Rocket Power was one of those 90s Nick shows I simply liked, but boy did I watch it a ton. I didn’t love it, but I never saw any other show about kids pursuing their passion for extreme sports, so it stuck out to me. When I mostly was crazy about larger-than-life comedies like Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim, it was a nice change of pace to have something a bit more down to earth while still starring cartoonish personalities, not unlike Hey Arnold.
Just to recap so we’re all on the same page, Rocket Power starred four kids -- the hotheaded/coolheaded siblings Otto and Reggie Rocket, the quirky proto-YouTuber Twister Rodrigez, and the nerdy squid Sam Dullard. They lived in the town of Ocean Shores, regularly getting up to shenanigans. Usually, this involved helping out the twins’ father Raymundo and his business partner Tito at their restaurant-slash-surf shop, confronting local bullies like Twister’s brother Lars, competing in extreme sports competitions, or just dealing with normal elementary school kid problems. Except for that one time there was a hurricane and Otto and Twister nearly died because the latter forgot his camera on the pier in the middle of a hurricane. Did you guess who the dumb ones in this group are?
As Nickelodeon was wont to do several console generations ago, they licensed this series to THQ for a handful of games. These licensed games have a track record for being… not great, but they still were some of my favorites as I grew up. I loved seeing my favorite characters from television brought to life in my favorite medium, especially as I eased myself into the PS2 and Gamecube. Naturally, Rocket Power was an excellent fit for a Tony Hawk-esque game, which excited me because I was addicted to Pro Skater around the time. Rocket Power Team Rocket Rescue fit squarely into that niche in 2001, but THQ wasn’t fully satisfied. THQ needed to be bolder with this IP in 2002.
So, naturally, they made Rocket Power Beach Bandits into an adventure-platformer. There’s still a healthy helping of Pro Skater rollerblading and skateboarding to navigate through levels, but the vast majority of the game was based around walking on foot and smacking things with a hockey stick. Weird, but I can dig it. The skating controls were okay, and I had a lot of fun rollerblading around the open hub of Ocean Shores in between levels. But the real star of Beach Bandits was the story, and that's why I want to spontaneously share this game with you all.
I’ll give you a bit of time to guess. What plot element does the game’s subtitle refer to? Does it refer to a bunch of punks stealing stuff from beachgoers that you have to pummel with your hockey sticks? Are you the rhetorical bandits claiming the beach for yourself by shredding rad tricks everywhere you go?
So close, but nope! The correct answer is someone literally stole the entire beach overnight. Every last grain of sand is gone. The shores are reduced to nothing but rocks. This was such a ridiculous heist that Carmen Sandiego would tip her hat to it. Since this jeopardizes Ocean Shore’s entire tourism industry, including the Rocket family business, this is a far bigger problem for our protagonists than a cancelled surf competition.
Even stranger is that this disappearing act coincides with the spontaneous arrival of a wealthy construction company, Golem Industries, strolling into town to set up shop. Our protagonists are quick to notice that something is fishy about them, but it’s not like they can just prove how or why the suspicious new corporation would be our antagonist. Seriously, I dare you. Tell me how or why Golem Industries would steal all of the sand from the beach.
Give up? The answer this time is robots. Golem-built robots stole the sand, and it’s discovered halfway through the story that they’re using the sand to mass-produce silicon chips and thus make even more robots.
Like, a legit army of robots. Not some kind of Rugrats-esque imagination trip. Actual robots complete with teleporting spawn pads, corrosive Nickelodeon slime shooting, and possibly self-aware AI. Because that makes sense from one of the most “grounded” shows on Nickelodeon. Just… just robots. I guess it wouldn’t look good for Nickelodeon’s image if you just smacked construction workers with hockey sticks until they died, so THQ had to make more ESRB friendly mooks.
Thankfully, even Otto and Twister aren’t dumb enough to confront Golem without informing the authorities first. But the police also have the common sense to not assume they’re suddenly in a sci-fi story, so naturally, the gang isn’t going to get anywhere without some hard evidence. And since Twister forgot to videotape the Golem Industries logo on the first robot they saw, they’ll have to do some snooping around three worlds, fighting progressively more dangerous robots and platforming challenges to get the evidence they need. And shut down the secret robot production facilities while they’re already there, why not?
I said that you fight with a hockey stick in this game, but that’s only half-correct. The hockey stick is a bog standard melee attack with no combos or anything, it’s basically just mashing the attack button until bots explode. This is extremely dangerous since enemies usually have better melee options than you do. This is also not as bad as I make it sound because your attack button is actually context-sensitive. Whenever no enemies are in reach, you instead shoot a hockey puck as a projectile. Every character has the exact same abilities, and they can all shoot hockey pucks while strafing freely with a lock-on button. Strafing while shooting is animated roughly, but it controls smoothly and reliably. And FYI, this is all done on foot. Excluding a few extremely gimmicky boss battles where you just skate into the boss’s weak points, there is no combat on skates, skateboards, or other extreme sports vehicles. So the combat here is pretty vanilla.
But hockey pucks, as you’d expect, are not an effective weapon against robot armies. They’re infinite in supply, so while you can thankfully spam them, they don’t do as much as your risky melee attack. No, the kids still need something with a little more oomph. Enter Power Pucks, superpowered hockey pucks and the most random thing in this game. Are these just magic enchanted stones sent to us by the Righteous Extreme Sports Gods? I guess so, because they have to be magic! There’s rapid fire flaming pucks, electric pucks, bouncy pucks, a NUKE PUCK that kills everything in sight like some shmup bomb, and many more I could never remember even while playing.
As nonsensical as they were, they were one of the most fun parts about the adventure levels by virtue of their ludicrousness and usefulness. You could only carry one type at a time, with limited ammo. So you were encouraged to use them frequently while still making every shot count. More importantly, these were often found slightly off the beaten path, rewarding curiosity and exploration with power-ups. And nobody ever comments about the existence of these magical hockey pucks.
Excluding the initial revelations, very little actually happens in the plot for the first two worlds. The first world is actually just a generic lake area, except the lakes have had their water stolen too. I think the robots wanted it to make… hydropower… or something else that doesn’t actually make as much sense as it's meant to sound like? This level has two big acts, the first where you release the water back into the lake, and the second where you rent a jet ski to investigate the deeper facilities. Naturally, you must be THIS tall to ride, so only Reggie gets to play with the jet ski. Our first boss is a giant killer fish robot that Golem sics on her, which she defeats by luring it into rocks and "whomping it on the head" using those same rocks as ramps. This is in the main lake right next to the shack she rented the jet ski from, and the man who rented it out to her seemingly never notices. Okay.
The second world, a factory hidden underneath the Wishing Waters water park, gives Sam a chance to break out his inner Tony Stark. I’m aware he’s the techiest guy in the show, but it was still a bit of a stretch for him to hijack parts from robots in production and build his own mech suit, complete with a shoehorned Iron Man quote. But it did make for a decent power trip segment where you control the mech. Also, the boss of this level is a talking HAL-9000 reference whom you defeat by skateboarding into his giant computer chips, and he defends himself by sending robot ninjas on hoverboards after you. Yep.
In every world, Twister gets a smaller gameplay segment to himself where he goes around filming incriminating evidence against Golem’s plans. Later, you show this evidence to Officer Shirley, who starts to warm up to the idea of your outlandish claims. Except… by the time you get the photos to her, there’s nothing left to investigate. Because you accidentally made these factories self-destruct. She wants to trust the kids, but thanks to all the trouble they keep stirring, she has to threaten to bring them to the big house if they can’t bring her legally acceptable evidence. Yikes.
After every boss, you head back to Ocean Shores to cool off from life-or-death adventures and snoop for more leads. Golem Industries gradually gets grabbier around the town, and Eric Golem Jr. becomes a thorn in your side. Jr. constantly challenges you to extreme sports competitions with the intent of getting his family’s hands on more property, because he’s a typical rich boy antagonist and his father hasn’t spoiled him enough already. Everyone gradually wisens up to how obviously evil Golem Industries is, but without hard evidence of robot-based foul play, the police still can’t take initiative. Thus, we dive into the third world, Golem’s HQ at Mondo Mountain, where the plot finally kicks into full gear…
Otto finally gets his own platforming-heavy series of levels, since he stole a hoverboard from the ninjas in the previous boss battle that’s used here. More importantly, he’s technically the protagonist and it’s too dangerous for more than one person to climb a mountain and fight a robot volcano god. Yeah.
After the group reunites and Twister gets his chance to film more evidence on the monorail, he discovers a peculiar photo of Eric Golem Jr. building a mook robot. I guess his father gave him enough of a trust fund to afford a Ph.D education before the age of 13? But forget that noise, Golem’s got an earthquake machine in the heart of the volcano that threatens to destroy Ocean Shores! No, I dunno why they want to destroy the entire town, but they do!
After the Rockets shut down the machine, Golem Sr. barges in to attempt some damage control. But it’s too late -- everything’s exploding, lava’s flooding the area, and his own foothold collapses, dropping him into the lava. Woooow. This Rocket Power game has a death scene. Even the gang remarks that they don’t feel good about accidentally killing a maaaawhaaaaaaaa-
He’s a robot. He was a robot the whole time. This implies that (A) the true mastermind was Golem Jr. all along, (B) Jr. ran a company from the shadows using sentient AI without his real parents noticing, and (C) he did all of this while moonlighting as an ordinary spoiled millionaire kid. All of these things are shortly afterwards confirmed to be true. Unfortunately, the kids have more immediate problems to solve, such as the freaking Terminator standing right in front of them.
This leads up to the last and hardest boss battle in the game. Golem Sr. has everything, from sweeping energy lasers, to an electric force field, to a claustrophobic battle arena, to an obnoxiously large health bar. Especially the health bar. I never beat this boss fight with normal pucks, because he takes damage slower than Zant in Hyrule Warriors if Zant had a shield 90% of the time. Instead, I snuck my way down to a rapid-fire Power Puck tucked away on a ladder inches away from instant death lava in a hallway far away from the obvious platforming path. I don’t know why I thought to check there, but at least I was rewarded well for my curiosity, because I finally had the ability to deal any substantial damage to him during windows of vulnerability. A lot of damage, actually. He became a cheese grater.
I only just now realized that Golem Sr. can survive a full-body dip into lava, but he can still be destroyed by hockey sticks and pucks. S-Sure. Fine.
As Golem Sr. 'dies' for real, he initiates the HQ’s self-destruct sequence, which means nothing because there is no Metroid escape gameplay sequence. Upon your return to Ocean Shores, Golem Jr. realizes that his resources are running dry and his butt is getting busted. Knowing he’s about to be exposed, he publicly reveals himself with one final trump card -- an underwater facility he summons from the depths like the city of R'Lyeh, which threatens to drown the city in a tidal wave. He’s about to just straight up murder everyone, only the party insists on rubbing in his face how much of a sore loser he’s being.
So naturally… Jr. agrees to give them all one chance. If the gang can beat him three more extreme sports races, he’ll spare the town. I’m not sure why I would have expected anything else from this game, even as a kid. But given how much better the skating is than the normal combat, it does make sense from a gameplay perspective for the real "final challenge" to be a series of extreme sports races. This leads to Twister’s rollerblade race, Reggie’s wave bike race, and Sam’s skateboard race, all stuffed with hazards and switches and boosters and other such gimmicks that don't appear in any normal race before this. But somehow, these tracks look a lot wider and more barren than I remembered them being...
Like any half-competent villain bent on local domination, Eric doesn’t take kindly to his losses and sprints off to destroy the town anyway. The fourth and final battle is a three-lap hoverboard race with Otto to the tidal wave device’s controls. Because, for some reason, the electric doorway to the controls doesn’t open until you someone does three laps around it. No, really. After the third lap, you still have to enter the door that opens and reach the switch before Golem Jr. does to finish the race. Clearly his robotics degree didn’t help him in architectural design.
But at long last, Ocean Shores is saved! Otto shuts down the tidal wave device, the sand returns to the beach, and Shirley busts Eric Golem Jr. on the spot. Strangely, Otto shows a modicum of respect for Eric’s skating skills, though he’s still peeved about the “chip on his shoulder” and his acts of terrorism. It’s even suggested that while Eric is obviously going to prison, he’s not getting a life sentence and he may one day be willing to hang with the team. That’s… quite a... quick character arc? I’m still in disbelief at the thought that he won’t be in prison for life, but I guess there aren’t many laws in place about minors committing corporate fraud, beach banditry, and attempted genocide.
And yet, for how stupid this entire storyline is, it puts a big smile on my face. It’s nothing that I ever expected out of a Rocket Power game. It’s nothing I imagined would happen myself. It’s nothing that would ever happen in a licensed game for any similar series today. Licensed games used to have so many creative liberties, allowing them to pull off ludicrous premises in the name of adapting themselves to new gameplay. It was a more creative age… for worse in this case, but in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way. If used properly, this same creativity could make something unironically amazing, something that accurately reflects a franchise’s world while adding something meaningful to it that would never happen in the source material.
Most licensed games don’t have those same liberties today. For a long time, licensors tightened their expectations on how their characters and worlds are portrayed relative to the games’ quality. Beach Bandits represents a bizarre era of licensed games where anything could happen, and I don’t think that era is ever coming back. Which, again, could be for the better, but a part of me misses this unexpected spin on a familiar world. I want to see more licensed games truly experiment with the boundaries of their IPs.
Maybe I’ve just not looked in the right places, given most of the non-game series I loved in my childhood were Cartoon Network and Nick shows and I haven’t truly kept up with other such series since. I always hear fantastic things about Batman: Arkham Asylum. Then again, the Arkham series that followed isn’t as universally acclaimed, so I can’t say for sure whether licensed games as a whole are thriving today. But I’d love to see more game developers take more liberties on our favorite non-gaming worlds… within reason.