also a PS4-only multiplayer mode that may be solid in its basic execution, but loses its novelty rapidly.
Still, we must praise the sound effects and music, which definitely made it a more cheerful ride in how it all complements the retro style so well. The music may sound a bit too complex to run on an actual ZX Spectrum, but it's nevertheless a treat to listen to with its crisp, ear-catching tunes that never grow old, and the same can be said for the satisfactorily antiquated sound effects.
The overwhelming number of retro-inspired indie games may be getting tiresome, but Rock Boshers DX: Director's Cut is definitely one of the better attempts. While the game treads fairly common ground, the true retro call backs, satisfying difficulty, arcade minigames, and audio comfortably set it above the sediment of what's average.