Solatorobo: Red the Hunter - Staff Review  

Cats and Dogs Living Together?! Mass Hysteria!
by Adriaan den Ouden

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Very Easy
20-40 Hours
+ Simple yet highly enjoyable combat.
+ Lots of worthwhile sidequests.
+ Great cast of characters.
- Too easy.
- Fishing costs money.
- Racing mini-game is terrible.
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   Japanese developer CyberConnect2 is best known for two things: an overabundance of Naruto games, and the impressively ambitious multimedia .hack franchise. However, before it began work on either of those two juggernaut franchises, it created a small action game on the PlayStation called Tail Concerto. Twelve years later, a follow-up to that title has finally emerged in the form of Solatorobo: Red the Hunter on the Nintendo DS.

   Solatorobo follows the story of Red, his sister Chocolat, and a mysterious boy named Elh who they meet by chance during one of their excursions. The three, and indeed all characters in the world of Solatorobo, are anthropomorphic dogs and cats. Red is a hunter, a sort of mercenary, who makes his living by accepting jobs from whoever's willing to pay. During one of these jobs, things go awry and while attempting to escape a sinking airship, Red comes across a strange medallion along with the boy Elh, both of which he takes back to his own airship before fleeing. This sets off a chain of events which could lead to the destruction of the world, unless Red can put a stop to it.

   Overall, the game's plot is a little bit too ridiculous to be taken seriously, but the unique world and entertaining cast of characters more than make up for what the narrative lacks. Solatorobo makes use of a mission-based structure. In between main quests, players can engage is dozens of entertaining side quests, each of which has its own self-contained story. Many of these quests link together and help tell larger stories about some of the characters you meet. In many ways, the side quests are more enjoyable than the game's story ones.

I can haz medalyun? I can haz medalyun?

   Combat in Solatorobo is equal parts simple and brilliant. At its core, the mechanics can be boiled down to a mere two actions: jump and grab. Red rides around on a robot called the Dahak, and fights by grabbing enemies, lifting them up, and throwing them. While it seems like this would get old fast, the enemy and encounter designs throughout the game are imaginative and make the simplicity of combat work to its advantage. Some enemies fire projectiles that can be grabbed and thrown back, some can only be assaulted from behind, and the boss encounters are all varied and engaging. It's shocking that a two-button combat system manages to stay interesting and enjoyable for over twenty hours of gameplay.

   The Dahak has a bit of customization available as well. As the game progresses, players can purchase new parts for the robot with the money they earn from quests. These parts increase one of four attributes: attack, defense, hydraulics, or mobility, increasing the robot's damage, damage resistance, lifting speed, and movement speed respectively. Each part is made up of a grouping of blocks, which need to be arranged in a grid, creating a mini-game similar to Tetris. Trying to make some of the more oddly shaped parts fit together successfully can be surprisingly difficult. As the game progresses, more grid slots can be purchased, allowing for greater customization.

   Solatorobo is also home to a wide variety of mini-games and collection subquests. Players can unlock the entire musical library by discovering objects hidden throughout the world, and similarly they can also unlock pictures of the various characters in different settings. There are two major mini-games in the game, though unfortunately they both have their issues. The first is a surprisingly complex racing mini-game similar in nature to Mario Kart, except in planes. Unfortunately, the racing game suffers from poor controls and better-than-average AI, making it very difficult to win and more frustrating than fun. The other mini-game is a fishing game in which Red fires harpoons at gigantic hermit crabs that live in sunken battleships. While the sheer awesomeness of the very concept cannot be understated, players will unfortunately have to pay a surprisingly hefty fee for every attempt, whether it's successful or not.

Fit parts into the grid to power up the Dahak. Fit parts into the grid to power up the Dahak.

   On a visual level, Solatorobo is both incredible and disappointing. The environments are terrific, and feature a wide variety of different worlds and towns to visit. The attention to detail is impeccable, and the color palettes are bright and vivid. The character designs are also terrific, with wonderfully expressive cat and dog-people that would make Walt Disney proud. Unfortunately, things break down a bit when the camera moves away. The aliasing issues that plague DS 3D visuals are quite pronounced, and much of the time characters are frustratingly indistinct. This is particularly true of Red and his robot Dahak, which simply have too much detail to cram into the tiny amount of pixel space they occupy for most of the game.

   The music is fun and energetic, but rarely particularly memorable. As far as audio is concerned, the voice acting is far more interesting. Although it's quite minimal, what makes it stand out is that it's not in English, nor is it in Japanese. It's in French. In fact, many of the signs decorating the towns players will visit throughout the game are also in French. Characters don't actually speak much, and when they do, it tends to be simple, universally understood words like "Salut", which makes the unusual language choice feel right at home, regardless of one's native tongue.

   Solatorobo is a fun, quirky game that proves a simple core design can work wonderfully with a little creativity. Lasting a bit over twenty hours, and with several sidequests opening up after the credits roll, it's a decent length as well. If one had to fault it anything, it's that it's far too easy. In fact, players may find they have to go out of their way in order to die at all. Even if it does happen, a retry option is immediately available, eliminating any risk. Despite the lack of challenge, Solatorobo is still a ton of fun and comes highly recommended.

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