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Review: Rodea: The Sky Soldier

The idea of Rodea: The Sky Soldier was formed a long time ago but the game never seemed to release on the market. It was supposed to release on Wii and 3DS but was put ‘on hold’ the past five years. Yuji Naka, who worked on Sonic and NiGHTS in the past, was head of the development team but couldn’t push the game for a retail release. Now, five years and a Wii U port later, Rodea finally hits the market but was it worth waiting for?

A Yuji Naka game

Naka isn’t just a small developer in the business. He worked on a lot of games the past 30 years, games like Sonic the Hedgehog, NiGHTS into Dreams and Phantasy Online. Not all of those games were great but they all shared that certain ‘Naka atmosphere’ and some were noticeable 3D platforming games. Rodea: The Sky Soldier is the first new game from the mastermind but it lost a lot of time in limbo. Although Naka is respected in the industry, it wasn’t easy to release Rodea and that’s strange to be honest. Rodea offers the same ‘Naka atmosphere’ as the other platforming games and was worth noticing for sure.

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The setting of Rodea is great as you step foot in a fantasy world filled with different floating islands. If you played Sonic or NiGHTS on GameCube or Wii, you know what kind of atmosphere you can expect. The world isn’t extremely beautiful the artstyle is spot on. Spending time in the world of Rodea isn’t a punishment since the world has enough mesmerizing places to offer, if you played it five years ago.

The graphics take away the magic

We’ve played the Wii U version of the game and it looks like a Wii game in early development. We’ve played enough Wii games like Super Mario Galaxy to know what was possible but Rodea really looks too out-dated. The graphics aren’t sharp at all and the drawing distance is ridiculous for a game that forces you to fly most of the time. It’s a shame the game was held back for this long, since we imagine we could tolerate the graphics when it was a Wii release back in the days. Being a Wii U release however, we’re used to higher standards and better visuals. The world looks boring and empty, the awkward tutorial didn’t help either.

 

Not worth waiting for

 

Speaking of presentation, the dialogues and cut scenes aren’t high-end. You’ll see some mediocre CGI-scenes combined with boring dialogue screens during your time with Rodea. The story isn’t that interesting to follow and the voice acting reminded us of games from an era long gone. Everything about Rodea: The Sky Soldier feels out-dated and unappealing when it comes to presentation. You can never judge a book by its cover however, how does it play?

Learn to fly

Rodea: The Sky Soldier is all about taking down enemies in the sky. With one push of a button, you’ll send Rodea up in the sky. Sounds easy but the actual controls are rather tricky. Once Rodea is airborne, you need to use the trajectory cursor to select an object or solid target in order to fly. Rodea can only fly towards solid objects since pointing towards empty skies won’t send Rodea flying. It’s a bit awkward at first but you’ll get used to the controls after a while. Attacking enemies works the same way. You hop in the air, select the enemy and activate your attack. This attack can best be compared to the spin-attack of Sonic and works best if you manage to create combos. The problem with these attacks is that Rodea will always bounce away from the enemies once he attacked them. This often resulted in disorientation and failures to combine attacks.

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Not only that but you can’t be up in the sky forever. Rodea has a stamina bar that will set him back on ground when it’s empty. It’s a strange decision to add this bar in a game that invites players to spend most of their time in the air. It’s a shame this bar was added to the game since it really limits the exploration element of the game. You can’t reach all hidden places at once since you simply don’t have enough stamina.

The combat

Attacking enemies in the sky isn’t your only goal; you’ll need to take down enemies on the ground as well. Your partner Ion will give you certain upgrades and sub-weapons depending on where you are in the game. The first sub-weapon is a machine gun, a weapon that felt outplaced to be honest. Sure, Rodea still is a Sky Soldier, but seeing him use such a realistic weapon in a fantasy setting is just weird. It reminded us of that time when Shadow the Hedgehog got his hands on a gun. The guns feel misplaced and would have worked better if they were more fantasy-esque.

To compensate this mistake, the game allows players to upgrade the skills and weapons of Rodea while advancing. This is without a doubt one of the better aspects of the game. Upgrading Rodea and his gear results in faster gameplay and more precision during your flights. Mastering the controls is hard but once you’re unlocking upgrades, you’ll notice that flying can even become enjoyable.

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To boost to speed of Rodea a little more, some of the stage are filled with star chains. By hooking up to these chains, you’ll be send to your location at sonic speed. The problem with those chains is that they often end on the edge of the map, resulting in a free-fall towards your own death.

The big problems

Rodea: The Sky Soldier has some great ideas but they never really work. The flying is great but the world is just too empty to keep you motivated. Since the key feature of the game is to fly, we expect interesting worlds filled with enemies but instead we get this empty world with spares enemies and too much useless sky between the floating islands. This results in lack of speed and progression. Since there’s too much empty space and the stamina of Rodea isn’t that big, you’ll end up on the ground multiple times. It would have been better if the creators managed to create a smaller but more interesting world to discover.

Not only that but the camera doesn’t work the way it should and that’s breaking the game without a doubt. It’s frustrating to fail only because the camera got stuck behind an object. It’s even more frustrating to fail because the camera didn’t notice the object you where aiming at and makes you fall to your death. The camera and controls don’t always work together at all and it’s just too frustrating to give the game a lot of your time.

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The Wii version

If you get the retail Wii U version, you’ll get the Wii version as well, this is the true version to be honest. Controlling Rodea on a Wii feels more natural and actually works better. Aiming at the objects with your remote is a lot easier than using your thumb sticks on the Wii U. Aside of this, the Wii version still struggles with the same issues of the Wii U port, namely poor camera work and empty worlds. If you want to play the game however, the Wii version is the one you probably should check out.

Conclusion:

Rodea: The Sky Soldier isn’t the game everybody was hoping for. Sure it offers enough content and collectibles to keep fans going but it simply has a lot of problems. The camera doesn’t work as it should, the world is too empty and the Wii U controls are too awkward to work. If you’re curious how a game that was put on hold for five years looks like, you can get this without a doubt. If you’re looking for a fun action-packed game however, there are better games on the market.

5/10

Got interested in games since I could read. Started with Nintendo but evolved into an all-round gamer. I love all kind of games; triple A games to Indie. If the vibe is right, I'll enjoy playing it.