I don't get it… why does the DOG have a CAT sister?
It's not actually explained, and it doesn't make any sense. Why does a dog have a cat as a sister? And if Red, the mighty hunter he's supposed to be, is so… erhm, "cat"-whipped, how can we take him seriously? Most gamers might justify this by saying, "Dude, it's Japanese, so it's supposed to be a little weird." To that I say, "Yeah. Let's go with that."
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter (or Solatorobo for "short") is the story of a dog surfer-ish dude and his piloting kid sister Chocolat, who's a pink cat (seriously, WTF?) and tries so hard to be in control but comes off as little more than a spray-painted YouTube video you just want to watch on occasion, draw an "aaaawwwwww" from your friends, and turn off to do something productive. They come across a kid named Elh, another small kitty, unconscious on a battleship.And like in every good story involving anthropomorphic furries and robots, things start to spiral out of control with fuzzy (and NOT fuzzy! *gasp*) evil-doers running amok. It's up to Red to make sure the world stays safe… and get paid, of course.
The bad guys are just so… catty! Ha! Get it? 'Cuz they're cats!… yeah, you get it...
From simply an aesthetic point of view, the DS hardware is fully taken to task: The environments are nicely rendered and beautifully designed. The actual characters might look like remnants of the PSOne, but that's a bit of the charm and they're still well-designed. One thing that pops out, however, are the NPCs; they're each a flat, barely-animated cel that clashes with the lush world around them. It's not that they look terrible, far from it, but they appear as though they were awkwardly cut from another game and pasted into pictures of the Solatorobo world.
The main storyline is straightforward: take on quests from whatever town you find yourself in and complete them. There really are only a few different tasks in the original control scheme, like moving crates and solving extremely basic puzzles, so to spice things up, different worlds have specialty quests, like racing, harpoon fishing, and hover-platforming. Basically, a hover-pack is put on the back of Red's robot and he can cover more ground, moving through a field of small, floating islands. They're nice distractions to the otherwise bland adventure, though some of the floating island bits can get too tricky.
Fighting, which is first and foremost in the quests and main story, is primarily just riding a big robot and swinging your big robot arms around to grab baddies, flying meanies, and floating horrors. But, in the time you're not throwing some enemy bot, you can hop off of your vehicle and explore the terrain and find money or gears that unlock blocks you can use to assign parts and upgrade the stats of your bot. I don't know if leveling up actually does much of anything, as there is a gear system that seems to do the statistical heavy-lifting. Throughout the environments and quests are glowing gems that can be picked up, and collecting enough of them can unlock blocks of space to put new parts and upgrade your bot.
Even if you're a guy like me with warped video game depth perception, there's nothing terribly difficult or hard to grasp in this game. The main adventure is simply stick-and-move, swing/counter, and grab stuff in mid-flight whether that stuff means guys you just chucked at the ground or a projectile a baddie just chucked at you. It's honestly simple to the point of ridiculous; none of the enemies are particularly difficult—bosses included—and the only two actions of jump and swing make fighting the majority of the game limited and boring. Still, with the addition of different (though placed selectively throughout the world) play styles dropped in, like harpoon fishing akin to bass fishing games and racing, the main game doesn't get too stale because it's not repetitive all the way through.
Speaking of racing, there is a secondary game which stands on its own after being played in-game called Air Robo GP. The game plays like a drifty Mario Kart-esque spaceship game with a tunnel view. Up, down, left, and right are all options for movement, and with multiple boost pick-ups and attacks available, it's a neat distraction. There is a bonus to playing from the title screen, which is unlocked after being played in-game: Having a good race can get you some bank, which can be spent in-game on higher-end stat upgrades. It's a neat, optional distraction, and helps out with the main-game in some small way? Win-win, baby!
If you were to smash a standard action-RPG in the face with Kirby's simplicity and ease of play, wipe away the blood and throw a robot into the mix, Solatorobo would be the stained child remaining. It's easy to pick up, simple to get a hold of, and while it's not terribly challenging, it's fun. That's perfect for the DS, if that's what you expect from the handheld.
Review is based on play on the Nintendo DSi. The review copy was supplied by the publisher.