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Solatorobo: Red the Hunter resurrects your childhood soul. It'll take you back to the days when you believed animals could talk and Transformers were all the rage. Solatorobo plops you right in front of the Saturday morning cartoons in your memory and brings back your childhood smile. It does it with its straightforward gameplay, charismatic characters, and above all, letting you control your own personal mech, where you'll throw enemies around like they're your playthings. Always fun and lighthearted, XSEED has localized a spirited game with enough spunk to make even the most jaded gamer crack a grin.
Get ready to suspend reality and be brought into a world of floating islands where personal robots are a necessity and pirates and vicious monsters roam the skies. You'll see many dogs and cats along the way, but don’t expect your furry friends to be on all fours – they’re anthropomorphs. With his cigarette-like bone sticking out of his mouth, Red Savarin, an overconfident teenager, and his specialized robot Dahak have made a name for themselves by taking on odd jobs. Red's curiosity gets the best of him when he comes across a mysterious medallion. Ruh-oh, strange artifacts? This can't be going anywhere good. But before Red runs off with the medallion, he comes across Elh, a sullen, enigmatic creaturewho shares an unknown link with the medallion for Red to uncover.
The narrative is sparse: it's mainly the characters’ interactions that bring Solatorobo's main entertainment. Chocolat, Red's sister, is along for the ride, always putting Red in his place, and between Chocolat, Red, and Elh, there's banter aplenty. Parts of the story are predictable, while others are intense and will take you by surprise, but through it all, Solatorobo remains lighthearted and that's where it really shines. Yes, these characters are attempting to save the world, but they're doing it with such levity that it's a nice change of pace. There's something genuine about these characters and how their friendships grow; the sincerity manages to tug at the heartstrings in all the right ways.
Beyond its classic story, Solatorobo is quite a straightforward action-adventure game. In fact, it's so simplistic that there isn't much of a challenge accompanying it. Puzzle solutions are in-your-face obvious. It’s tough to walk away feeling accomplished as it almost feels like you're playing a game targeted at young children. Maybe Solatorobo really is, but those of you reading this review probably aren't children, and if you crave deep gameplay or a challenge, Solatorobo will leave you wanting more. Difficulty aside, Solatorobo can still be fun; picking up enemies with your robot and chucking them at one another for a Three Stooges moment is not only smooth, but thrilling - as are other ways to defeat enemies - some you'll have turn their own weapons back at them for ultimate revenge, while others you can't even injure unless your timing is right or you sneak attack from behind.
Ultimately, to succeed in combat, all you need to know is how to tap the "A" button quickly. The game does try to add some depth and customization by allowing you to increase certain skills on a grid, where you'll have to fit oddly-shaped pieces together to boost your stats. You’ll expand your grid over time with item collection and unlock further skills. It's another straightforward element to Solatorobo, but one that adds just enough depth to be worthwhile.
Solatorobo includes enough side quests to delight every completionist. There are over 70 quests, but that's not to say that all of them are fun. You must complete a prerequisite number of quests to advance the story and raise your hunter rank, but many are humdrum. Perhaps they’d be better with additional challenge, but with the game’s difficulty level, quests are rather dull. If you can set blocks in a predefined order or defeat a laughably easy monster, you’ve won! As the game progresses, some quests give a glimpse into some intriguing side characters, but have the same pitfalls of previous quests. Solatorobo could have stood out with unique quests and progression, but instead they end up being tedious.
While there’s no challenge, there’s certainly variety, as there's a robot battle tournament, fishing, flying your plane, collecting hidden music, piecing together missing picture pieces, and gunning down enemies to be done. Had the game simply executed its ideas well, it would have been amazingly fun – instead, it’s merely entertaining. At the very least, the dungeons and environments are varied enough to make each area feel new, even if your brain will be on autopilot throughout them. There's also a multiplayer mode where you can fly a plane and race up to four people online – it's like a watered-down version of Mario Kart. Flying takes some time to get used to since you'll have to adjust your elevation and direction constantly, but at least it was one area that wasn't super easy (though it’s far from difficult).
Solatorobo is more tantalizing to the eyes than we could’ve ever imagined for a DS game. There's a wide array of vibrant colors shining throughout the game along with fully animated cutscenes that are just icing on the cake. (Psst: They're done by MADHOUSE, who brought us Death Note and Trigun.) There are 3D character models and environments amongst hand drawn 2D backgrounds, and the detail and variety within is mesmerizing. The music is also memorable (in a good way) as it captures a wide variety of emotions throughout. It was playful when it needed to be and intense and serious when it was warranted and it never overstayed its welcome. There’s not much in the way of voice acting, but those effects that are in the game sound very Japanese, such as Elh’s ear-piercing shrieks.
Solatorobo is a carefree, fun experience, a portal directly to our childhood. There’s something endearing about the characters and their growth that still holds a special place in our heart. We also weren't expecting the story to become as intense as it did… just be sure to watch the credits as there's two parts to the story, and part two will continue to throw plot twists and fun banter your way. Solatorobo provides a captivating experience, even if it’s not a particularly complex one. Let's face it, though: unleashing our fury by tossing creatures around like a big bad robot bully never gets old. Red just may be one of our favorite smart asses to date.
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