When I was young, the internet was something I still didn’t fully understand, and spending money was low, I used to invest in compilations of shareware games that lined the shelves of every PC gaming clearance rack. The games themselves were rarely any good, but given there were hundreds on each disc it provided at least a moderate distraction in a time when I wasn’t looking for much more.
Rock Boshers DX feels a lot like a game I would have found on one of those discs. It’s aesthetically nostalgic but in a way that feels less a product of a specific era in games, and more something that’s just attempting to pass itself off as one. It hasn’t any novel ideas of its own, nor does an adequate job establishing its very simple set of mechanics. It’s a game without a direction that’s perhaps a solid first step for a developer cutting their teeth on game design, but nothing I’d want to actually play.
I can’t exactly describe how Rock Boshers plays, because it tries to do so many different things that it can play dramatically different depending on which level you choose. One moment you might be exploring a ship in a sidescrolling perspective, the next shooting zombies from a top down view or running in circles collecting keys to open the door to the next level. This variety doesn’t come as an interesting compiling of mechanics though, but as a directionless buffet of equally distasteful parts.
The only context to be found to Rock Boshers inconsistency is a narrative that seems to think itself far more interesting than it actually is. Exposition sprouts everywhere and none of it has anything compelling to say. There’s a familiar plot of worker exploitation and experimentation somewhere here but it’s so clichéd that you could likely guess the entire storyline on that premise alone. Most often the narrative seems to exist for the purpose of contextualizing every poor design decision, taking the game in so many different directions that it comes out with no identity of its own.
Nothing in Rock Boshers ever feels like it exists for a purpose. Most levels are designed to send you running into every corner, tediously winding through tunnels and trying not to die as the difficulty ramps up rapidly. If Rock Boshers is dull at the start, it’s agonizing once the training wheels come off and it throws everything it has at you with no regard to whether you can realistically defend yourself or not.
It feels like a long time since I’ve yelled at my monitor in such extreme anger and frustration as I did attempting to finish Rock Boshers, each death feeling cheaper than the last. Your means of interacting with the game are so simplistic that you’re often left with only a very narrow means of completing a given level, yet what those means are is often a challenge in itself to comprehend, made worse when each level seems to introduce yet another half formed idea which you then need to learn on top of everything else.
For as commonplace as retro inspired games are now, Rock Boshers is one that feels far more reliant on nostalgia alone to sell itself than most. In that regard I can’t fault it for being a game I could have feasibly played two decades ago, but times have changed and even if it might have held my attention back then, I couldn’t wait to leave its soulless existence behind today. Rock Boshers is a game made for another time and place, it’s just a shame it’s one I never want to return to.