Games which linger in production purgatory often demonstrate dissonance, with lofty ambitions undermined by gameplay that doesn’t quite gel together. That contention is furthered by the release of Rodea the Sky Soldier for the Wii U and 3DS. Purportedly, the Yuji Naka (Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, and NiGHTS into Dreams…) crafted title was completed in 2011, but languished for four full years without a release. During that interval, the game was ported from Nintendo’s lapsing Wii to their Wii U and 3DS systems, while XSEED’s intention of North American publisher never transpired- allowing NIS America to release Rodea. Ironically, the game’s attempt at simulating the exhilaration of freeflight has follows a path that recalls its turbulent past
Undoubtedly, The Sky Solder’s control scheme feels unwieldly at first. Instead of constantly adjusting the pitch and yaw of the robotic protagonist, players establish flight vectors which sends Rodea gliding toward specific targets. To trigger the move, player must first jump, place the crosshairs on a piece of the environment, and then a button press sends the hero hurtling toward the destination.
The only stipulation is that Rodea can’t glide limitlessly. Gradually, gravity energy depletes when you’re in the air, representing by a gauge that encircles your aiming cross-hairs. Early on when a chasm seems insurmountable with a single stretch, you’ll learn how to refill your Gravity Energy by either coming into contact with things, careening into enemies with a dash move, or picking up the collectables that act as stage signposts.
There are times when flight feels fantastic, recalling both Sonic’s euphoric loops and leaps and NiGHTS aeronautical jubilation. Grab one gold collectable at Rodea typically rights himself to careening through the entire succession. Likewise, boosting and busting through enemies feels similar to Sonic Adventure’s homing attack. Other times, immersion is broken by a wayward camera, which tends to offer suboptimal perspective shifts after your collide into foes. During one boss fight, the camera zoomed out so far that Rodea became little more than a speck, making the conflict unjustly challenging. To exasperate the issue, deaths will restart you at a checkpoint, but use up all your lives, and you’re have to restart the entire stage.
While flight is usually enjoyable, ranged combat is less success successful. Failing to learn an imperative lesson from Shadow the Hedgehog, firearms don’t make everything more fun. In Sky Soldier, gunplay tends to dilute the experience, adding a mechanic that feels forced. While the game’s moniker reveals Rodea to be a combatant, the inclusion of weaponry seems slightly incongruent with the game’s fantastical worlds.
While draw-in woes, modest texturing, and framerate flutters divulge Sky Soldier’s origins as a Wii game, there’s still plenty of merit to be found in the game’s milieus. Largely, the game’s collection of two dozen stages diverges from game’s obsession with realism, extending floating environments which suggest both Green Hill Zone or Spring Valley. Likely, players will admire Sky Soldier decision to shirk authenticity, delivering spacious, often dreamy realms which invite exploration.
While the game’s level are fairly linear, there are plenty of hidden alcoves which bestow dividends. Pleasingly, these feed into Rodea’s in-game store, where players can augment elements like the protagonist’s flight speed and damage output. Beyond that, each stage completion screen ranking players on a number of activities, inviting perfectionists to grab every collectable or shave seconds off their completion time. Elsewhere, gather medallions has its own payoff, with players able to unlock challenge stages or in-game music. An additional incentive can be found in The Sky Soldier’s narrative, where fragments of narrative come together to explain the impetus behind Rodea’s millennial slumber and the human heart that beats inside his cybernetic chest. While the story won’t win any awards, it does build a bit of intrigue and the English voice-overs and sufficiently energetic.
With a framerate that’s allegedly delivers a solid sixty frames-per-second, and a practical Wiimote-based control scheme, the Wii version is supposed to offer the definite Sky Soldier experience. Woefully, that iteration is only available by purchasing the limited retail edition of the game, with the digital eShop version missing the addition. While Nintendo claims both retail and digital Wii U versions have a fifty dollar MSRP, in reality, most store are selling the boxed copy for ten dollars more. Although we weren’t able to play the Wii version, those with an interest in Rodea are encourage to seek out physical media.
When playing the Wii U iteration, players will find that Rodea the Sky Soldier longs to soar through fantastical worlds. Intermittently, the title reaches those lofty ambitions, and Yuji Naka’s goals are crystal clear. But a bit too often, these aspirations are clipped by coding that breaks the game’s sense of immersion, as you scramble to get your bearings. While Rodea’s reception means it may not receive a sequel, the concept undoubtedly deserves a second chance at flight.
Rodea the Sky Soldier was played on the Wii U with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Wii U, 3DS
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: November 10th, 2015
Price: $49.99 via eShop, retail price $59.99 Launch Edition