When was the last time you played as an anthropomorphic animal?
Was it Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time?
I realize the glory days of the furred hero are long past. Its corpse shambles along, energized by Ratchet & Clank‘s diminishing returns, and the artwork of fans who imply these stars were more endowed than their creators let on. When the old guard is caught making out with human women, it’s clear that beastkind is no longer wanted.
Do you wish to once again drown in the tears of a fatherless Fox McCloud? Cozy up to a dozing Banjo? Then have I got the game for you.
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, released for the DS in 2011, is a glorious throwback to a bygone era. While the absence of furry heroes brought me to this recommendation, it’s important to note that Solatorobo earned my attention through more than just mech-driving dogs. It reminds me of the SNES and Genesis days, of games that were made to attract an audience, not appeal to one. Games were colourful; the skies were blue and the grass was green. Our heroes were good guys, nary a chip on their broad shoulders. Solatorobo is a modern attempt at finding that soft spot you have for the “good ol’ days”, and it succeeds triumphantly.
As Red, players travel to floating islands, each as special as the last. Over the course of the game’s three year development, the folks at CyberConnect2 learned how to make the DS whistle. The game’s 3D world is gorgeous, with a strong art direction serving as its backbone. The lush jungles of one island work well with the ship-graveyard-turned-city of another. Its setting is a mixture of old and new; players make extensive use of a mech that flies, fights, and transforms with ease, and yet still travels the land on train. The sights are beautiful, so it’s never a problem to scour them for hidden treasures.
The game’s approach to combat is unique as well. This isn’t a game where you’re dealing out 400 hit combos, instead you’re more often dodging damage than dealing it. As splashy as your mech looks, it’s primary role in life is to lift. Solatorobo is a game of taking your time. Talk to locals, partake in its many sodequests, look for collectibles, the game insists on you have patience. The same goes for the combat, wait for a weakness and pounce. Let the enemy ram into a wall and grab them from behind, perhaps allow the showy ones to engage in a display of their power, and blindside them as they charge up. In Solatorobo, you want to have a barrage of missiles honing in on you, just grab and hurl em’ right back. It’s super unique, and a great way to tie the combat to everything you do. Sure, stacking boxes may not seem glamourus, but narratively it makes more sense than a sword master like Link delivering pumpkins.
While I speak favourably of Solatorobo’s combat, I would be lying if I said it was deep. The game boils down grab, throw, repeat. There’s a couple extra steps available, but they don’t mix things up much at all. The enemies and bosses of Solatorobo at some variety, but there is still only so far the game can go. Regardless, it remains enjoyable. Simplicity isn’t a bad word, and considering how unique the combat system is, it’s not hard to overlook these issues.
Solatorobo’s combat serves as an interesting contrast to the depth found in the mech’s customization. Similar to Resident Evil 4‘s inventory system, the player places differently sized blocks onto a grid. These blocks represent different abilities, speed, defense, attack, etc.. The player has a lot of control over how their mech performs, and that’s before you take changing the mech you use into the equation (with each carrying its own unique set of skill buffs). This stark contrast in depth is found once again in the story. The developer’s admitted that the game was made to appeal to children and high school students, and as such, the game does not miss an opportunity to talk and instruct in full detail. What’s odd is that the story is pretty out there, especially when humans and Earth are brought in. I liked it plenty, but it does seem funky considering how much it wants to appeal to children.
It would be great if you played Solatorobo and took this trip to the 90’s with me. It serves as a fun reminder of how things were, but also of how things can be if publishers would just take the risk. CyberConnect2 had a hell of a time trying to get this funded, and their passion carried through to the finished product.
I love Solatorobo, and you can too!