Oh, Rodea: The Sky Soldier. Where do I even begin with you? To describe this title succinctly, think of a more open-worlded Sonic game. The two titles share a lot in common, actually, as both were designed by the creator of Sonic. This title has had quite the turbulent history, with less than stellar sales in Japan and some problems in the developmental process which resulted in delays to the title. Somehow, though, I had the feeling that Nippon Ichi Software would somehow find a way to make the game better.
As a bit of backstory, Rodea: The Sky Soldier was a title that I was introduced to when I attended E3 this year. Rodea was an interesting title for me, because it tried to do open world exploration with the Nintendo Wii U, specifically using the GamePad as a means of controlling the protagonist. With my own E3 experience, which was placed in tutorial missions, I found a lot of difficulty and disconnect with using the GamePad to do my navigation. Having to jump and hit the thumb stick in the direction I wanted to go felt awkward and unnatural, for what should have been a motion controlled experience. I was hoping that the delay to November 13th in North America would resolve some of the issues I had.
The story of Rodea: The Sky Soldier is fairly rudimentary. Robot soldier Rodea awakens from a very long slumber – several centuries’ worth. He has amnesia and the world is being attacked by robots. The mechanic who discovered and accidentally awakened him partners up and together they combat the menace, going to different continents. It’s nothing great, but it sets a scene for the exploration that occurs throughout the title. There’s a map on the screen that points you towards the next location, as well, in case you get a bit lost.
Combat is a tad basic, as you use your gun to clear enemies in order to allow for a free-flying experience. Unfortunately, it’s not as great on the Wii U as the flight pattern is a bit uneven, in that Rodea has a limited flight span. Constantly having to land somewhere and recharge a flight meter makes it a huge disconnect, when compared to the more free-running gameplay of the Sonic franchise. The combat felt a bit forced and it took away from that free soaring experience. Combat, though, rewards players with rare items that can be utilized in customizing the character, something exclusive to the Wii U and 3DS versions of the title.
For a game that requires a lot of finely tuned acrobatics, playing this on the Wii U was a practice in frustration, to say the least. It’s a 3D platformer, and the overall goal is to gather lots of points by performing acrobatic tricks and staying in the air. When we look at the overworld, and its shields to collect for points, it looks very reminiscent of the classic Sonic ring experience. Rodea comes packed with a targeting module that can be used to coordinate a directional flight path, which works fairly well at trying to get the player to score bonus points. Those targeting modules, though, do not play nicely with the Wii U GamePad.
The Wii U GamePad is not the best way to be controlling this game, though, and could have better benefited from the Wiimote and its motion sensing accelerometer technology. While I found myself wanting to go up in the air, the controls felt odd, to say the least, and it actually required me to do a bit more thinking on what buttons I should be pressing, something that’s rare for a title. It stopped being reflexive and was more pensive. Admittedly, this may go towards a feeling of dislike in using the GamePad as a controller; I certainly won’t rule out the option, as I find the extension a bit forced and not a natural means of playing the game. The GamePad is big, bulky, and the button usage feels really bad for this game. Once the player masters the flight mechanics though, there’s a feeling of satisfaction when the player is able to go zipping around. Is it possible? Yes, but Nippon Ichi Software took a rather odd approach that honestly could have been executed better, which is understandable given the controller limitation of the Wii U GamePad.
Controller issues aside, Rodea looks decent visually. It’s not at Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. Wii U levels of stunning, but it’s passable with some muddling of background scenery. Its bright and cheery visuals are reminiscent to me of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s cel-shaded style, and the feeling of soaring in the air is similar to the Loftwing flying sessions in Skyloft. The music is eager and energetic, with a feeling of taking off for an adventure, despite my many crash landings. That’s one of the parts of the game that went well without a hitch.
Overall, Rodea is a good game but not the best game I’ve gotten to play. The content will keep a player busy for about fifteen hours’ worth of entertainment, with about two times that duration if the player seeks to complete and collect everything. It’s a title the Wii U needs in a desperately empty 2015 release cycle. I enjoyed the experience despite its shortcomings, but it feels like a case in which Nippon Ichi Software didn’t have quite the budget and resources they were hoping for to develop the game. The experience could have been refined a lot better, and given the delays the title has seen, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that things would have a bit more polish. The title is recommended for those who love the Sonic-like experience of free world exploration and collection, but isn’t recommended to be played on the Wii U simply for its feeling of disconnect without motion technology. Players can become masters at the controls, but not without some frustration and training. It may just be better to go play the Nintendo Wii version of the title, which came packed with more features and some stronger gameplay.
Gamer Professionals would like to thank the team at Nippon Ichi Software for providing us with the review copy of Rodea: The Sky Soldier.