Are you fond of robots? Anthropomorphic animals? What if I told you you could play a game with both of these? That's right, in Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, you play as Red Savarin, a dog-person who fights with his robot, Dahak. From the minute I saw the box, I knew this game was going to be a unique experience.
If you enjoy atmospheric games, Solatorobo is right up your alley. It's the video game equivalent of a Miyazaki film. The world is full of detail, with birds flying in the foreground, water tricking in the background, trains chugging by, the list goes on. In one area, there's a TV set in a shop window in the foreground, and it's very close-up. The set is on, displaying an image, and it flickers. It may sound trivial, but it's this attention to detail that makes the game that much more engaging. The music is simply beautiful, and the cut-scenes are stunning.
Okay, so the music is great and the world is full of detail, but how does it play? Well, the gameplay itself is alright. If I had to arbitrarily break the game down and rate each of it's components separately, gameplay would be on the lower end of the spectrum, but games are experienced as a whole, so they should be judged that way. At first, I was a bit disappointed with the gameplay. "Lift and throw... That's all?" I thought. Fortunately, variety is later introduced with new robot forms, each with its own strengths, weaknesses, and attacks. Your robot has stats for attack, defense, hydraulics, mobility, and revive. Damage dealt, damage received, lifting power, and percentage of health revived upon dying, respectively. These are not upgraded by leveling up, but with part customization. You insert different parts into a grid to upgrade your stats. They're all different shapes and sizes, and you'll find yourself rotating them around trying to figure out the best combination. All those hours spent playing Tetris should serve you well here. Much of the grid is locked to begin with. Space can be opened by using "Power Crystals," which are littered across the world's twelve different locations and can also be obtained by completing quests. Some crystals, once missed, are gone forever. This is one way the game rewards you for exploration.. The leveling system is very simple. You get a set amount of experience for each type of enemy, and once you reach the experience goal for the current level, you're health bar grows and is fully restored.
Solatorobo's expansive world really is a treat to explore. I found myself talking to different NPCs often, eager to see how their dialogue changed in light of recent story events. Aside from crystals, you collect musical notes to unlock music and pieces of ripped photographs, stolen by a punk gang of kittens, to unlock artwork. These are game-long quests assigned by NPCs who will reward you as your collection grows. Most of your exploring is done on quests. These are the backbone of the game. They advance the story and are the major way to earn money (rings) in the game. There are fetch quests, battle quests, collection quests, scavenger hunt quests, etc. Nothing out of the ordinary here. I commend the developers for their implementation of the quests. It all flows very nicely. Some games have you go to some remote location to do something, but then you have to manually make your way back to point A to claim your reward. For the majority of the quests, the NPC will say something like "Let's start heading back," and it cuts back to point A. The travel is implied.
Solatorobo is not a hard game. I didn't die a single time, and only came close to dying on the very last levels, which were only mildly challenging. The light puzzle-solving portions you'll encounter now and again are also devoid of challenge. Explanations are wordy. They wanted to be absolutely sure you know to use that drill right there in front of you to drill through the rock wall. If you did have to worry about dying and losing your progress, you wouldn't lose much of it, as there are manual save points at every quest counter, and an auto-save feature that prompts you after the completion of every quest, as well as after some major story events or before boss fights.
While not a very difficult game, it doesn't grow stale. There are multiple styles of gameplay to keep things interesting, such as harpooning giant hermit crabs that take up residence in wrecked ships, a Mario Kart-esque air-race segment (which can be played at any time from the main menu, alone or with up to three others), a free-flight area, and staged fights with special handicaps imposed. The quests also vary quite a bit, and I eagerly completed each one as soon as it was available instead of going straight to the next location to advance the story, which, at it's core, is nothing we haven't seen before, but it does its own thing and has some neat twists along the way. In a nutshell, Red has been chosen by Elh to help stop the Titano machine to save the world as they know it. Elh is an immortal paladin whose life is devoted to this single task. The current anthropomorphic species is going down the wrong path, and the Titano machines are there to correct things. They're there to wipe the slate clean. This is a very text-heavy game, and fortunately it's also well-written and interesting. I won't go too much into the story here but I encourage you to play it for yourself.
For me, Solatorobo was an eighteen hour breath of fresh air, and I can safely recommend it as one of my favorite Nintendo DS games.
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter on Amazon | ebay
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter on Amazon | ebay