Rodea the Sky Soldier has had a pretty turbulent launch. The original concept for the game was conceived way back in 2010 by Yuji Naka, lead programmer and eventually producer on many Sonic the Hedgehog titles. The next year it was reported that the game was finished and ready to be published for the Wii, yet it never came. Four years later and here we are with new versions of the game, pushed forwards from its original Wii release to Wii U and 3DS with a new control scheme put in place. So was it worth the wait?
Our story begins with our protagonist Rodea being knocked unconscious for 1,000 years, only to be reawakened by a contender for 'Most Annoying Video Game Character 2015'. Poor guy. With only a glimmer of his former self still inside him, and with just a vague memory of being ordered to do something, Rodea sets off on a quest to save the kingdom of Garuda from the evil Naga Empire, learning more about himself and his surroundings along the way.
The story is a compelling one, and is sure to make you want to keep playing and find out more. Rodea is an interesting character with an even more interesting back story, but unfortunately the whole thing is ruined slightly by our aforementioned most annoying character of 2015. Sharing Rodea's journey is his new founder, Ion, a robot mechanic who helped Rodea wake up from his 1,000-year sleep. This is all well and good until she starts speaking, which just so happens to be all the time. The voice acting here is the sort that goes right through you, chilling you to the bone, which is a shame because there is a lovely soundtrack sitting just beneath it. This isn't the only case of awful voice acting either. If you're picking up the game watch out for Ion's Grandpa early on!
Chapters of the game take place in various, similarly laid out locations made up of floating bits of land in the sky. Rodea has to fly between these areas, defeating enemies and collecting items and medals. Ultimately you'll always be heading towards a rainbow pillar – a beam of light shooting up into the sky – which will take you on to the next area, but before you reach these you have the option of exploring your surroundings. The areas are quite 'open world' in this respect; often by steering off course for a while and heading in a different direction you'll find some items that you would never have seen if you headed straight for the goal. Optional exploration is always welcome in our minds, but it feels like this could have been done slightly better. The areas themselves are quite large – often with quite long distances between pieces of land – but there isn't really an awful lot of stuff filling the gaps. The majority of your view is just endless open sky with a minimal amount of items, enemies or things to interact with.
Controlling Rodea is quite a challenge in itself. At first getting to grips with how he flies and attacks, and especially combining the two, can be tricky. As time progresses you'll start to feel more comfortable - pulling off perfect attack combos starts to feel really satisfying after the initial confusion. The way in which Rodea flies is pretty odd. Rather than simply flying in whichever direction you want to go, you have to hover your cursor (controlled by the Circle Pad on your 3DS) over an item, an enemy or a piece of scenery in the distance and press 'A'. Rodea will then start heading towards the object you have chosen until you either reach it, or select a different destination with your cursor.
To attack enemies you will first need to select one with your cursor to make Rodea fly towards it. An indicator will appear if you keep your cursor on the enemy indicating how far away from it you are. As you approach, pressing the 'B' button will make Rodea do a spin attack which will look and feel extremely familiar to fans of our favourite, two-legged, sprinting blue hedgehog. In fact, this isn't the only element of the game which will instantly remind you of Sonic. Certain items are laid out in long rows and as Rodea reaches the first of these he will automatically fly through the rest creating a 'chain'. The nature of this and the speed at which it happens makes you feel like you've crash landed into a 3D Sonic adventure.
As you reach a land mass or hit an enemy you will bounce off them, ready to fly to a new area. This method of flight combined with the game's camera can be a nightmare. Rather than being fully controllable, the camera fixes itself at certain angles, often leaving you with a completely useless view. You can change the angle of the camera by pressing the 'L' and 'R' buttons but often this makes the camera spin around too far. Getting a 'game over' screen simply because the camera has got itself stuck behind a wall leaving you falling to your death is far too common.
One of the best features of the game is the ability to level up your armour, skills and weapons by using the items you collect in the levels. In true RPG style new choices are unlocked as you progress through the game, including weapons that can be used whilst walking rather than flying. Ironically these weapons feel much smoother to use than any aerial combat – largely thanks to that pesky camera.
The game is generous in terms of play time. There are an awful lot of stages and chapters to play through which are quite long themselves. With the added optional task of collecting every single medal in each level you could easily find yourself playing this game for weeks. Although this is undoubtedly great, it does mean that to properly enjoy this game you'll need to set aside some spare time to play it. Some levels can easily last more than half an hour and with no option to save whilst inside a level you will need to complete it before switching off your console. Of course, this is fine with the Wii U version of the game, but if you've decided to get the 3DS version you are likely the sort of person who likes to have quick bursts of gameplay whilst on the go, but this simply isn't possible.
Rodea the Sky Soldier is a game with a great storyline, interesting ideas and at times great gameplay, but is let down by fiddly controls and a camera that seems to want to see you fail. Looking past these flaws is a game that you can easily put lots of hours into and one that will likely leave you with – an albeit relieved – smile on your face after completion.
With no difference in terms of gameplay from the Wii U version and the lack of ability to save mid-level meaning that short play sessions are rare – the 3DS version of the game is probably the slightly weaker version of the two simply because of the stronger graphics available on the Wii U combined with the fact that this game feels like it should be on a home console. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy this game if you don't have a Wii U to play it on however, just make sure to treat it as you would a home console adventure.