“How did it feel, strapping that thing to your back and flying like a bat out of hell?”
“The following is a contributor post by the Teal Time Mage.”
Greetings all you intrepidly inquisitive individuals! I’m the Teal Time Mage, and nostalgia and mythology are my stock and trade; this is especially true for the 80s and 90s!
I’m overjoyed that the years of my childhood are getting quite the resurgence thanks to such films as BumbleBee and Captain Marvel. Video games have likewise sparked a massive interest in retro-gaming from the aforementioned eras with the release of “Classic” systems for the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sony PlayStation (the latter of which many including myself are hyper critical of) with a future Sega Genesis Classic to arrive this coming Fall.
Comparing the two respective pop-culture genres, I couldn’t help myself but reminisce about all the great movies and games I’ve witnessed over the years, and it is at that moment I had an epiphany: is there a cause and effect ratio between the silver screen and the gaming system? Purely speculation on my part, but I hope to find the connections both outright and obscure between movies and retro games with a segment I call “Videogames and the Films that may have inspired them”. These segments aren’t meant to be taken as truth or fact, but rather to get you, the reader, to ponder the realm of possibility. Bear in mind this article will contain spoilers aplenty, so if you haven’t seen or played either, I highly recommend you do, I’ll just wait here with my bottle of Surge and Dunkaroos…alright, in the immortal words of Mario: “Here we goooooo!”
Based on the comic by Dan Stevens and released by Disney, Rocketeer follows the exploits of fly-boy Cliff Secord who stumbles upon a Rocket Pack stolen from Howard Hughes by gangsters. It was later revealed that the crooks were unwittingly working for a Nazi spy posing as a Hollywood celebrity (and who is played to devilish delight by one Timothy Dalton). Cliff dons the Rocket Pack along with a specially-made helmet to rescue his girlfriend Jenny (featuring my forever crush Jennifer Connelly) from the villains in question whilst also keeping the Rocket Pack from the Nazis. A period piece in its own right set in the 1930’s, Rocketeer was directed by Joe Johnston (of Captain America: The First Avenger fame).
Cliff Secord’s console counterpart comes in the form of Sparkster, the opossum protagonist of Konami’s Rocket Knight Adventures and the titular “Rocket Knight”. Sparkster battles to save his homeland from Pig invaders led by Axel Gear, a fallen knight of the same order as our hero; with sword in hand and rocket on back, our motorized marsupial flies into action. Released in a time of heated rivalry with Sega for its massive hit Sonic the Hedgehog, many videogame companies were trying to cash in on the cute anthropomorphized characters that would appeal to the gaming market; Konami followed suit with a side-scroller that combined hack and slash with horizontal-shooter gameplay. Noboyuki Nakazato created this game (and did likewise for Contra) with a unique gameplay mechanic in which you have a charge meter that when fully reached causes Sparkster to blast off on his rocket which can fly straight, diagonally, or even ricochet off walls. In certain levels where you pick up a fuel tank, Sparkster can take to the skies in a shooter type gameplay style.
Alright, now that you have some background information on the two respective properties, let’s explore how the film Rocketeer may have inspired Konami’s classic game Rocket Knight Adventures.
First off, let’s start with the heroes. Secord and Sparkster both share a form of patriotism as evidenced by Secord showing intense disdain for the encroaching Nazi invasion of Europe, even more so when he reveals to mobster Eddy Valentine that he is in fact working for Nazi spies. The look of fear and disgust when Cliff discovers Nazi involvement can be seen in several scenes throughout the film but none more strongly than when he’s seen in front of the American Flag ready to blast off and confront the villains at the film’s climax.
Now let’s look at Sparkster: the opening scene shows him overlooking a cliff drawing his sword, ready to attack a ghastly apparition staring down at him menacingly, with a fixed grimace against the invading adversity. Sparkster poses in much the same way Cliff stood in his iconic scene from the film.
Besides the mutual outlooks, both characters also face heated rivalry. In Secord’s case, this comes in the form of Neville Sinclair who hopes to steal the rocket and charm Betty away from Cliff. Sparkster’s bete noire is Axel Gear, a sort of “Dark Knight” archetypal figure that taunts and goads him several times throughout the game. While one hero represents the tried and true mystery man of the Golden Age of comic books, the other is reflective of the chivalric knights of legend, so why is it that both utilize rocket packs as a form of travel? Could The Rocketeer have inspired the look of Sparkster? It certainly seems possible within a two-year time frame. Let’s look at some other points.
Having focused on the hero’s similarities, let’s do the same for the villains. I’ve already gone into detail on how Axel Gear was a fallen knight and traitor to his Order in colluding with the invading Pig Army. Neville Sinclair also embodies the concept of a “Traitor” (get ready random Storm Trooper from Force Awakens). Timothy Dalton’s character is firmly ingrained into the Hollywood social circle, rubbing elbows with the likes of Clark Gable and W.C. Fields. Sinclair also shows concern when he accidentally stabs his co-star and helps to expedite help for him. However, Errol Flynn look-alike reveals himself to be a spy all along, more than willing to turn on his adopted homeland to aid an invading Nazi force (“For the Fatherland.” he says towards the climax); this is reflected by Axel betraying his Order and leading the charge for the Pig Army in destroying his homeland in Konami’s video game.
Both villains also search staunchly for something, with kidnapping the mutual love interests as a means to further their own goals. Sinclair goes to great lengths to get his hands on the rocket and kidnaps Jenny as leverage to accomplish this. Axel likewise storms a castle to get the “Key to the Seal” and abducts the Princess of that kingdom to attain his goal. Oh, and remember when I called Axel the “Dark Knight” archetype? Neville Sinclair’s scene when he’s being filmed has him portrayed as a masked swashbuckler calling himself “The Laughing Bandit”. Coincidence? Or maybe The Rocketeer has more of a connection to Rocket Knight Adventures than originally thought.
It’s time now to discuss the biggest connective tissue between the Disney film and the subsequent Konami videogame. To find the root to my theory that the film may have inspired the videogame, we need to compare the invading military forces that drive the narrative of both respective stories. The Rocketeer features the Nazis (to quote Indiana Jones: “I hate these guys.”) as the main villains attempting to steal a rocket pack in the hopes of creating an airborne invasion force to conquer the U.S.; this is shown to the audience in an Alex Fleischner-esque political cartoon towards the end of the film.
How then does the above connect to the Pig Army from Rocket Knight Adventuress? Well, let’s start by discussing their gear and artillery. As a stark contrast to the Arthurian Knights from Sparkster’s homeland, the Pig Army are depicted with early 20th century weapons and equipment. This is evidenced in the very first level where you can clearly see the enemies riding a type of military jeep similar to that of a Willys MB, which were in service during World War 2. Additionally, the mid-boss from the same level pilots what looks to be a Panzer 38t tank once again used by Germans in WW2, albeit with a pig snout attached (what a ham). Now, while Konami didn’t use any obvious markings analogous to the Nazis (for very obvious reasons), they did wear spiked helmets which look eerily similar to Pickelhaubes; these type of helmets were very popular in allied propaganda artwork from World War 1 depicting German troops. Historical trivia aside, the Pig Army invades the kingdom in a giant Zeppelin blimp (which can be viewed in the background in the first few seconds of the game), almost exactly like how the Nazi invaders arrived towards the climax of the film. All coincidence? I think not.
When you break down the similarities between The Rocketeer and Rocket Knight Adventures, you can find clear connections. They both feature similar rocket-clad protagonists with a fondness for cool poses, a sense of national pride, and a strong disdain for invading forces. The villains likewise both personify the consummate “traitor”, serving both as rivals to the heroes and leaders for said invading forces. But when you compare the invading forces themselves you see a direct similarity: both are based off Nazis either literally in the case of the film, or symbolically in the case of the game. While Disney’s film did not create the resurgence of period pieces from World War 2 (that honor goes to you Spielberg and Lucas), it did create one of the most iconic examples of a rocket pack hero fighting against a German invading force. With one similarity, it’s a freak of nature. Two makes a coincidence. Three shows a pattern. And that is why I believe that Disney’s The Rocketeer film inspired Konami’s video game Rocket Knight Adventures.
Final Rating: Very Likely
Thanks, guys, which Game/Film Combo would you like to see next month?
The Teal Time Mage lives at a fixed point in time that is set between 1991 and 1997. Outside of his time vortex of nostalgia, he writes horror short stories, cosplays, and coordinates for various charity groups. Find him on Twitter @ArosElric, on Facebook @ArosElricCosplay, on Final Fantasy XIV’s Cactuar Server under the name “Aros Erlic”.
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