The fact that a multiplayer Rocket Jockey doesn’t exist makes me very sad. Rocket Jockey is a surf guitar filled chaotic battle arena, featuring jockeys flying around on rockets. Your only weapon is a cable that can be shot out from either side of your machine for the purpose of turning by latching onto a pillar, or more importantly plucking an opponent off of their rocket and taking them for an unpleasant ride. This central mechanic is simple with a fair amount of depth and really needs to be revisited since this game came out in 1996.
In the early days of 3D gaming there was a fair amount of interesting experiments, Die by the Sword and Terra Nova come to mind, but they never really took off like FPS’ and platformers did. While some did get later recognition like System Shock and Alone in the Dark, Rocket Jockey was unfortunately not one of these and it deserves far more attention than it ever received. At the time the system requirements, the lack of multiplayer; even though it was advertised on the box and later patched in, and the fact it was published by Segasoft probably didn’t do it any favors. This is a tragedy though as the game holds up far better than most 3D games of the era and would perform very well as a small downloadable title in the vein of Chivalry.
Rocket Jockey has a tongue in cheek vibe with the names of the riders being puns, coupled the video gamey act of dragging an opponent behind a rocket before slamming them into a wall and watching them get up to try to get back to their rocket, all the while a rocking Dick Dale song is driving the action. Controlling a rocket is a simple affair but the turning radius is very poor (although going up and down is a bit easier) but each arena is littered with pillars that you attach a cable to so you can spin around and release when preferably not facing a wall. If you have two cables attached to pillars you can combine them creating a clothesline, or attach a rider to a pillar.
Each match is a great mix of planning and chaos. With up to six rockets flying around trying to ram each other, pluck someone from a rocket, and set up traps, so even if you are lining up a great attack someone may fly right past and pull you off your contraption. Then you are forced to run to the nearest unoccupied rocket while trying to jump and dodge as at this point you are a rather easy target. As a concept I can’t understand why this hasn’t been done since then, in fact I’m willing to bet if this were a real sport it would be the most popular one in the world.
The soundtrack also deserves a special mention featuring Dick Dale, The Ultras, and Alpha 60, I can think of few games that have music that work with the play as well as this, Hotline Miami and Interstate ’76 are some of the best examples. Driving fast paced surf guitar works well with both the action and the general nature of just how over the top the whole experience is. You just got dragged through the air at 100 miles an hour and broke all your bones on that pillar and that wall, but who cares you need to get the fuck up and get to a rocket quick, MOVE! This game is also from that wonderful era when soundtracks could be played off the game disc in a stereo so I am listening to it as I write this.
While the main game mode I always played was the arena battle there is also a Rocket Ball mode, think soccer, and a Rocket Race mode. I never enjoyed either one nearly as much as the arena though. Rocket Race always seemed really cool but if you messed up a checkpoint it could be very difficult to get back on track. Although the idea of laying out a clothesline trap on a checkpoint gate in multiplayer seems like an awesome dick move. Rocket Ball never really interested me that much although I bet a refined version with improved physics would work better today. Also having a real teammate for a 2v2 game would be pretty sweet.
I am certainly not the only one who would love to see this game exist for the modern game scene but so far no one has been successful. Several groups attempted to make mods of it but they all broke up. A spiritual successor named Sprocket Junkie was in the works but their page doesn’t seem to exist anymore after their failed Kickstarter. The original game won’t be coming to a service like GOG since the rights are tied up with the defunct developer Rocket Science Games. However a port was created for the Xbox and 360 by the designer Sean Callahan but is only playable by him and his kids as he doesn’t have the rights for it. He’s a software engineer for Microsoft now.
A remake of Rocket Jockey would be rather easy to pull off. The core gameplay is already so good that some small tweaks to the physics and updating the graphics is all that is really necessary. There is plenty that could be thrown in there, customizable rockets, a level editor, more game modes, and a more distinct art style. None of those features are needed but would be welcome.
Someday the world will hopefully get to experience this wonderful game but as of now there aren’t any options aside from getting a copy of the original game. Even then it requires a bit of work to get to run since this is from the days of Windows ’95 games, hell MS-Dos stuff is far easier to run. A patched copy can work multiplayer but only in a LAN setting as the online play was through Heat.Net and I’m pretty sure they’re not around anymore. So now I have the life goal of getting a Rocket Jockey LAN party together and having a brilliant time. I mean seriously just look at this and try to tell me it’s not amazing.