I really like games that people rarely ever hear of beyond a cool trailer or two. Games that are given a box release and clearly have a budget of a few million, but are neither indie or AAA. And I got bored and want to revisit a game because I thought it would be fun! So I’m just going to talk about a game I enjoyed and see how it holds up, read on if you feel like it… God I’m crap at intros!
Solatorobo: Red The Hunter Review
Release Date: 27/9/12
The game’s protagonist is the titular Red the hunter, a fairly kind dog person in a world of floating islands and other dog and cat people. However, instead of hunters going out and killing animals, hunters in this game are adventurers who take up quests from a french maid. And during one of these quests, Red goes aboard a ship and finds a magical medallion and a young girl named Elh. Well, they have a subplot about Elh looking like a boy, but I have never seen a boy who wears something that looks like an apron as his default outfit. Anyhow, it turns out that both Elh and the medallion have some greater meaning, and have something to do with a giant monster made out of stone who, you guessed it, is a tool for a greater threat who wants to take over the world.
I originally praised the plot when I first played this game, but looking back, it hits so many notes it could have been produced by a random anime generator. However, it is not necessarily bad. If I had to pick an anime that it feels the most like, it would probably be Jyu-Oh-Sei. A relatively interesting idea, but a message that has been regurgitated to the point where it induces yawns when trying to describe it in full detail. Both have an interesting looking world, an oddly paced plot with a large derailing at the halfway point, and a twist that anyone could have guessed from fairly early on. But the world is more creative and vibrant than the average anime, with unique locals being introduced often, but they are sadly lost after a chapter or two in their vicinity. Well, you do go back for quests, but they are still very small areas, with the area with flying fish being a large disappointment, since the town area only has 3 rooms in it aside from the dungeon areas.
And the actual artstyle is unique, with a very neat look on machinery, with mechs and aircrafts being the focus point of its usage. But throw in furred humanoid creatures in very odd looking outfits, at least for the main characters. Well, they might not be that odd looking, but we see them so rarely, since the dialog in this very dialog heavy titles has headshots of the characters as they emote, while the in game models choose to use the DS’s limited 3D capabilities. Well, that’s not entirely true, the game uses a mix of both 2D and 3D models to portray its world. A lot of backgrounds of cities are just drawings, NPCs who are not enemies are just idle sprite animations, and the dialog segments use sprites for facial expressions. The cutscenes on the other hand, use entirely different models, ones with a very cool looking mix of sprite bits and an actual models for the to go on. But if I had to sum it up in one statement, the game looks unique and is probably one of the best looking DS games to use 3D.
But now onto the actual gameplay, as if it was what the developers thought of second, because that is what probably happened. The core combat in the game is this, Red has a robot named Dahak that can lift up other robots, and throw them at other robots, or just the floor. So the action segments of this game is basically just playing Doki Doki Panic, except you grab from the sides, and it is a semi-overhead view. I say semi-overhead, because the camera is tilted down to show what is north of Red, making moving down very difficult, since your range of what is there is very limited, and your health bar helps obscure it.
Here is everything you can do in one of these combat sections: Lift an enemy into the air, jump and get to throw it four times, or grab it while you are on the ground and throw it three times, dash by double tapping the jump button, or flutter by tapping the jump button. It is easy if you are just fighting enemies, but hazards like fire, the camera, boxes that you end up lifting, enemies who are unliftable due to their displacement on another plane, and your movement speed. Let me explain something, I actually was able to keep everything from my previous playthrough when I started this one, so my upgrade to attack, defence, lifting speed, and movement speed all remained. But even when I was not focusing much on speed, it felt like I was moving too fast when it came to obstacles. In a game with a simple upgrading system, why is it okay to have the improvement of one stat be a negative impact on the game? And speaking of stats, why don’t I feel like i am doing more damage after I upgraded my attack. And why do I still lose the same amount of health when I upgrade my defense. I remove my upgrades and noticed a difference, but adding more did not create a difference that I could immediately notice.
Other than combat, you are pretty much just lifting things with your robot, and you can oddly get off of it to find expansions for your upgrade slots and money, which is hard to stockpile, since you keep getting near the same amount between the beginning and end of the game. There is also a problem with gaining levels, the most one enemy gives you in terms of EXP, is 105 from the final boss, and by the time you reach level 17, you need about 4000 EXP to level up, toss in the fact that battle don’t happen a lot and rarely give you the peak of 30 EXP per defeated enemy, and you have a game where you need to beat it three times just to get to level 20. Leveling up just gives you another hit point, so it does not need to be conserved as much as it is. Money is the same way, all you buy is cutscenes or upgrades for the Dahak.
But there are three alternate gameplay types, all of which the game introduces and then forgets about. The first is traversing a series of small islands over a sea of clouds, or a sea of fish. The problem is the fact that the camera is a pain to control, draw distance is crap, and throughout the game I have had trouble telling where I was on the map, so doing it while in a jetpack makes it all the harder. But if you fall, or your jetpack runs out of power, you just respawn on the last island you touched, with no penalty which is odd. Since the game desperately tries to make itself harder by adding cheap little picks at your health, when it is actually a breeze where I did not come close to dying at any point other than the boss rush in both of my playthroughs. Then we have a flight based racing game where you are in a tube, and it serves as a very soulless multiplayer function that only has a handful of samey maps, and 4 uninspired power ups that you can use while collecting boost icons. There is also battleship fishing, which is a fishing mini-game, which is as fun as fishing games tend to be. Even with a harpoon being fired on crabs, I couldn’t be bothered.
As a whole, Solatorobo has a lot of potential, and there is clearly a lot of work place into its world. But the same feeling plot diminished that. The areas are vibrant and look great in the game’s unique mix of 2D and 3D models, but they are used and then forgotten other than some dungeons that look bland by comparison. But the gameplay is only difficult due to cheapness, and lacks variety due to the limited amount of techniques that you can perform on this dual campaign 20 hour long title. The secondary forms of gameplay that are suppose to add more life to the title all feel like they are still in beta, and none are worth going back to. However, the game is still fun due to the overall good writing, and the characters all function well. It is a bit of a mess, but it is a game made by people who wanted to make something different, and I can safely say that the result is above the set bar of average.
There is promise in the title, but the execution is lacking in nearly every way. Only appealing to select fans of the games genre.
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