By: Matthew Striplen
From the mind behind Sonic the Hedgehog and gaming industry legend Yuji Naka comes Rodea the Sky Soldier, an epic tale spanning a thousand years. Tasked with defending the peace-loving Garuda people from evil Naga Empire, the robot soldier Rodea must uncover his past and save the people he cares for most.
Unfortunately, Rodea constantly suffers from poor controls, which stems primarily from the camera’s functionality. The camera remains in a fixed position, regardless of the direction Rodea is moving, and can only be moved by the R/L buttons. Since these buttons are obviously digital inputs as opposed to analog, accurately moving the camera is virtually impossible.
Movement in general feels clunky, especially flight. Rodea picks targets with reticules, but they move so slowly that hitting a moving target is harder than it should be — and good luck targeting an enemy behind you. Plus, if you fly near obstacles, Rodea’s behavior becomes unpredictable.
One of his abilities is to jump off walls to restore his fuel, but discerning which surfaces are valid proves to be a challenge. Rodea will often get stuck on surfaces that he’s unable to jump away from, especially when the structure is above him. The camera struggles wildly to find a suitable angle in these situations, leading to a nauseating experience. Rodea‘s poor controls and camera are almost enough to make the game unplayable.
Rodea‘s second-biggest flaw comes in the form of visual presentation. Low resolution and frame rate plague the game from start to finish. Even when the camera zooms in enough, most textures appear flat and drab. Cut scenes fare better, but the character models still look a little blocky.
As for music, Rodea has a handful of fun, energetic tunes, but nothing too memorable. However, the voice acting performance comes across as a little spotty. Early in the game, Rodea is damaged from this fit of rage, which affects his voice, resulting in him speaking in a monotone and with a robotic sound filter. Sometimes, though, he switches back to normal for a few scenes for no apparent reason before resuming the robotic monotone. Eventually, Rodea just sticks to the human voice.
Ion, the girl who saved and repaired him, chatters through gameplay. If the player chooses to proceed on foot, she will ask why you’re not flying. When you do decide to fly, she often accompanies your lift off with a cheery “Vroom vroom!”
Since Rodea is designed by the same man as Sonic, some similarities are bound to exist. Rodea must collect Gravitons, which serve a similar function to rings in Sonic or coins in Super Mario games. Also, if multiple Gravitons are placed in a row, Rodea will charge through them with tremendous speed, just like Sonic.
All action-platform games need at least two things to hold a player’s interest: tight controls and engaging environments. The bad controls override almost everything else the game has to offer, and as a result, Rodea has a steep learning curve. Maneuvering gets a little better as the player becomes acclimated but never feels easy or natural. Another major complaint is how Rodea bounces off enemies like he’s on the moon after striking them, even if he’s on the ground.
Environments tend to be hit or miss. Most of the areas take up a vast amount of space, which either leaves the player impressed or feeling empty, especially since the land is completely surrounded by a massive void.
Each level hides a multitude of collectables, such as upgrade parts or medals to achieve higher rankings. Some of these can be very well hidden, so keep your eyes peeled. Once a stage is successfully completed, players are graded on their performance, with time elapsed, items obtained, etc. serving as criteria.
Collectable parts can be then used to upgrade a number of Rodea’s abilities, including speed, weapons and armor. Everything is useful, but parts are hard to come by, so choose wisely.
Many enemies don’t pose much of a threat, since the most common type doesn’t even attack the player. However, certain types are very difficult to deal with. Flying robot dive bombers appear in several stages, which zip around faster than Rodea’s reticules can track. Plus, they maneuver so quickly that pursuing them in the air is nigh impossible. When they attack, they make a short noise before crashing into the player, making them hard to dodge, though dodging is the only practical method of dealing with them.
Boss fights should be impressive, but the shoddy controls and poor graphics take the player out of the experience. Also, the enemy AI is very poor in general. For example, the first boss only has one attack, which always strikes the same place.
Also, a fairly major glitch will occur if given a special item at the beginning of a level. If Rodea dies before reaching a checkpoint, he will not be given the item again once he respawns. Items such as the Slide Gear are important for finishing the game, and if the player doesn’t receive them, certain sections become inaccessible.
Rodea the Sky Soldier should be better than it is. Its large amount of collectables and upgrade system provides a good amount of depth, and besides, who doesn’t want to fly? The bad controls, camera, and graphics ruin what could have been a great game. If you’re looking for some Yuji Naka magic, it’s best to stick with the classic Sonic games.