Rodea the Sky Soldier has had quite a turbulent time in development. Originally announced in 2010 for the Wii, this character-driven flight action game from Sonic and NiGHTS into Dreams creator Yuji Naka looked set to soar, but ultimately never got off the runway. After years of radio silence, Rodea was cleared for takeoff as a rebuilt Wii U and 3DS title in 2014, with NIS America taking the reigns on the Western release. We got to go hands-on with the Wii U version of the game last month at E3, and were very pleased to see how it's been shaping up - we had a great time arcing through the air with Rodea.
Our demo began with an anime-inspired cutscene, and though we didn't glean too many story details from our brief introduction, Rodea's world seems like an intriguing one - there's the peaceful sky kingdom of Garuda and the mechanized empire of Naga below, and Rodea is a robotic relic of a long-forgotten conflict between the two. We started out in Garuda, and the art style grabbed us immediately - it was as bright and captivating as you could hope for from a kingdom in the clouds, and left us excited to take to the skies.
The main goal of the stage we played was to make it from start to finish by flying over, under and around a series of floating islands, platforms and pipes. Rodea's main movement flow consisted of pressing 'A' to jump, 'A' again to pause and hover in the air and, after adjusting your aim with the analogue sticks, 'A' once more to start flying into the screen. Careening around using this three-step setup felt great; it reminded us of hurtling through Hekseville in Gravity Rush, and though there wasn't an option for gyroscopic GamePad aiming, the two analogue sticks work in concert to help line up flightpaths - we used the right stick (also serving as camera control) for larger movements, and the left stick for smaller adjustments.
Once we got the hang of the basics we were able to start soaring in earnest, and that's when Rodea's level design differentiated it from other airborne action games. The world was littered with floating chips called 'Gravitons', arranged in snaking paths between platforms, over the ground and climbing up walls. If Rodea flies into any Graviton in a given sequence, he'll zip straight through the whole line and drop off where it finishes. Flying along Graviton paths quickly became our main mode of travel through the stage, and it was snappy and fun; it felt like using Sonic's Light Dash in the Adventure games, but with an added sense of analogue freedom, since Rodea can pop out of a path and hover in place at any time with a tap of the 'A' button.
The Sonic parallels didn't end with Gravitons, either. We also found several sequences of enemies that fulfilled a similar purpose, serving as paths to link up platforms and islands. By pressing 'B' instead of 'A' to start flying, Rodea can drill-dash into his target, and we used this technique to bounce between baddies, Homing Attack-style, to reach our destination. Other than these stepping stones, there weren't too many foes to contend with as we made our way to the goal. One section had us using a gun to shoot down a few enemies and solve some quick puzzles, but this felt a bit out of place - happily, for the most part, as in the Klonoa games, enemies in Rodea acted more like environmental elements than outright aggressors, which seemed to fit the tone and rhythm of the game much better.
Rodea certainly reminded us of plenty of other games while we were playing, but on the whole it felt wonderfully unique, especially in its movement and feeling of flight. It's worth noting that the controls took a bit of getting used to - we fell and dropped our sequence quite a few times, but it was easy enough to recover, and our transitions became more fluid as we played. Once the controls clicked gliding around the stage was exhilarating, and the stop-and-go sequence of hurtling, hovering, readjusting and arcing through the air again never got old. When we were doing well we spent very little time on the ground, and though Rodea's flight time is limited - indicated by a circular clock-face around the aiming reticule - the level seemed designed so that the right lines would keep you airborne as long as possible, and trying our best to follow those made for a thrilling flight.
Rodea has been a long time coming and, from the looks of it, it will have been worth the wait - we had a great time with what we played. We loved the feeling of flying around, the wide-open yet focused level design and the beautifully inviting world, and can't wait to jump back in with the full version. There's also the 3DS version to keep an eye on, as well as the motion-controlled Wii original - included as a free bonus with first-run copies of the Wii U game - so there should be plenty of airborne platforming action for everyone when Rodea releases in Europe and North America this Fall.
Be sure to check out our other hands on features from E3:
- Heading Back to the Farm in Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale
- Basking in the Glow of Atlus' Legendary Lineup
- Digging Up Details on Harvest Moon: Seeds of Memories
- Getting Into The Spirit With Yo-Kai Watch
- Plugging In To Chibi-Robo!: Zip Lash
- Logging More Flight Time With Star Fox Zero
- Celebrating a Gaming Icon With Super Mario Maker
- Our Impressions of the Full Nindies@Home Line-Up
- Getting Into the Fold With Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
- Linking Up in The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes
- Holding Court with Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash
- Our Maiden Flight In Star Fox Zero Prompts Mixed Emotions
- Kicking Off With Metroid Prime: Blast Ball