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February 4, 2016

Rodea the Sky Soldier is the latest game from Prope, a company comprised of members from Sega’s old Sonic Team. They’ve developed games like Ivy the Kiwi?, Digimon Adventure and StreetPass Mansion. Rodea was completed for the Wii in 2011 — and then it disappeared entirely. The 3DS version was discussed a couple of years later, before a Wii U version and a Japanese release window were finally announced in 2014 and a Western release following soon after. The game spent a long time in Prope’s office, but was it all worth it in the end?

The short answer is no. Upon booting the game, you can see that it was meant for the Wii; the cinematic cutscenes, particularly the character models, look crude. The backgrounds and other art are nice to look at though, and the character portraits for regular cutscenes look great. I’m also quite fond of the vibrant colours employed by Prope. The game doesn’t look as good as a Wii U game should; they certainly do the job, but there’s nothing that stands out. The soundtrack was similarly mediocre; it certainly wasn’t bad, but neither was it particularly good.

The plot and the characters weren’t memorable, either. The story felt rushed and made little sense. Our titular protagonist Rodea awoke at the beginning of the game broken and battered with a strong desire to save the land of Garuda, but could not remember why. A woman named Ion, who is handy with machines, found and repaired his damaged right arm. Rodea spent most of the game trying to remember why he wanted to save the land of Garuda so much. It felt off to me as it seemed that Prope were trying to surround his past in mystery, but as the prologue showed us the motives for his actions, that mystery was non-existent and just left me feeling frustrated at the lack of significant plot developments and Rodea’s faulty memory.

What I think were supposed to be significant characters came and went after a battle or two, with barely any time spent on them. One boss showed up for a couple of cutscenes before falling off the side of a floating island as Rodea looked on in horror, having never spoken a word nor revealed anything about himself. A number of other characters existed in similar circumstances; I was unable to glean more than a basic understanding of who they were or why they existed before they disappeared. They felt like poorly implemented, ineffectual plot fodder, and their lack of any form of real development contributed to the game’s overall rushed feeling.

It doesn’t help the game’s case that its dub was poor. Grating is the word that springs to mind, with Rodea’s good friend Ion the worst offender. She’ll often narrate your actions, which would be fine if she had more than a handful of lines. This game only took me 11 hours to finish, yet I had memorised just about everything she said by the end. You can’t even do anything about it if you decide you want to change the language part way through; I decided I was done with it at around the fourth level, but amazingly, found no option to swap to Japanese voices in the game’s menus.

The controls are another aspect that were clearly built for the Wii, and they work well on that system with its motion controls. The ability to point and click with the Wiimote makes for relatively smooth gameplay, rather than the infuriating movement on the Wii U version. Moving the control stick is far slower than using motion controls, and if you don’t select a target within a few seconds of leaping into the air, Rodea will start moving on his own. While I was able to recover most of the time, I wasn’t always able to get the camera around fast enough, so Rodea would fly into oblivion and die as he drifted away from potential targets and ran out of stamina.

Motion controls were only ‘relatively’ smooth as there were other movement problems. The game’s targeting issues often sent Rodea flying off the edges of floating islands, leaving me to scramble to prevent his death. Rodea also had issues flying in a straight line, which became painfully apparent in the first boss fight when his constant swerving frequently got him electrocuted. If Rodea finds himself stuck with an object between him and his target, he won’t just bounce off it, instead continuing to fly into the object until he runs out of stamina. I didn’t find stamina loss a serious issue in regular levels, as he didn’t need to fly too far without a break or a graviton (the small yellow star-like objects that Rodea can collect to restore his stamina, and net him an extra life should he collect 100 in a single level). They were common in regular levels, though practically non-existant in boss fights. Running out of stamina killed me in a number of boss battles, as he would often get caught on something just below his target and then begin to freefall before I could readjust.

Battle consists of slamming into your foes as you fly through the air. You also have a gun and a few other gadgets at your disposal. Enemies drop various items when they’re defeated which can be used to upgrade both Rodea himself and his items. It’s pretty straightforward, and doesn’t really change much throughout the game.

After completing a level, you can choose to replay it at any time by selecting it on the world map. You can also access the main menu, where you can view the challenges and upgrades Rodea has available. There are no restrictions on how often you can play each level, which all contain several medals to find and collect. The game appoints scores to every attempt, so there’s a nice amount of extra content that will allow you to get more out of the game if, unlike me, you do like it.

Rodea the Sky Soldier sported average visual and musical aesthetics, a bland plot with little to no character development and a dub that made me angry. The controls on the Wii version were great, though the game’s systems were riddled with issues that inhibited movement in a number of instances. Those that do enjoy this game will be able to get more out of it in the large number of things to collect, but ultimately, this is not a game I would not recommend except to the most hardcore fans of the genre.

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