Version tested: DS
You might be a long follower of the Dragon Quest Heroes series - you know, in that really foul manner where you make sure everyone knows it in as smug a way as possible. "Well, this clearly isn't a patch on the Japanese-only Dragon Quest Heroes XVIII for the never-released Sega Catacomb, and frankly who are you to pass comment on anything in my awesome presence." Do be quiet. No one likes you.
As it happens, Rocket Slime is a sequel to a Japanese-only release, which itself was a spin-off from the main series. But that doesn't matter, because you're not playing all of gaming history, you're playing this game, and it's rather a lot of fun.
One of my favourite things about games is describing their basic concept in as straightforward a way as possible, disguising the completely ludicrous nature of what's being said. In Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime, you play a blob of slime who must fight back against an invading army of duck-billed platypuses who have kidnapped all your friends. And have tank battles.
It's hard to say what genre this is. Which is always good. A bit platform, a bit RPG, a bit tactical, a bit Pokémon. Square-Enix has elected to completely bypass the touch-screen here, opting for something that immediately reminds you of Mario & Luigi's design. In fact, it's this comparison that both wins Rocket Slime a lot of points and penalises it somewhat by comparison. Your slime (named by you) is equipped with essentially one move. He cheerfully bounces along most of the time, but holding down A and moving on the d-pad stretches your slime out, and letting go pings him in that direction. Any objects or enemies struck in this way flick up into the air, and can then be caught on his head, up to three at a time. These can then be chucked at other things, or carried to the omnipresent train tracks and taken back home.
There's a lot of chatter here, mostly with the slimes you've rescued, and it's invariably very funny. There are 100 slimes to gather, each with a distinct personality, and most with a few terrible puns to offer. The best/worst comes early on from a slime called Pee Wee who informs you that he did a "wee wee" in the chest in which he was captured, and it was "all wet". "But don't tell anyone, because it's a secretion." Oh yes.
In the process of rescuing all the slimes from each area, you must do the traditional - solve puzzles, gain new abilities to access new areas, have lots of entertaining conversations, and then the tank battles. At first these feel jarring and misplaced, an awkward distraction from the merry fun of bouncing about with an exploding rock, angry vampire bat and invisibility cloak balanced on your head. But as you progress, and upgrade your tank and your ammo, it all starts to make sense, and success feels like the result of your hard work.
I've never been the sort to want to collect everything in a game - I find it detracts from the narrative experience, and creates an artificiality to the process. However, Rocket Slime rather cleverly makes the process an intrinsic part of the game. All the objects you collect in the levels become available as ammo for your tank. During the battles, you (and eventually a team you select) drop this ammo into two cannons, which fire across the top screen toward the enemy's metal hulk. Once you've wiped out his tank's hit points, you then charge across the gap between the two, and dash through the inside of his tank, smashing everything until you destroy its heart. This becomes increasingly complex as the game progresses, requiring practised tactics, and appropriate use of your team of helpers.
Gathering thirty of each enemy on the trains, rather than just bashing them to death, earns a statue in the town museum, but also makes them available for support in tank battles. Each has specific abilities, such as rapidly loading cannons, or even disguising itself and infiltrating the enemy tank to sabotage. Then there's the alchemy, where gathered objects can be combined following discovered recipes to create more powerful items for the tank fights. Much further into the game a shop opens up, where you can buy and sell ingredients, and eventually the process of creating ammo for your tank battles becomes enthralling. Somehow Rocket Slime manages to completely justify the kleptomania of such games without making it feel artificial. I've finished it now, but I'm still going to go back and collect thirty of any enemy I've missed - I'm told something special will happen.
While a long game, the similarities with Mario & Luigi do harm it slightly, lacking the variation and constant invention of Nintendo's RPG. As you progress the areas can become less inspired, with some only existing to loosely link together tank fights. The penultimate zone is almost splendid, but the final area again loses inspiration. If only it could have got bigger as it went along.
But despite this, there's never a moment of feeling lacklustre about continuing. It never stops being delightful to return to your base village (the kingdom of Slimenia), do a bit of alchemy, restock your tank, upgrade it, chat to any slimes you've recently rescued, and then pop to the church to save. The best bit of the whole thing is the saving, where all the rescued slimes in the church dance to the organ music as the DS writes to the cart. It made me smile every single time. And that's Rocket Slime's hook - it never stops making you smile. It's just so endlessly sweet and breezy, cheerfully daft and bursting with ridiculous jokes. And you know what? That's good enough.
Rocket Slime is bouncy happy daft fun. Balance a catnip plant on your head and the pouncing cats will think thoughts of love about you. Bounce into a rescued slime in Slimenia and they'll have a unique complaint related to their personality, inevitably containing a painful pun. And stick around for the closing credits and learn who the "lead deslimer" and "locaslimeation goordinator" were. So while it never becomes particularly difficult, it remains constantly interesting, bursting with personality and a desire to be incredibly silly. Just like us!
8 / 10