Of course, merely strapping a seat to a rocket wouldn't make for very controllable vehicles, so the bikes are given tiny control surfaces that can slowly change their direction, and thick cables with grappling hooks that you can anchor to pylons and obstacles present in all maps to turn a lot faster - if you can find such an obstacle nearby, of course; otherwise, a close encounter between your face and the ground (or a wall) is probably mere seconds away.
Said cables also have a more nefarious purpose: since the other riders are just as precariously perched on their rocket contraptions as you are on yours, it's just a matter of good aiming to snatch them off their seats with a well-placed cable. You can then do various acts of nastiness to them, including dragging them around, smashing them into things, and tying them to other things like other people, bombs, flying bikes, and rotating pylons that reel them in and guarantee a kill. Also, riders that fall off leave behind them riderless bikes which you can steal and add to your own collection.
The game is divided in three modes: Rocket Race, Rocket Ball and Rocket War. Race is what you'd expect: complete a set course (indicated by glowing pairs of pylons) in a predetermined amount of time. Ball is a weird type of football/soccer where you need to snag balls or hovering pucks with your cables and send them into goals; accompanying them with other riders is optional, but highly recommended. War is by far the most satisfying and fun mode, and really what the game is all about - it's basically a free-for-all deathmatch in which the objective is to reach a set number of points (which you get by being violent to the other jockeys) before the timer ends. Typically devolves in an exercise of Video Game Cruelty Potential, as you attempt to drain the enemy racers' health meters as slowly as possible, and direct attacks aren't the best way to accomplish this. It's much better to prolong their pain, since you don't get points for torturing a "dead" jockey.
The result is an incredibly fun and addicting game, which makes you wonder how come nobody thought of it before and hasn't since.
Too bad the game hasn't aged well - it never was hardware-accelerated, so the graphics look really old and simplistic. The controls also have an annoying tendency to lag if you install the 1.1 patch that adds LAN multiplayer support. The rest, however, remains as fun today as it was in its time.
Has spawned a few attempts at remakes, but for a long time nothing came close to being playable. Fortunately, this seems to no longer be the case, thanks to an independent developer.
Provides examples of:
- Artificial Stupidity: While in War and (to a lesser extent) Ball the other riders represent an actual threat, in that they actively try to grab you with cables whenever they can and generally make huge nuisances out of themselves, their AI fails badly in Race mode. They get confused, miss the checkpoints and never finish the race at all.
- Switches to Artificial Brilliance in one level: Referee's Revenge, the last stage of Rocket War. It's the only one where the other riders actually work as a team, and pretty effectively at that, with the single-minded purpose of doing to you what you've been doing to everyone else for the whole game.
- Cool Bike: Flying rocket bikes. Can't get any cooler than that.
- Difficult, but Awesome: It is possible to knock a rider off his bike while on foot by diving at him, if he's foolish enough to try and ram you instead of using the grappling hooks. But if you pull it off and manage to steal his bike afterward, especially in Referee's Revenge (where it's practically necessary to win, unless you can trick the other jockeys into knocking one of their buddies off).
- Enemy-Detecting Radar: A very simple version which just shows coloured dots representing other rocket bikes, riders on foot and riderless bikes.
- Grappling Hook: The gameplay is centered on the bikes' grapplers.
- Oh, Crap!: This is what anyone who manages to get to the last level of Rocket War (Referee's Revenge) will say, followed by This Is Gonna Suck. This level is the only one that starts you off on foot, with no bike. There are no free bikes anywhere to be seen. There are three enemy riders on the most powerful, hitherto unseen bikes in the game, and as noted above, they have Artificial Brilliance. Good luck surviving, let alone winning.
- Overheating: The bikes' health isn't absolute; rather, it's represented with a temperature display. In normal conditions it rises if you accelerate, lowers if you brake, and stays at a medium level if you don't touch the throttle controls. But as the bike gets damaged temperature rises, making it riskier and riskier to accelerate. Enough damage will make the engine go instantly critical even when just running normally - that's when a bike becomes effectively useless.
- Pass Through the Rings: The whole point of Rocket Race (though they are pylons rather than rings, they serve the same purpose); sure enough, it's by far the most boring part of the game. Also shows up in Rocket War: upgrades for the bike are obtained by flying through special sprayer rings, unless you're unlucky and get sprayed with acid instead of a bike upgrade, knocking you off, inflicting health damage, and generally leaving you vulnerable.
- Plot What Plot: You're a rocket jockey. You ride rockets to win competitions. What more plot do you need?
- Power-Up: Several.
- Bike powerups (from the spray rings)
- Coolant: does exactly what you'd expect
- Nitro: speed boost
- Cable powerups (from small, one-time-use spools)
- The Claw: lets you hook cables to the ground.
- Shrinker Line: does exactly what you'd expect, and makes it easier to pull off a Good Bad Bug. Just try not to hold on to anything too long with it, or the grappled object will likely knock you off your bike.
- Heavy Cable: thicker cable; more durable for dragging and easier to clothesline people with.
- Bike powerups (from the spray rings)
- Rocket Ride: This is your primary means of conveyance.
- Schmuck Bait: Bikes that suffer excessive damage do not get destroyed; they just lie around, completely useless yet looking perfectly OK to any passing rider. If you've just been knocked off and your bike careened somewhere way in the distance, and there's an abandoned one right over here, it's tempting to hop onto that instead. Then you power up and the engine instantly explodes, flinging you into orbit and putting a sizable dent into your health meter.
- Shows Damage: Jockeys have different running animations depending on how much health they have remaining. However, even with a clearly injured right leg at low health, they still move around just as easily as at full health.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Some levels have mines that detonate on proximity to any jockeys, or just shoot up from holes in the ground like bouncing Betties. Then there's the bikes themselves, if they overheat...
- Vehicular Combat: Well, duh.
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: The first few levels of Rocket War have long timers and low point requirements, effectively making them last-man-standing deathmatches requiring little skill or creativity. However, after a while the point requirements go up. Since the game rewards more points for being spectacular in your enemy-bashing than it does for direct attacks (like ramming them) and gives no points for tormenting "dead" foes, it becomes necessary to drag the torture for as long as possible, lest you run out of riders before reaching the point requirement - which fails the level even if you're the last man standing.