Grinding my gears.
I’m a bit upset. Why? Because I have a lot of respect for Yuji Naka, whom you may know as Sonic the Hedgehog’s daddy, and in Rodea the Sky Soldier, he’s certainly created a game worth playing… on the Wii at least.
The tale of Rodea the Sky Soldier is a strange one. Originally conceived as a Wii game, it reportedly took just a bit too long to finish development, and it was practically finished by the time Kadokawa Games picked it up and began converting it into a Wii U game. So what we have is two versions of the same game, by separate development teams: Kadokawa heading up the Wii U version, while Yuji Naka’s studio Prope, who were originally responsible for the game, developed the Wii version.
What we end up with is a package that might be worth buying, but only for a limited time as the Wii version of the game is only available in first runs of the physical Wii U release. Just know that if you do choose to buy Rodea the Sky Soldier at present, you’re going to be saddled with a sluggish, ugly experience far from Yuji Naka’s original vision for the game.
Speaking of said vision, the Wii version of Rodea the Sky Soldier is a bright, colourful game that builds on and somewhat modernises mechanics conceived in Sonic Adventure, such as the homing attack and light dash. Imagine using those powers more often, and at a steadier, more manageable pace. That is essentially the crux of Rodea the Sky Soldier; it looks great for a Wii game, runs at a creamy 60 frames per second and successfully refines mechanics that were originally quite flawed. That, at least, is Yuji Naka’s version of the game, which is far superior to the Wii U adaptation headed by Kadokawa, which will be the focus of this review.
Not only does the Wii U version of Rodea the Sky Soldier look worse than its previous-gen counterpart, they’ve managed to remove any sense of speed and added unnecessary changes such as limited flight time and a health bar. What we’re left with is pure sodomy; a game whose very essence has been sucked dry by needless meddling.
Let’s begin with the most glaring change: the visuals. Rodea the Sky Soldier might just be the blandest looking game on the Wii U. The colour palette is intensely muted compared to the Wii U version, giving the game a miserable, washed out look. Compare this to Prope’s more vibrant art style, with each stage bursting with colour; as you’d expect from a game with Mr. Sonic at the helm. Yuji Naka recommended the Wii version of Rodea for many reasons, and it’s clear that the mismatch in visuals is one of the most obvious.
To further add to the numbing misery are the game’s controls. Rodea himself acts like a bullet; you essentially “point and shoot” him at a target, and he’ll fly to that destination. Sounds like a function that would greatly benefit from the Wii Remote’s motion capabilities, right? Funnily enough, that is how the game was originally meant to be played. Switch over to the Wii U version and you’re at the mercy of the cumbersome GamePad controls, manually aiming at targets with the right analog stick. It doesn’t help that aiming Rodea is painfully slow, and genuinely feels like you’re doing something wrong. But no, this is how the Wii U version is meant to be played.
Progression from stage to stage largely requires you to traverse via Rodea’s flight abilities, using enemies, platforms and otherwise to “bounce” from to travel further. The higher a combo you can rack up the more points you’ll earn to upgrade Rodea’s abilities. Such abilities include extended flight time without having to land, extra health and good lord these upgrades are so generic. Less so, however, are the hidden coins hidden throughout each stage that can unlock various extra content such as concept art and music. This at least makes areas seem more fleshed out, but since Rodea flies like a breezeblock in space they’re barely worth the trouble.
I’ve said it a few times over the course of this review but playing Rodea the Sky Soldier on Wii U genuinely left me feeling miserable; it’s a sadistic ruination of what was originally a surprisingly fun little game. Kadokawa essentially took everything that made the Wii version stand out; the delightful art style, the sense of speed and the overall novel sense of progression. These have been replaced with an obnoxiously sluggish experience for seemingly no reason at all. The controls aren’t even the biggest issue here; I believe Rodea’s fast pace could have been emulated quite well (if not optimally) on the GamePad, but with no Wii Remote or Pro Controller support the Wii U version is simply a chore to play.
At the same time, I’m almost tempted to recommend you find a first run special edition of Rodea the Sky Soldier; at least then you can experience Yuji Naka’s original vision for the game.
A review code of Rodeo the Sky Soldier was provided courtesy of NIS America. The game was reviewed on Wii U.
Port Of Contention
On the Wii, Rodea the Sky Soldier is a colourful, enjoyable action adventure that channels the enthusiastic spirit of early 3D Sonic titles while also refining their mechanics. On the Wii U, the unnecessary changes Kadokawa made to the game make it incredibly difficult to recommend, even if buying it is the only way to obtain the superior version. My advice? Avoid this one until the Wii version (hopefully) gets a standalone release on the eShop.