Also On: 3DS, Wii
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Rodea: The Sky Solider has quite the history and it sounds to me like it would make a pretty cool documentary about its development. Except for the fact that the game just doesn’t have much hype and it’s not anything groundbreaking. You see, Rodea development began in 2010 when Yuji Naka came up with the concept. You may know Yuji Naka from his work with Sega as head designer/programmer for the Sonic the Hedgehog series, as well as Nights into Dreams. During Rodea’s development, it transformed from a Wii title into a Wii U and 3DS title, and finally in November of 2015 it launched. Naka mentioned in 2011 that the Wii version was complete, yet it never saw release. So after playing Rodea and doing some research about its history, I’m interested in hearing the full story as to why it took this long for a completed game to be released.
Before I go into the story and gameplay I just want to mention that Naka’s original version of the game for the Wii is included in the first print copies of the Wii U. I have not had the chance to play the Wii version as it was not provided for this review, but I can tell you based off some of the videos I’ve watched of it, that it looks to be the superior version of the game. More on why that is, a bit later.
The Story of Rodea: The Sky Soldier begins 1,000 years ago with the Emperor Geardo looking to take over the kingdom of Garuda. His plan to unleash his machine army called the Naga is foiled by Princess Cecilia and our robot hero, Rodea. We fast forward to present time and Rodea is discovered by an inventor named, Ion. He returns Rodea to working order, but Rodea doesn’t remember exactly what had happened. He discovers that the kingdom of Garuda has been peaceful for 1,000 years but that might not last, since the Naga have returned to take over.
Rodea plays out primarily in the skies of Garuda and is very inspired by the gameplay of Nights into Dreams. Overall the gameplay reminds me of a mix of Nights into Dreams and the Sonic Adventure franchise. How could that turn out to be a bad thing? The game is broken down into chapters that are separated by a world map. At the world map you can also upgrade Rodea’s abilities which add some nice depth to the gameplay. Once you begin a chapter you realize the stage layouts have a mostly linear design with a clear ending area, which is very much like the Sonic Adventure games. Flying through the skies is your means of defeating enemies and making it through the stage. The problem lies with how this is achieved through the Wii U version.
Controlling Rodea on the WiiU is just too frustrating, between the camera angles, flying, and the game mechanics. The flying is achieved by jumping into the air and moving an on screen icon around to direct which area or item Rodea should fly towards. While doing this you are also tasked with controlling the camera and avoiding any other obstacles that might get in your way. It just isn't fun or intuitive. Then you have the ground controls which you would think can't be worse than the in air controls, but they are annoyingly similar. Using the standard jump makes Rodea jump extremely high and with no rhyme or reason. Trying to grab an item that is on a platform near the ground is way too frustrating and is just very clunky. I honestly thought I was done wanting any games that played out using the Wii remote and nunchuck, but after playing Rodea on the Wii U and watching some videos of the Wii version, I can safely say that the Wii version is the definitive version as far as how it should be controlled.
I also feel I need to talk about the game's graphics. I don't want to sound like a graphics whore, as it's something I usually don't speak much about in my reviews, but the graphics in Rodea: The Sky Soldier are pretty brutal. I understand the game's development started in 2011 and was intended to be a Wii title, but it's just laughably bad in most areas. If the game was intended to be a throwback to the Dreamcast then I would redact this statement, but this is 2015 and this game looks like it belongs on the GameCube.
Next up on my beat down list of Rodea: The Sky Soldier, is the cut scenes and localization. I know it's a Japanese game style of having an anime image of a given character with their mouth moving, but it just doesn't work for me. Between the characters interacting in this regard and the laughably bad English dialogue, I was never truly invested in the story or the threat that Emperor Geardo possessed (I was hoping for Rick Sanchez to come and end the Gear Wars once and for all). I know a lot of the dialogue is intended to be in the "so bad it's good" category but I couldn't enjoy it at all given how little I was enjoying the gameplay.
I was really excited to play Rodea: The Sky Soldier because I feel like there aren’t enough new IPs coming out and publishers are going to the well too often on sequels and reboots. So I'm extremely disappointed that I could barely find anything redeeming in my experience. I can really only recommend Rodea for hardcore Yuji Naka fans and serious game collectors. Having the first print editions include the unreleased Wii version is a great selling point and probably the only way I would ever return to the skies of Garuda.