Game Review: Rocket Boards by Binary Sun

This is the first of two reviews that are part of the Binary Moon’s Free Games for Bloggers promotion.

Few people know that when I was looking for colleges I had four main paths I wanted to follow: Forestry, Theater, Teaching, Computer Science. Well, considering the fact that I liked to eat and eventually wanted to support a family, the first three were right out even though I had theater scholarships in the bag. So, I decided that I could at least combine teaching and computer games with computer science. Life moves on and I haven’t done much to complete that dream, but I do still admire those that write children’s games.

Binary Sun doesn’t profess itself to be a children’s game company, but that’s where its calling is. I’ve tried all six of their games and, imho, they are geared perfectly for kids in the 6-13 year old age range. And I should know. You see my house is infested with them! I’ve got four rugrats running around here from age 2 to age 10. And they are all now Binary Sun addicts. In fact, I have a dilema here because I showed the kids several of the games and we picked the two we are going to get for the reviews, but that was before I played Seth’s Puzzle box and THAT my friends is a fun game. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

The games in their promotion are these:

Super Gerball

Super Gerball

Gerry the Gerbil loves playing in his ball – he would play all day long if he could. Unfortunately though, the house in which Gerry lives is not safe – if he is not careful, he will fall and hurt himself.

Bubble Blitz

Bubble Blitz

Match the coloured bubbles against the clock in this family friendly puzzle game.

DR Germ

DR Germ

Dr.Germ is looking for a new assistant! Are you up to the task?

Seth’s Puzzle Boxes

Seth's Puzzle Boxes

Help Selena rescue her parents by competing against the evil robot ‘Seth’ – in this fiendish brain bending puzzle game.

Bubble Bomb

Bubble Bomb

A highly addictive puzzle game made in the spirit of Bubblet. Bubble Bomb adds the extra element of bombs, which you can earn to help you along your way.

Rocket Boards

Rocket Boards

Want to relive the glory days of old, or are you new to the joys of pc video gaming? Perfect for novice and advanced gamers alike. Rocket Boards, with its colourful cartoony 3d graphics and simple control sytem, will provide hours of entertainment for the whole family.

The first one I grabbed was Rocket Power. The name just screams fun.

It was evening and I wanted to play. Now, I know some of the reviews from 16-18 year olds have been harsh on this one, but for an independent game geared a the 8-14 age bracket, this thing has fit and finish! (And I’m sorry but from here on out a bunch of “you”s and “your”s slip in because I am really talking directly to the people at Binary Sun/Moon. My other readers will just have to bear with me.)

A Screen shot:
Rocket Boards from Binary Moon

Some quick positives:

  • Good name, good subject – everyone wanted a rocket power board at sometime in their lives
  • Great skins (graphics) for the racers. There’s quite a mix to choose from between the cowboy, Eskimo girl, space alien .
  • It include female game characters. Yes, that’s plural – as in more than one! In fact there are just as many female racers as male. This is still unique enough that it is worth note. In my computer generation, yes I belong to the 8088 generation of gamers, games rarely included female roles. Modern FPS still often include only one female role just as a nod to that gender even thought the QIII code has gender as a built in option. Now with gender saturation reaching 50-50 in some markets, it’s no longer just ignorant not to gear your games to everyone, it’s fiscally irresponsible.
  • Even in the Grand Prix demo level, the courses are rich and diverse. You race on the track and on the beach. That keeps it fun!
  • Good Sound Effects and Music.
  • Good lettering in the game – it’s easy to read and on the screen long enough for the younger readers.
  • Consistent physics. You can predict what will happen when.
  • Good balance on the AI for the competition – Though older players will find the demo no where near aggressive enough.
  • Good rewards when you complete a race

So, where could this game be improved? I haven’t played the full game yet and probably not even gotten through all of the races in the demo, point one may be already addressed in higher levels, but here’s what I would like to see in game:

  • Unique power ups – the base for the game is sound – as in well built. Some unique (non destructive) gimmicks would be fun – like little side skies to make you go fast over water or a bubble bounce maybe
  • The menu is stark – that’s the absolute best word for it. It’s white, it’s orange, it’s got words. It is in such contrast to the cartoonalisious races, that it feels like it is a menu for a totally different program.
  • A difficulty setting would be great. It would radically increase the age range that this game is appropriate for. At the rugrat setting, it could be much harder to turn the board to far sideways and stop yourself. It would also not let you get into the water. At the increased difficulty level, you could make the board a little more sensitive at the lower speeds and much less sensitive at the high speeds and make the gravity a little stronger too and make the players more likely to get in your way. That could solve the issues with the older demographics.

I really think this game could be fairly big, at least much bigger than it is right now. However the real issue isn’t the game play, it’s the marketing. A few simple changes and I think that you could have a money maker here that will quickly pay for your development of the other games.

Here’s what I would do on that front:

  • Admit that this game, most of your games, are geared to young players. When you state that Advance Gamers will like this game, that’s an overstatement. They will like it only if they have something else that draws them in and the Nintendo similarities are not enough to do it. For me having a 10 year old is, but I probably won’t be playing this much myself.
  • Sort out the Binary Moon, Binary Sun differences. If it was done under a different label originally, work out the details and rebrand it. You need to put out a consistent front and be one label. Pick a site, pick a name, go with it. Keep the other side around, but it isn’t mentioned in graphics or advertising. Let your journal be your journal and word of mouth and a maybe an inconspicuous link on a bio page will allow frequenting Binary Moon to be something the Binary Sun Gurus (and those in the know) do.
  • Give RocketBoards its own website. That could radically increase your sales tremendously. Just as I said about the menu, the site does not reflect the game. It is too busy with words that do not sell the game. The AdSense text ads don’t help. And did you know that displaying a “Best viewed in XWY” button or text drops your hit count by 40%? The separate site should take advantage of all of the neat graphics you have and build upon them. The 8 characters should guide you through the site and the game. Some of the Binary Sun/Moon games were obviously part of a learning progression, but this one IS of stand alone quality and deserves the attention. If the separate website only produced an extra sale every two months – and it would do WAYYYY more than that, how would that compare to your income through AdSense for the entire year? I bet even at that slow rate I bet keeping AdSense only on your main site would quickly pay for itself. Advertising MUST be kept simple. There are places to use lots of words, front pages are not one of them.
  • At least reference PowerBoards in your thumbnail list of games. This is your most easily marketable game and it isn’t even there! I can understand leaving out bubble bomb but not this one.
  • Build on the character identification. There is room for an entire marketing approach here. You could take some of these racers, the ones that your players will be identifying with, and build them in to real people in your players minds. There’s fodder for a lot of marketing stuff there. Not to mention separate games with featuring one or more of those same characters. It’s a good thing when some one sees the character they always play in one game featured in the next. You’ve just made a personal connection in your player’s mind and that’s 99.9% of the work in marketing.

Well, in summary, Rocket Boards achieves the goal of being a surprisingly complete and sophisticated game from an independent developer. Despite the slight stretch in its one paragraph description (it probably won’t help the advanced gamer relive the glory days of old), the game is fun to play and definitely has the opportunity to introduce many to the joys of pc video gaming.