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Rockett's New School is a visual novel video game that was developed and published by Purple Moon and released in 1997. It is the first game in the Rockett series by release order, which is set approximately one year after the Secret Paths series and one year before The Starfire Soccer Challenge, which was aimed to spin off a new Starfire Soccer series. The Rockett series included three subsequent award-winning titles: Rockett's Tricky Decision, Rockett's Secret Invitation, and Rockett's First Dance. The character-based Purple Moon website also became one of the largest and most active online communities ever to exist on the internet.[ ]
Rockett's New School was released concurrently with Secret Paths in the Forest and quickly became one of the most recognizable titles in connection with the beginning of the 1990s surge of girl-oriented computer games, the others including McKenzie & Co and Barbie Fashion Designer.
Rockett Movado arrives at her first day of grade eight at Whistling Pines Jr. High, clearly unfamiliar with anything that goes on around her. The loudspeaker spouts a greeting, and she begins her day meeting the sweet, soft-spoken Jessie Marbella. The choices that the player makes from here on determine the revelation of certain plot points and whether or not certain events transpire, but the game always uses this basic framework: Rockett and Jessie become separated, and she goes to her locker, only to have Whitney Weiss, member of the elite clique "The Ones," criticise her plain-looking outfit, which happens to be uncannily similar to that of another girl. Whitney is driven off by not wanting to be seen with another approaching student, Mavis Wartella-Depew, a nerdy psychic; if Rockett chooses to help her open her locker, a choice reinforced by the canon of later games, Mavis gives her a mystical "elf rune" whose magic needs to be recharged.
Rockett goes to homeroom, where Whitney sits by her; challenged as to why, the blonde explains that her friend Nicole Whittaker is spreading (true, though she denies it) rumours that Whitney went miniature golfing with the dorky Arnold Zeitbaum, who harbours an unrequited crush on her. The homeroom teacher Mr. Baldus calls Rockett up to the front of the room to introduce herself. Afterwards, Jessie gives Rockett a note explaining the main social groups of the school, the major two being the Ones (Nicole, Whitney and Stephanie Hollis) and an equally elite trio, the fun-loving, secretive Cool Sagittarius Girls (CSGs). Rockett proceeds to the cafeteria, where she catches the girl who is dressed like her glaring at her and has a bad run-in with obnoxious, disgusting Bill Pill, head of food services. After figuring out where to sit (the choices being the Ones' table, with Jessie and kind guitar player Ruben Rosales, or by herself), Rockett eats and goes off to art class.
In art class, Rockett meets the girl with the similar outfit, Dana St. Clair, who has taken an instant dislike to Rockett. However, Dana's friends Nakili Abuto and Miko Kajiyama, fellow CSGs, like Rockett on the spot and tell Dana that she is overreacting. Rockett doodles a Sagittarius symbol on scrap paper, which piques the interest of the CSGs, but then the art teacher arrives. He decides to wax poetic about the conflict between Rockett and Dana, gives Rockett a tie-dyed shirt from the paint shirt bin so they will not be wearing the same outfit, and appoints her head of the yearbook committee, much to Miko's dismay.
Rockett leaves art class and is complimented by Nicole on her shirt and appointed as her replacement walking companion, as Whitney has walked off on Nicole for spreading the mini-golf rumour. In the women's washroom, Rockett finds a group notebook that contains extremely private and sensitive information about a group that is either the Ones or the CSGs; Rockett figures out which, but the owner is not revealed to the player until the third game. She becomes privy to a confrontation between Miko, Dana and Mavis, clears things up temporarily, and looks into the mirror for help. Rockett's best friend from her old school, Meg O'Riley, appears in the mirror and gives her advice, and Rockett ends her day optimistic about the year.
The Rockett series acts like a typical visual novel, with one major exception: there are no subtitles for the speech. In School, at any time, the player can click Rockett's backpack and is able to see the contents of the bag in detail, pager messages from other characters, and the contents of the lockers of three random characters. This is in contrast to the later games, which replaced the backpack with the Hidden Hallway. The Hidden Hallway was an exact, though green-tinted, replica of the eighth-grade hallway, apparently a magical creation much like the Secret Paths treehouse and lighthouse, which could also be accessed at any time and returned from with no time having passed. The game also had a scrapbook feature in which the player could press the camera icon at certain moments during the story and have a small screen capture of that part appear in Rockett's scrapbook.
Though the game was generally praised as a step in the right direction for girl gamers and recognition of their rights, some reviewers felt it sent the message that girls could not play "regular" games ("action games") or other games not specifically targeted toward them. However, all Rockett and Secret Paths games were based on more than four years of intensive research and testing with girls within the targeted demographic and were designed in accordance with the preferences revealed by this prior research, as well as testing concurrent with production.
Rockett's New School was occasionally criticised for having the characters worry about fashion crises and having racially stereotyped characters such as Miko, the Japanese super-student. But the series also addressed numerous relevant issues, such as physical disability, parental abuse, and other subjects. Also, with deeper involvement in the gameplay and accessing of the secret information revealed in the Hidden Hallway, players were able to discover a greater depth and diversity among the characters.