The game's let down by an overemphasis on combat and cumbersome controls, but an endearing protagonist and charming visual style make up for its shortcomings.
Mining engineer John Rochard doesn't have the best luck. Within the opening moments of Recoil Games' PlayStation Network exclusive, Rochard, he nearly loses his job, then happens upon the discovery of his career before being double-crossed and eventually embarking on a galactic adventure in search of a mysterious historical secret.
When all's said and done, Rochard's plot is pretty unimportant. The southern twang of protagonist John Rochard adds a charming flavour to the narrative, but the supporting characters are weak and the plot's altogether too hokey to be considered particularly engrossing.
Thankfully Rochard's narrative takes a back-seat for much of the game's five-hour running time. Equipped with a multi-purpose hand-gun spanning two unique forms — the G-Lifter and the Rock Blaster — Rochard presents itself as a pretty competent puzzle platformer from the off-set. The G-Lifter can be used to manipulate blocks, allowing the chubby John Rochard to hop about the game's numerous sci-fi districts with ease.
The G-Lifter also comes in handy when solving many of Rochard's puzzles. These often involve utilising wayward batteries to open up doors or shuffling metallic boxes to navigate the game's expanding environment. Rochard owes a lot of its design to the likes of Metroid and Castlevania, with copious amounts of back-tracking and character upgrades allowing you to access previously closed off areas.
The level design for the most part is great, and the puzzles — while never overly ambitious — make great use of John Rochard's abilities. One aspect of the game we particularly enjoyed was the option to enable zero gravity with a tap of the L1 button. This allows the protagonist to leap higher, as well as throw objects further, and is deviously implemented into some of the puzzles as you're challenged to carefully feather between low and normal gravity as you desperately attempt to stack objects in place.
Unfortunately the game is weakened by its emphasis on combat. Upon unlocking the Rock Blaster — Rochard's fancy way of saying "machine gun" — you'll spend much of your time blasting over-powered bad guys and turrets. The combat wouldn't be so bad if it was used sparingly, but it's not, and enemies litter virtually every room you visit upon collecting the weapon upgrade.
The importance of the combat distills some of the enjoyment garnered from the puzzling, as you cautiously progress through the game's two-dimensional world awaiting the next enemy threat. Take too many bullets and you'll find yourself sitting at an elongated loading screen while the game pulls you back to the last checkpoint. This can be particularly frustrating when you've solved the majority of a puzzle, only to get blasted by a couple of unseen turrets and pulled right back to the start.
Thankfully Rochard's puzzles are strong enough to stand up to the game's irksome combat. The game is well paced, with increasingly difficult challenges presenting themselves at an appropriate speed. Unlike some puzzle platformers — say Limbo — we never came up against a brick-wall playing Rochard. It's challenging for sure, but never overly so. Puzzle platformers can tend to get a bit overwhelming at times, but Rochard's never guilty of that. The game still manages to provide that sensation of first-pumping satisfaction when you complete a particularly devious puzzle, but never at the expense of frustration. A-ha.
Rochard's not going to stun you visually, but it's got a charming enough aesthetic to it. The portly protagonist's design reminds us of the type of characters featured in Valve's Team Fortress, while the backdrop itself moves between a few different themes. The serenity of the game's opening chapter could be mistaken for some portions of Portal 2, while a later environment sees you hopping through a galactic Casino, complete with thumping trance music and neon lights.
Unfortunately the game does suffer from a few technical difficulties. The frame-rate isn't always as a consistent as we'd like, and the controls can feel cumbersome especially in areas of high activity.
Rochard also lacks replay value. The inclusion of various trophy symbols encourage exploration, but aren't important enough to prompt a second playthrough. Nor is the inclusion of a devilish speed-run trophy which tempts you to shrink Rochard's five campaign into just three hours. We'll pass, thanks.
But even with its shortcomings in mind, Rochard is still a thoroughly enjoyable package. The overemphasis on combat is disappointing, but the game's no-nonsense puzzle solving and carefully presented physics-heavy mechanics result in a platformer packed with satisfying challenges. Couple this with the game's charming visual appearance and genuinely endearing protagonist and you'll happen upon a campaign worthy of your attention during the five or so hours that it persists.