After nearly five years and a rocky road of development, Rodea the Sky Soldier has finally been released as a Wii U and 3DS game. Originally conceived of as a Wii game, that version is included with first run copies of the physical Wii U title. Sadly, the digital version (which I got a code for) does not include it. It would have been fun to contrast the differences.
The story of the game isn't too bad. You play as Rodea, a mechanical bodyguard for Princess Cecilia. Her father, Emperor Geardo, is attempting to invade his neighboring country for resources, since it only passes by every 1000 years. It's not a groundbreaking plot, but it works well for this type of game. While the story scenes are ok, there is no option to advance through dialogue quickly. You have to watch it all or skip it all. Ugh. The world of Garuda is a 3D world that Rodea can explore. It reminds me a lot of 90s platforming action games. The environments are whimsical and filled with muted colors. Since Rodea can fly, there are a lot of floating structures to travel to as well.
Now we move on to how the game controls. Well, simply put, the controls are awful. You aim where to fly with the control stick, which makes sense. However, to get the reticle to appear, you have to either jump and enter "pre-flight" by pressing the jump button again. Then, you have a limited time to aim Rodea and press it a third time to go toward your destination. That alone is overly complicated, but it's not going to get better. You have to actually aim at something to fly, since Rodea can apparently only fly at things. Did I mention if you don't pick a target quick enough Rodea will just being flying toward...somewhere. Yeah, because that would be really helpful. There is only a certain range you can aim towards, meaning you will have to chain flying at different objects to get anywhere.
This sky soldier must be malfunctioning, since he can only fly for so long before needing to land. While not a good choice (to put it mildly), it's not the worst one made for the game. Rodea also flys really slowly, making the game slightly more tedious than it already was. You can upgrade his flight speed, but he then uses more "fuel", so the efficiency remains the same. So even though you can fly faster, you don't go farther or longer. What?
When you finish flying to a destination, Rodea just stops and drops like he's on fire. You have no air control unless you aim at something to fly. So if you jump, or stop flying and need to move just a smidgen over to land on a platform, no deal. You have to basically aim at the ground and fly to it. There's no reason for that to be the case. Being able to do small adjustments in the air would go a long way in making the game playable. Otherwise, you end up falling down the thing you were trying to fly to.
Why not fly up then? Well, you get an ascending move that goes up a bit, but you can only use it once per jump/flight it seems. And since you can't just fly, but have to aim at something, the best way to fly up a cliff side is to fly at it, bounce up, rinse repeat. So instead of flying straight up, you are bouncing yourself up a wall like a ping-pong ball. It's not only stupid, it's counter-intuitive. The flying being fundamentally bad might be excusable if the whole game wasn't about flying.
The B Button is used to attack, and drains a chunk of the flight meter if done in the air. You can hold the button to travel further. If you hit an enemy or breakable object, you will bounce up and...back. Yeah, it should be straight up or maybe somewhat forward, considering the game wants you to attack again during this time to combo enemies. Moving back is bad for when you are trying to break objects, and near useless when hitting enemies. If there are multiple enemies nearby, you can combo them by attacking again. Trouble is, you only have a second or two to hit the button again to do so. There is somewhat of an auto target, so you have to rely on that to hit the next enemy, since you don't have the time to slowly aim at them.
Rodea can attack on the ground, too, but he goes much farther if you don't hit anything. It's way too far in my opinion, making it a pain to control it if you miss. The ground attack is also inconsistent at breaking objects, as it may just go to the side of it or roll up over the top. Even if it does break it, launching up and backwards doesn't help you break the rest of the group. I ended up just trying to avoid attacking things unless I needed to. It's just a pain to do so otherwise.
Early on in the game they also give you a gun to use. At first I thought it was some joke on making the game more familiar to western audiences, but I'm pretty sure it isn't. It also doesn't fix the problem with attacking enemies. You only have your reticle while flying, so you don't aim the gun. Yes, you read that right. It auto aims the shots, so you just have to select it and hit the button when vaguely aimed at your target. There may be some actual use for it later in the game, but it just feels like a waste of time to even have it.
Sorry, but we still aren't done with the terrible controls. Aiming the reticle and moving the camera are many times linked together. Trying to aim at a specific thing (like a quick enemy or star pick-up) is near impossible when the camera and reticle are moving at the same time. That isn't to say that the reticle moves fast, as it's still very slow. You just can't aim at a small thing well at all. There are sadly no options to change the speed of the reticle or even allow inverted aiming. The camera also re-centers itself if you move it around. Add these all together, and you just get a terrible camera all around. It's slow, no option for inversion, and won't let you look around. It makes exploration painful. That wouldn't be so bad if it was always clear which way to go. Sometimes there is a marker, but other times it's just a vague notion of "go this way". If you have to find specific objects, which happens at a few points, those aren't always marked very well and looking around for them can be headache-inducing.
Rodea has an upgrade-able health meter, and a stock of lives. Grabbing enough yellow star things will give you an extra life. Levels also have a few checkpoints in them that you will go back to if you die. Pretty standard for a game of this type. Assuming you can stand playing it, there is some decent replayability in the levels. There are collectibles to get and ranks for different aspects of the level, like highest combo and damage taken. The collectibles do actually help out, since some are used to upgrade Rodea's abilities, and some will unlock some additional content. You are also timed on each level, which is supposed to help encourage you to speed run. As a person who doesn't do that, it's just another thing the game ranks you on as you struggle to move Rodea how you want.
However, maybe all of this is just me. Maybe it just doesn't click with me and the game is actually fun to somebody. After seeing me play, my son wanted to give it a go. He liked the story and enemies, but not the bosses and the flying. He thought the game was hard because he had trouble aiming at the correct places to fight the bosses. At least he enjoyed it more than I did, but I wouldn't say he liked it much, either.
Rodea the Sky Soldier starts out okay, but quickly gets aggravating and tiresome. The setting and look of the game are the high points, while the controls are easily the low point, to the extent of ruining the entire experience. I'm sure there is someone somewhere who can not only tolerate the game, but actually enjoy it a little, but it's not me. Whenever I finished a level, my facial expression told the story of disgust, anger and sadness that I had. This is no Pixar movie, though, as there was no joy to be found. I've heard the Wii version is somehow better, but there is no way for me to verify that with the digital version. As it stands on its own, Rodea the Sky Soldier for Wii U is not an experience I would want to repeat.