Some enemies are tougher and come with a life bar. Others can only be damaged at certain points. Not that this matters, since the game gives you neither the space nor incentive to adjust your approach to anything more inspiring than endless blasting with whatever gun has appeared at your feet. Enemies and scenery spew shiny collectibles when destroyed which (provided you can get to them before the camera banishes them to the forbidden off-screen void) can be picked up or sucked towards you by using a Loot Vacuum. Not that this actually sucks the pieces up, it just pulls them slightly closer. Then you have to press it again. And again. In the end you might as well have run over to the bloody things and picked them up the old-fashioned way.
Come the end of each level, you can use the various pick-ups to upgrade a broad array of stats, including the suction power of your pointless Loot Vacuum. Each weapon type can be improved in multiple areas - damage, spread, speed etc - while your character can also be levelled up, increasing your life bar, your ability to dodge enemy fire, even the speed with which you must mash buttons to interact with every item of interest.
Armour can be purchased, as can secondary fire ammunition, and there are bonus costume items that must be claimed before a timer runs out, or they're lost forever. Why? No idea. If you want info on the upgrade choices you're considering, you have to call up a poorly-formatted window and scroll through page after page until you find the bit you want. All of this faffing will no doubt be heralded as offering RPG-style customisation, but to do so would be to confuse complexity with depth. In practice it's a needlessly fussy and piecemeal system in a genre that thrives on simplicity and grace.
There's also the much-heralded four-player co-op, usually something to cheer about but, with such a litany of half-baked gameplay concepts crudely tumbling around, the addition of three more human players is far from enough to compensate. In fact, when it comes to things like the bizarre forced scrolling, it can make the cramped and confusing multiplayer even more annoying than the solo campaign.
Looking back, I'm uncomfortably aware that this review reads like a laundry list of gripes and not the puckishly structured critique I usually aim for. Sorry about that. I hate games that make me write reviews like this. Games that should be so good, yet muck the important bits up for no good reason, leaving me with little option but to simply tick off the boxes and catalogue the missteps in as much detail as bearable. Needless to say, the problems blight both the PS3 and 360 versions of the game that we played, as they're absolutely identical.
A fast-paced sci-fi themed top-down shooter should be the bread and butter of a service like XBLA, yet Rocketmen fudges its enormous potential in almost every area. It's a crude and unappealing game, marred by at least three design decisions (the scrolling, the time-limited weapons, the long-winded upgrade system) that immediately make the gameplay a grind rather than a blast. Here's hoping Worms has been a big enough hit on Xbox Live Arcade for Team 17 to give serious consideration to bringing us a revamped Alien Breed. There's an itch that needs to be scratched, and this clumsy effort certainly isn't going to hit the spot.