The development surrounding Rodea the Sky Soldier has been a muddy path to say the least. Early reports indicated that the game would be published on the Nintendo Wii in North America after XSEED had expressed interest localizing it back in 2011. Then, after a few years of stalemate, the game was said to still be in development by Kadokawa Games and now looking to NIS Games for localization efforts. For the North American release, Kadokawa instead detailed the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS as the targeted platforms.
The Nintendo Wii version of the game had launched in Japan years back, and the Wii U and 3DS versions released April 2015. Following suite, the game now reached a North American release on November 10, 2015, having the first copies of the game include the original Wii version. It was a surprise to me that Kodakawa Games pressed for a physical release of the game on the Wii U. This is what sparked me to gain interest in the limited edition, purchasing it based on looks alone. And, as an avid collector of all things gaming, there are often monetary rewards for purchasing the limited edition of a game under the assumption that the print copies would also be just as sparse. Who could pass up a limited edition copy of a game that also included its original Wii counterpart, right?
There’s no doubt that Rodea finds comfortability in the simplified control scheme often seen with the use of a Wii Remote and Nunchuck. This is particularly the case as it highly favors a point and direct style of play. With the inclusion of the Wii U GamePad, the controls then become mapped as a traditional controller scheme. The worst assumption about the change in controls from a point and direct style is the fact that would actually work in the translation to the GamePad. And, disappointing as it turns out to be, they are horribly executed.
The reticle seen in the gameplay trailers is much different than the actual game on the Wii U. It is directed by the analog sticks. The “A” button hurls Rodea into the sky, while tapping it again leaves him to fly in a given direction. However, this environment where flying occurs is not a free-to-fly about realm. Instead, only certain areas of of land and floating islands can be selected to fly to. I often felt the games rigidity and unwillingness to move in any other direction than the linear flight path ahead of me. This became the biggest issue as there are many elevated areas to venture to. With the stiff controls, I was often left on the underside of rock formations, struggling to simply get above ground. Instead of flying on a given arc or trajectory, Rodea often clumsily mashes into pillars and other structures as its the only route available.
Simple things, like climbing onto a platform to avoid moving electric plates, becomes troublesome as you have to flight first above the plateau and then aim towards the ground. A latching mechanic for climbing ease would have alleviated these simple frustrations.
The movement in these sometimes vast areas is slow and unexciting in comparison to how it should feel. Pressing the “B” button will enact a honing spin attack which can also be used to advance towards a target at much swifter pace. There are upgrades that can be added to your flight abilities along with various other unlockables. Other forms of gear can be unlocked through destroying enemies and gathering parts. Even with the upgrades in things like your assault gun you carry, the combat system, weapons, and overall gameplay is broken to the point where it is almost unplayable. Simple things like the machine gun, instead of being fun to blast enemies and then jump to a sky attack for more damage, are punishable offenses as reloading the weak weaponry is hardly worth the parts gathered to upgrade it. Gathering parts becomes another unwanted task as the vast majority of buggy and choppy gameplay plagues almost every aspect of exploration and battle.
After a few chapters, I got to the point where I was done with the learning curve of the game and encountered something that resembled a sense of mastery, or dare I say it, fun. It was at this point when Rodea had combo’d a few enemies and then shot through a couple fast-moving speed portals that I really felt that the game was finally starting to show what it was really meant to do. I had even searched for lower platforms where hard to reach medals could be found. I even spent time defeating massive enemies for rarer items to be collected for upgrades. The areas where Gravitons are present, it felt fun as I picked them up on their trails as they slung me through the sky at high speeds. Then the joy came to a screeching halt.
After trampolining off of an enemy and then attempting to reach a platform above, I was then hurled into endless space only to fall to my death. You see, flying comes as an expense rather than a reward. So, the amount of time spent in the sky is limited. Even running out of the flight ability leaves you falling uncontrollably to your death as you can’t even float towards steady ground to recharge your flight ability. You simply fall from great heights until you lose what often times is your last life, pushing you to start the entire level all over again. This underwhelming set of abilities leaves the core mechanic of the game itself broken, and simply not fun to use. It comes off as botched, something more like what you would have seen on the vast list of Wii shoevelware releases. This doesn’t even touch on the times where I was hurled through the muddy, blurry, uninspired textures that are found in every piece of landscape in Garuda.
On one hand, you have a game that surpassed expectations on ever being published as a Nintendo title. The idea for the game was the product of Yuji Naka, head of the original Sonic Team. He had envisioned what the story and gameplay would be like for a soldier of the sky. I mean, having delivered on such games as the NiGHTS franchise, you would think that this would be an easy task. On the other, it was poorly designed in almost all aspects, including the core mechanic on what could have possibly made the game something to marvel on the Nintendo Wii U.
While the cinematics and storyline are fairly eyebrow raising and interesting, the rest of the game is a broken platter of inedible stale pastries. At the end of the day, I received a code to review Rodea the Sky Soldier so that I wouldn’t have to break open my limited edition purchase. The gloom of buyer’s remorse hangs heavy over my head, but if I can help one person not make the same mistake, please heed my warning: this game finds itself in the no fly zone. Keep out.