- Format: Wii, Wii U (versions reviewed), 3DS
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: NIS America/Reef Entertainment
- Developer: Prope/Kadokawa Games
- Players: 1 (all), 1-4 (Wii only, offline only)
- Site: http://nisamerica.com/games/rodea-the-sky-soldier/
- Game discs provided by the publisher
Yuji Naka’s plea to play the Wii version of Rodea makes sense when you get hold of the big-screen retail pack. Initially at least, the Wii U version also comes bundled with the originally planned, ‘proper’ Wii version on a separate Wii disc. The difference between the two isn’t as simple as control scheme; although that in itself makes a bigger difference than you might imagine.
Sonic creator Naka and his studio Prope have been slowly and quietly producing games over the last six years or so, their best work arguably being the short but sweet Ivy The Kiwi?, which made unique use of the DS and Wii controls. Rodea The Sky Soldier has a similar aim, but the four-year delay in publication and Kadokawa’s interference in development have not been kind to the end product.
The Wii U version – ostensibly the main attraction – is a disaster that should have been abandoned long before being seriously considered for sale. It’s not so much broken as very, very badly designed. Even moving Rodea around is awkward, a task somewhat akin to riding a hippo through a slalom (although not nearly as fantastically fun as that sounds) which makes the game’s Wiimote origins painfully obvious. Despite not supporting the Wiimote for whatever bizarre reason the developers settled upon, you move Rodea – both in the air and even on the ground – by aiming an on-screen reticule and then pressing or holding a button. Combine this with a very unfriendly camera, and getting from A to B often involves getting stuck on the corner of A1. But it gets even worse.
An upgrade system has been shoehorned into the experience, and upgrades are hard to earn, which means that Rodea is weak and slow for a large chunk of the story. This, in turn, means that it’s pretty easy for him to be killed by an enemy that you may well have never even seen thanks to the camera which is only vaguely interested in what’s going on. You only get a few lives too and, if you lose them all, then – no matter how far you’d waded through agony to get – you have to play the whole level through again from the beginning. Joy!
It’s not a pretty game either, with the sort of muddy and PS2esque polygons that dudebros probably imagine all Wii U games to harbour. And the story? Well, there’s actually a very interesting tale in there somewhere. Unfortunately it’s buried under dull dialogue, distinctly unremarkable acting, and half-hearted presentation. Sounds like a total lost cause, doesn’t it? And it is; until you slot the Wii disc into your Wii or Wii U.
Despite being immediately identifiable as the same game (in principle if nothing else), it’s apparent within seconds of play that the Wii version is leaps and bounds ahead of the Wii U version. The story is no better, and the graphics are actually a little worse. However, with the controller it was actually designed for in your hand, the control scheme works just fine. There’s no unwelcome upgrade system in place, level design differs slightly from the other version, and it’s just overall a much better game.
If you’ve seen footage of the game in action, you might have had the impression of ‘Sonic in the sky’ (and if Naka isn’t allowed to do that, who is?). Sometimes, that’s exactly what it feels like. Rodea may not roll into a ball and spin, but that’s pretty much the attack he uses when smashing into enemies (when he’s using a machine gun? Not so much). Fly into a row of star pickups at the right angle and you’ll automatically follow the trail, twisting and turning for a brief but gleeful period. There are also boost pads which, again automatically, will send you flying over the ground and/or through the air at great speed and at a variety of angles. A nice nod to Sonic’s heyday.
Larger enemies and the (huge) bosses may shamelessly use the worn-out ‘hit the glowing bits’ weak spots idea, but it makes sense with these controls. It’s hard to deny, too, that taking down an enemy 5-105 times bigger than you is satisfying. On top of all this, the Wii version has local multiplayer race levels for up to four people, something that the Wii U version is for some reason missing completely. The bottom line is though that, well… the time for games like Rodea has simply passed.
Had it been a Wii launch title, swept up in the novelty of the controller back in 2006, Rodea would undoubtedly have impressed. If released when first ready in 2011, it would already have looked extremely dated. In 2015, it’s not just the graphics that are the problem. Storytelling in games has finally reached the point where even people who are scared of books can (potentially) recognise this as a poor effort, and the gameplay – while mammothly superior to the Wii U abomination – is still a long way from perfect. The camera can still now and again prove to be an annoyance, finding your target while flying in the desired direction sometimes being more difficult than it should be. And overall, even at its peaks, the experience is very shallow. You’re left wanting… something more.
Do not – repeat, not – waste any of your precious human life attempting to wring enjoyment out of the Wii U version. If you want a score for that, you can knock the below number in half, and that’s us being generous. If this has piqued your curiosity enough for a purchase then play the Wii version by all means. You’ll definitely get some enjoyment there; but don’t expect much more than a curio.