Solatorobo: Red the Hunter isn’t a game title that is likely to storm to the top of the sales charts as there are no well-known franchise names, no mainstream marketing campaign, and no hint of generic, dull gaming characters and designs. Being a Japanese action RPG, this game is different from the vast majority of titles out there and, in this case, different is most definitely a good thing.
You play as Red Savarin, a hunter who rides his robot, or Dahak, through a variety of environments and challenges. His main companions are his adopted sister Chocolat and a mysterious feline friend Elh. Red’s duties as a hunter for hire draw him into a series of events that ultimately rest on him having to save the world. The story develops into a tale about Red himself, his origins, and how he came to be a robot-riding hunter. The cast of other characters is varied, with some that are friends, some who are enemies, and a few that are a bit of both. I found that the storyline maintains a fun and very enjoyable pace throughout the whole game.
The gameplay is bouncy, quirky and perfectly matches the bright and colorful visuals. Red’s ship if you will, called a Dahak, has mechanical arms that grab enemies and objects, lifts them up in the air and slams them back down. It’s pretty satisfying to toss an enemy in the air, grab it, slam it down, and grab it again when it bounces up for a double or triple air-grab combo. It’s also fun to toss an enemy into his cronies for mass destruction. I really like that if an enemy shoots any kind of projectile at you that while in the Dahak you can grab it in midair and toss it right back. It’s a cool touch.
Red levels up and gets stronger as he defeats enemies, but upgrading the Dahak is what really makes the difference in the game’s combat. Red has to find crystals throughout the world to open up slots in his Dahak to install parts. With the various parts Red can install enhancements for attack, defense, hydraulics, mobility, and even auto-recovery. Be warned though, crystals are not always easy to come by, so when you do collect them redeem them wisely when opening up install slots.
The Dahak controls pretty well, although I’ve always had a tough time with the DS’s buttons. One minor gripe is where the Dahak is given the ability to fly over short distances with a rocket booster. The rotatable camera becomes a bit wonky and the control doesn’t result in having the Dahak go where it should. This can make for some floaty and imprecise landings, but after some practice you should be able to navigate the areas. Movement is accomplished with the D-Pad, you jump with B, while the X button gives access to a useful sub-menu where you can customise the Dahak or view an objective reminder. It’s the A button that will get the most use, as the combat mechanics require repetitive tapping.
The game’s interface does its job well with menus being both aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. A key note is that the game can be saved at save points scattered throughout and the game also prompts players to save after completion of a quest or major event. It also should be noted that there is absolutely zero use of the stylus, which is absolutely fine by me. I find some stylus games get a little too busy trying to combine many different gaming elements into one package. Solatorobo does just fine without it.
Being very busy with life I’ve found I have drifted away from some of the heavy RPG/action adventures as I just don’t have the time. With this in mind, I am finding that Solatorobo is a perfect pick-up and play title, which leans a bit on the easy side. The game should take you about 12-14 hours to plough through the main quest. There are other side missions, quests, and extras to explore that will extend the gameplay length, but the core of gameplay is pretty short in RPG terms. It is not a deal breaker by any means though, so take this with a grain of salt. Within the adventure itself, there’s a myriad of items and pieces of lore to buy, unlock, and discover. These can include music tracks, photos, snippets of the in-game world’s history, and cut-scenes that can be viewed at any time. Another extra feature is downloadable quests, but in order to play these you need to finish the main adventure. There is also a battle arena and mini-games, like racing and fishing. One of the extras I really enjoyed was the Air Robo GP, which features unlockable vehicles and six tracks to choose from. If you have friends who own the game, there is a multi-card multiplayer option for up to four players, allowing you to race against each other.
Solatorobo is a fantastic looking game with a terrific graphic style. The towns are especially impressive with their cartoony, cel-shaded look and there is plenty of motion in the background as well. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference between what is pre-rendered graphics or those that are generated “on the fly”. This is especially evident throughout the whole game and all the areas you visit, and for the DS it is quite impressive.
The game’s characters that consist of shaded polygons and look pretty smooth throughout, showing an impressive amount of detail and sharpness. The character designs themselves are pretty adorable and expressive without being too cutesy, and the main character, Red, shows some style by chomping on a chew bone like it’s a cigar. The games myriad of dungeons are fully polygonal and have great detailing as well.
I liked how the game used the in-game engine for most of the cut scenes as they look great with their dynamic sense of framing and cool camera angles. The anime inspired intros are also well worth watching every time you boot the game up, not only for the content but for the music as well. I don’t play DS titles as much as I should but, but I was thoroughly surprised at the amount of polish and the overall sharpness of Solatorobo.
The Japanese vocal number has been kept in-tact for Solatorobo’s anime openings, which is very cool in keeping with the intriguing and different theme of the game. The opening song is heady and rich, unlike the kind of breezy bubblegum J-Pop that one would expect in a game like this. The rest of the music is a beautiful orchestral fare with more complex melodies and harmonies that may not immediately get stuck in your head, but will definitely not bore you upon the umpteenth time hearing them. I could spend a ton of time in the sound test mode listening to the game’s music, along with the soundtrack that is smartly packaged with the game. As for the game’s sound effects, they round off a great audio package given that they sound as you’d expect, and they manage to convey the action that takes place on screen.
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is a game that has been crafted with care and in painstaking detail, incorporating a fairly lengthy and well-written story with engaging battle mechanics and an impressive variety of quest styles. Fans of the RPGs, or those seeking an original, enjoyable experience on their DS should feel comfortable that this is indeed a game that is worth the purchase.