Rodea The Sky Soldier The story begins 1000 years in the past. You are the eponymous Rodea, a humanoid robot with a heart, escorting Princess Cecilia as she flees from her father and her kingdom. Why? Her country has over developed and used most of its resources. The only way they could see a chance of survival was by invading Garuda, a kingdom in the skies which crosses paths with Naga every thousand years. Morally objecting to her kingdom’s choice, Cecilia runs away with the key that allows a pathway between kingdoms.
It’s not long before they catch up with her, however, and seeing no other choice, Cecilia splits the key in half and gives it to Rodea as well as sending him to Garuda as she is left behind to be taken.
1000 years later Rodea is discovered and awoken by a young energetic mechanic called Ion, coincidentally right around the time of another invasion attempt. Despite losing his memory, Rodea gradually recalls the last order given to him by Cecilia: protect Garuda. So on your way you go, fighting the evil forces of Naga.
It’s a nice interesting story overall, if a little Saturday morning cartoon-like. I actually quite like the characters, they’re fun and the banter between Rodea and Ion reminds me a lot of Pit and Palutena in Kid Icarus: Uprising, but the writing isn’t going to winning awards anytime soon.
So as stated, Rodea has the ability to fly, for a short time period at least. This is what makes up for the majority of the gameplay. First you press the A button to jump, while mid-air you can press it again to initiate flight preparation where by Rodea will spin around, suspended in the air. At this point you will control aiming reticule to choose your destination. Pressing A on that target and you will fly off in that direction.
At first this method feels very awkward. Aiming the reticule to find you destination feels really twitchy and getting the right spot is never an easy task. You’ll often find yourself constantly correcting your aiming mid flight just to get where you want to go. I will say that later on, once you become accustomed to it, it does become slightly less awkward.
The camera does not help at all. In fact, out of all the enemies scattered through Rodea The Sky Solider, the camera is probably your worst adversary. You’ll be fighting it more than any other thing in the game. You’ll often find yourself unable to see where you’re going, where enemies are or have some piece of landscape blocking your view.
If you can manage your fight against these then you’ll find yourself playing a game that feels like a cross between Sonic and NiGHTs, unsurprising considering the man behind this, Yuji Naka, was also responsible for those games.
Stages are set in the sky kingdom of Garuda where thousands of small islands float unsupported. Since he can only fly for a short period of time Rodea must make his way to the end of each stage by flying from island to island. The length of time he can fly is indicated by a gauge on his targeting reticule which counts down like a clock. You can top this up by collecting energy that are found around the stages.
Along the way you will come across many enemies, most of which look like they came straight from a Sonic game. Some are more passive than others, the most annoying being homing missiles that lock onto you and can only be avoided by changing your target location mid-flight. Something I had to learn myself during one early annoying level. To take the enemies out you can lock on to them, when you are close enough you can use a boost attack with the B button.
Later you’ll be unlocking more abilities. A gun (which you can sort of aim), boots that allow you to slide from platform to platform, usually taking an alternate route, and even a homing attack that can lock on to multiple targets. I found the gun especially useful throughout the game, despite its clumsiness. It was incredibly useful dealing with annoying enemies from a distance.
Aside from just making it from one side of the stage to another, there are various things you can collect. There are many medals hidden around each stage; gold, silver and bronze, well hidden too. Collecting these allows you to unlock some things between stages, such as soundtracks or costumes and such.
There’s also the opportunity for Rodea to upgrade himself. You can occasionally collect parts from enemies and if you collect enough of certain pieces you can improve your strength, defence, flight speed and so on. You will need to take out almost every enemy you come across and even play through stages again if you want to seriously upgrade everything however, something which I did not do. By the end of the 25 stages and my 10 hours with the game I’d not even finished half of the possible upgrades, although admittedly I didn’t waste my time dealing with every enemy along the way.
Two kinds of boss fight smattered around: Bosses akin to Shadow of the Colossus where you fight giant mechanical adversaries, attacking weak points along their bodies ; or versing Rodea’s sibling robots. There’s a real difficulty curve when it comes to the bosses, during the second half of the game they gave me a lot of trouble thanks to their speed, although the controls and camera played their part too. I will say the final boss is pretty epic, even if it gave me a few fits of frustration.
Awkward controls and a less than cooperative camera make it an experience difficult to truly enjoy, which is a shame, because the general idea behind the gameplay is such a good one. When it works like it was imagined, it’s great. You can keep in a constant state of flight if you combo off enemies and collect the energy balls (which if in a line, you will auto through them like Sonic does with rings), leading to a feeling of effortless joy and freedom like you would assume Yuji Naka had hoped.
It just seems like Rodea could have used just a little more time and care in the development process, a bizarre thing to say considering it was due for release in 2011 originally on the Wii. It really shows too. Visually it’s subpar and far too out of date, essentially two generations behind. It’s a stark contrast to the rather lovely artwork of the characters which is where most of the story and exposition is told.
It’s really difficult to for me to be so harsh on the game. It’s got something in there. You can see the spark of creativity that went through the developers as the idea for Rodea came together. There’s a part of me that wants it to be successful, the free flowing grace of soaring through the air, masterly jumping off walls and enemies without touching the ground; it really could have been great experience. Sadly, camera issues, awkward controls and programming and visuals that seem lost in the early millennium stop it from being a game you should play, to being merely a curio should you happen upon it. I genuinely like Rodea as a character and as concept but I fear we will not see him again.
– Great gameplay concept
– I like the characters, especially Rodea
– Music is pretty good
– Awkward controls
– Frustrating camera that mostly works against you
– Real lack of polish