Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Phantasy Star Online and NiGHTS were all created by Yuji Naka, the man behind Rodea. All of those games were popular in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Rodea probably would have been, too. Too bad it’s 2015.
Rodea has had a very troubled development life. It was originally a Wii game which was completed in 2011, but it failed to find a publisher and was moved to the Wii U and released in Japan this past April. It’s a bit of a mix between Sonic Adventure and NiGHTS. You control the titular robot Rodea, whom after being sent to the sky kingdom of Garuda by the princess he was created to guard, falls into a thousand-year slumber.
If you played a Dreamcast-era Sonic Team title, Rodea will feel immediately familiar. It has that brightly colored, friendly feeling that defined the team’s works in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. Rodea’s backdrops would be right at home in a Sonic title from the time.
Despite being a game mostly about flying, Rodea doesn’t force you to take to the air. You can run around and explore the world at your leisure if you’re so inclined. There isn’t much to find, but there never was in the older games it emulates, either.
Rodea’s notalgic look and feel doesn’t end at the visual, either; it extends to the aural as well. Its soundtrack is full of catchy, millennial sounding tunes. The soundtrack is probably Rodea’s best feature. The tracks are catchy, fun and upbeat. If you’re itching for a taste of that old Dreamcast attitude, this is probably the closest you’ll get.
If you listen to Rodea in English, you may find yourself wanting to mute your TV or listen to a cat yowl instead. Thankfully, the Wii U version includes the option to switch to the original Japanese audio, which is far superior.
The titular character is voiced by Yuichi Nakamura, who is something of a voice acting heavyweight, having voiced roles in popular anime like Bleach, Fairy Tail, and Log Horizon to name a few.
Kana Hanazawa who voices Ion is also quite the prolific actress, with an impressive list of credits all her own. Together, Nakamura and Hanazawa deliver a performance that’s fun to listen to, and makes the game’s cutscenes all that much better. The game itself isn’t quite playable enough to see all of these, which is a shame.
As a character, Rodea is alright. His story’s a little cliche, but it’s not awful. The idea of a robot given a heart and emotions is something that’s been explored time and again, especially in Japanese games.
Rodea and Ion are cute and charming, even if their mid-mission banter can get annoying. Thankfully, Prope mercifully included a “Ion Chatter” slider that will let you control how much she interrupts you during gameplay. In cutscenes, the two are fine and deliver a fun, if not entirely memorable plot. Outside of that, however... Let’s just say I have that slider all the way on “off” and don’t plan to move it.
As mentioned earlier in this review, Rodea went through a pretty troubled development cycle, jumping from Wii to Wii U and 3DS post-completion. According to some accounts, the Wii version of the game was completed in 2010, a full two years before the Wii U came to market. Prope then had a problem securing a publisher. When they did, the publisher wasn’t interested in publishing a new game for a dead console and had Prope port the title to Wii U.
Sadly, those roots show in the worst of ways. Environments are minimally detailed, textures are blurry and the world is covered in jagged edges, none of the geometry is very complex. Jagged edges poke out from all over the place, enemy models look like they’d be at home on a low budget Gamecube game. They’re sub-par even for a game from 15 years ago.
Unfortunately, nostalgia doesn’t really extend to game mechanics in the same way it does Rodea’s other aspects. Playing Rodea is at best, somewhat enjoyable, but the majority of the time the game’s controls are sluggish. Controlling Rodea can be an exercise in frustration at times. Flying is the core of Rodea’s gameplay, and it feels pretty awful. Rodea flies at an extremely slow pace, and he has a set amount of time he can fly, meaning you’ll need to spend some time on the ground, where he doesn’t fare much better.
Rodea’s got two means of dispatch enemies: a Sonic-like homing attack to kill enemies in mid-air, and a gun for ground-based combat. Neither of these options work particularly well. All or Rodea’s moves, as well as his general movement and flight capabilities rely on aiming a reticle and locking onto an enemy. At its default settings, this feels annoyingly difficult. After playing with the analog stick’s sensitivity a bit in the game’s settings, I managed to find a setting that somewhat worked, but never felt quite right. At times, even when locked on Rodea’s attacks would miss.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this would have felt better on the original Wii version, which is bundled with physical copies of the game. Everything about Rodea screams that it was designed for the Wii U’s older brother, from the dated visuals to the control scheme, to even the look and feel of the game. The Wii U version I received for review worked in a limited fashion with the Wii remote, but only with a nunchuck for movement, as opposed to the pointer it was clearly designed for.
Rodea’s most offensive feature, however, has to be its camera. It’s a complete nightmare. All too often during play, the camera would hang up on an object, or snap behind an enemy I was targeting making all but impossible to actually direct where I was going. It’s not uncommon for the camera to completely freak out when you’ve killed an enemy or cleared an objective. Boss fights are almost unplayable at times, leaving you to attack blindly at a target you can’t see. It all reminded me of Sonic Adventure in all the wrong ways.
Rodea is a game I probably would have put up with 2001. The last 14 years have brought myriad improvements to gameplay and camera systems that it seems Prope hasn’t caught on to. An interesting character and premise can’t save this should-have-been Wii title from meeting with a terrible fate on Nintendo’s misunderstood black box.
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