Using the voice of Don LaFontaine.... In a world where islands float in the sky, and everyone speaks one language while exclaiming in another, one dog lives by the code of the treasure hunter. His name is Red, and his carefree life is about to get very complicated. A giant monster has awakened, and the destruction it brings means he'll have to make a choice. A choice that will change the world. Using his robot, Red will fight the most fiendish pirate menace the world has ever known, and he'll do it with a smile on his face. Coming to the Nintendo DS on September 27 — Solatorobo.
" Picking things up and throwing them around - it's not exactly sophisticated, but it's pretty fun. "
So we've got a hero named Red and his robot, Dahak. Red's robot is more akin to the container-movers in Aliens than anything from Super Robot Taisen, particularly since it attacks by grabbing things. That might not sound like a particularly exciting mechanic, but the controls are fast and solid, which allows Red to quickly grab things and slam them around at will. Grabbing missiles and chucking them back at the flying battle cruiser that launched them is very satisfying. Boss fights are reliant upon throwing things back at the enemy and depend upon recognizing the pattern of the opponent, reminding me a little of the 16-bit era's action/adventure games.
Red won't just be fighting, though. In fact the majority of his time is spent exploring the nifty environments, not killing the things inside of them. While Dahak can jump, this isn't really a platformer. Navigating Solatorobo's locales is less about precise jumps, and more about manipulating the surroundings. The A button usually grabs onto objects in the immediate vicinity, but that doesn't necessarily mean tossing them around willy-nilly. Sometimes it means Red has to get off the robot and manipulate things himself, but the smooth controls ensure that it's never a problem. Thus far the game hasn't thrown anything overly challenging into my way, and the controls should help make sure that it stays that way.
Oh, the story? I can't say it's causing me to stare unblinkingly at the DS screen to glean every drop, but it's certainly entertaining enough to stay engaging. The major menace throughout appears to be the Kurvaz pirate group, very few of whom are presented in a manner that could be deemed even remotely threatening. Solatorobo's world is an interesting one of anthropomorphic species (almost all of the inhabitants seem based off either dogs or cats) living on sky islands. Also, just about every character utters phrases aloud in French with a heavy Japanese accent, which may not make much sense but definitely makes the game unique. XSEED deserves credit for some amusing writing, helped by source material friendly to a frequently-frivolous approach. I wouldn't call any of the characters deep (though that could change as events progress), but they're a likable bunch and I enjoy reading their banter.
There is one aspect that annoys me greatly though, and that's flying. It's a good thing Solatorobo institutes no penalty for falling down, or the few areas that require it would have infuriated me. It either takes place in a minigame that reminds me why I haven't played flight simulators in years, or in a couple of places with small islands that are separated by lots of air. The minigames I don't like simply because they control semi-realistically, and flight simulators have never appealed to me. The parts requiring flight between little islands are a pain because gauging depth is a chore, and the game's camera was not designed for figuring Red's position out whenever he's using three dimensions instead of two. These areas are fairly short and aren't so much difficult as simply annoying. Having vented about them, I have dispensed with the aspect of the game that bothered me to any degree.
So far in Solatorobo, I've unearthed blocked tunnel passages using a portable drill, tossed missiles back at an attacking pirate ship, thrown explosive fish into the faces of some gargantuan aquatic creatures of the sewer, caught a bunch of slippery photo-stealing cats, fished for a hermit crab using an old battleship as its shell, and disciplined a slacker. Notably, almost all of those incidents took place while performing optional missions instead of the central plot, showing how varied things can be in the game. Solatorobo is far more action than RPG, but its difficulty is forgiving enough to allow pretty much anyone interested to have a reasonable chance at enjoying the thing. It even allows the option of repeatedly retrying a tough fight, so the Game Over screen never appears. Anyone with even a slight interest in a DS action-RPG ought to pay attention to this.