With Rodea the Sky Soldier, famed designer Yuji Naka set out to create the next great action adventure game. Of course, every developer in the industry has similar goals to revolutionise their perspective genres, yet few have the chops or experience to do so. Yuji Naka, on the other hand, has played an integral role in producing various SEGA hits including Phantasy Star Online while also working as the head of Team Sonic. He even took the helm as the Lead Programmer on Nights Into Dreams, arguably one of the SEGA Saturn’s few triumphs.
Although it has plenty of ambition and a unique core premise, Rodea bears the cost of a troubled road to development, feeling invariably outdated as a result. Born from an early idea Naka had of designing a game set in the skies, a Wii version of Rodea the Sky Soldier was said to be finished as early as 2011. However, Naka and his team needed Japanese publisher Kadokawa to launch the game. Clearly, in the time between then and its eventual release, some changes were implemented.
For a start, the game has now released on both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. What’s interesting about this change of platform is that Rodea the Sky Soldier for Wii U comes with a bonus disc containing the original Wii version too – at least in PAL territories. Despite arriving on newer hardware, it has to be said that the two newer editions of the game have few improvements to offer over that original version.
Whether playing on Nintendo latest handheld or home console, Rodea looks remarkably basic. Everything from environmental textures down to character models are mostly downright featureless and, at best, rudimentary. In other words it’s a relic and although it might have flown by unnoticed back in 2011, four years later, it’s a caveat that cannot be overlooked.
Each stage follows a core visual theme. As you journey through the besieged kingdom of Garuda, you’ll come across floating archipelagos inhabited by imperialist mechs, as well as larger, more robust complexes like factories and cities. Although there’s plenty of scope to go and explore each of these environments, Rodea follows a linear design structure, making it very clear where a level starts and ends. Scattered between these two points is often a cluster of objectives, requiring you to collect specific objects, destroy incoming enemies, or simply move on to the next location.
What’s unique about Rodea is the web of mechanics it extends to the player. If Yuji Naka and the team at Prope did one thing right, it was creating a control scheme that feels like nothing you’ve ever played before. Of course there are plenty of familiar elements but the way it all comes together is refreshing, even if a bit unwieldy.
Following a simple jump, players can hit the button again to make a reticle appear on-screen. When hovering over a solid surface you can press it once more to guide Rodea in that direction. While in mid-air, however, a number of options present themselves. Aside from being able to change trajectory, Rodea can unleash a boost that also doubles up as his primary attack.
Although you can glide through most areas of the game without confronting enemies, combat will become a necessity at times. It’s during these moments that the control scheme gets itself into a bit of a muddle. As Rodea unlocks new abilities, you’ll find yourself struggling to press the correct button the right number of times while also considering the direction and speed at which our Sky Soldier is flying.
Out of the different, handheld players probably have it the worst. Beside the seemingly mute 3D effect, they also suffer from the lack of robust camera controls. Although the shoulder buttons can be used to shift the player’s view at preset angles with each press, it doesn’t feel all that intuitive. Some might call it demanding but we’d have thought that, with a new model having been around for almost a year, Prope could have somehow incorporated the new circle pad/nub in its control scheme.
That said, there’s still fun to be had in soaring through the air, bouncing off of enemies and scouting out the game’s various collectables. It’s just a shame how suddenly the action can grind to a halt due to some poor control design.
- Unique approach to gameplay.
- Soundtrack by Takayuki Nakamura.
- More content than your typical action adventure game.
- Looks poor, even by last-gen standards.
- Throwaway story and characters.
- Janky flight controls
- Frustrating enemy attack patterns.
- 3DS camera woes.
We’re not likely to find out exactly what troubles the team at Prope faced on Rodea’s rocky road to market. The end product is evidence enough to suggest that something went wrong along the way, and it’s a real shame. With a little more refinement and even the lightest of facelifts, Rodea could easily have been a Nintendo exclusive worth owning.
Versions Tested: Wii U & 3DS
I’ve heard the old Wii version is the best. Apparently it is the only version Yuji Naka worked on, and it’s 60FPS.
Then someone else made the inferior 3DS version which is said to be very different, and then ported the 3DS version to the Wii U instead of the Wii version for some god-forsaken reason.