If games had terrible tie-in reality TV shows, Rodea the Sky Soldier would be introduced with a "what they did next" style documentary about its creator, Yuji Naka. Best known for introducing the world to Sonic the Hedgehog, and dearly beloved amongst hardcore audiences for his next adventure, the aerially-based Nights into Dreams, whenever Yuji Naka creates a new game, the world listens. Unfortunately for him, even legendary games designers sometimes struggle to get their games released - and Rodea has had anything but an easy ride getting to shelves.
Originally starting development in 2010 for the Wii, the game was put together and finished in a fairly short space of time, before finding itself stuck in development limbo as the world moved on to the Wii U, and publishers became unwilling to publish Wii games so late on in its life. Stuck with a game that was finished, but no-one who'd release it, Naka and his team set to work on a version of the game for the more commercially viable 3DS, before development eventually shifted across to the Wii U.
This is relevant, because the Wii and the Wii U editions are actually rather different games - and if you manage to find a "day one" edition of the game, you'll actually get both. And that's a good thing, because the Wii version is streets ahead of its Wii U cousin. Weirdly enough.
Rodea the Sky Soldier follows the story of Rodea, a robot who's been sworn to protect a flying continent from attack. A robot with a heart (literally - that's a major plot point), the story starts out in a traditionally Japanese way - with the protagonist losing their memory - but beyond the odd quip mid level, the plot really isn't the game's strong point.
While it may look like a platformer in screenshots, Rodea is actually a mostly aerially based game, like Nights into Dreams. While you can run around, it's incredibly slow and awkward, and so most of your time will be spent flying through the game's levels, and, sadly, wrestling with the game's awkward control system. Here, you have to press A to jump, press A again when you're mid air to enter pre-flight mode (which starts you spinning in mid-air), and then move a cursor around on screen to choose where you want to go. Pressing A a third time will start you slowly soaring towards your destination - but it's not as simple(!) as that.
Most levels are made up of a number of islands, floating rocks, and other bits and bobs that you have to either avoid, or work out how to best get between. This is pretty important, as Rodea actually only has a limited amount of air time to use before he has to land - and should you run out of flight time over a chasm, you'll simply drop out of the sky to your doom. So planning is crucial.
The amount of air time you have left is represented by a circular meter that surrounds your cursor in the middle of the screen. While you can change direction mid air without using up any extra air time (all you have to do is point the cursor in a different direction and press the A button), everything else you do mid-air will sap some of your air time - including attacks. This is a big issue, because there's are lots of enemies around, and you can only stay in the air long enough to attack a handful of them, meaning you have to keep thinking three moves ahead.
Things are made all the more awkward by the fact that your attacks don't cover an unlimited range - instead, pressing B will simply let you shoot forward a few feet in a raging ball of invulnerable redness, at which point you'll turn back into your usual fragile self, where so much as a bump into an enemy is enough to get rid of a third of your health. While there are plenty of armour recharging pick-ups scattered throughout the levels, it doesn't really help you all that much when you have to get past a group of enemies to reach it.
Combining an awkward control system, a difficult combat system and a weak character that can only withstand a few hits, Rodea is actually rather frustrating to get to grips with - at least at first. You can try and make things a little bit easier for yourself by upgrading your character - although to do this, you'll need to collect bits and pieces from the levels, either for beating enemies, or that have been hidden inside giant crystals. Increasing the size of your armour bar, which in the process means you can take more hits, this is a trick new players will certainly want to remember - but it doesn't get around how awkward the control system is.
And the weirdest thing? The bundled Wii version has none of these problems - and because of it, it's great! Colourful, original and actually a lot of fun, the Wii version is controlled entirely using the Wii Remote, and totally gets rid of the concept of flight time, letting you fly for as long as you want, zoom towards enemies from as far away as you want, and generally is a lot easier to pick up and play. That's not to say it's perfect - the game does expect you to look around by moving your Wii Remote cursor to the edges of the screen, then instantly tells you off for pointing your Wii Remote away from the TV, but still - it's a lot better than the Wii U version you're actually paying for, as almost every chance they've made to the Wii U version has weirdly enough made it worse.
While we've played a lot worse than Rodea, we've played a lot better too, and how much fun you get out of this will depend on whether you can pick up a copy that comes with the Wii version too. As a museum piece as the last ever Wii game to be released, and as a game in its own right, the day one version with bundled Wii edition is well worth picking up - but if you've got a 3DS, or you can't find the day one edition on Wii U, that's a much tougher decision to make.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U