[4 January 2012]
While the Nintendo DS has undoubtedly been a success for the company, its life is clearly winding down. As Nintendo’s core properties are moving to the 3DS, support for the DS is starting to dwindle. As such, Solatorobo: Red the Hunter may well have had the deck stacked against it from the outset, having not only to contend with the annual holiday glut, but also the perception that it’s not for the latest and greatest handheld system that Nintendo has to offer. But Solatorobo is an extremely enjoyable game, and it’s not hard to imagine it becoming a cult classic at some point.
In 1999, developer CyberConnect2 released Tail Concerto for the Playstation. The game was a 3D action-RPG title populated by anthropomorphic dogs and cats. The protagonist of the game was a canine named Waffles Ryebread, and the the title was a fairly straightforward and enjoyable action-RPG, drawing connections to the well-regarded Mega Man: Legends. Though Tail Concerto never achieved a great deal of commercial success, it was appreciated by those that played it and cultivated a small following. But outside of the rather bizarre creation of mascots from the same universe as the game (referred to as Little Tail Bronx) for the emergency services of Fukuoka, Japan, the game was largely forgotten, as CyberConnect2 went on to make numerous titles in the .hack series and the Naruto series.
Now the developers of Tail Concerto are finally revisiting the Little Tail Bronx landscape with Solatorobo: Red the Hunter. While some seem content to describe Solatorobo as a spiritual successor to Tail Concerto, and while it’s certainly not a direct sequel, Solatorobo shares more than its predecessor’s DNA. It’s clearly set in the same universe with plenty of cameos from Tail Concerto characters, and featuring similar mechanics throughout. This makes it a great choice for those that never played Tail Concerto the first time around. But though Solatorobo seems to be painted with the same thematic brush as its predecessor, it’s also darker and more complex than Tail Concerto, and the fact that it’s not just the same game over again makes it easy to see it also appealing to those fans that have been hoping for another chance to visit Little Tail Bronx.
As was the case with Tail Concerto, the mechanics of Solatorobo are somewhat simplistic, but this is easy to overlook given how much charm is packed into the title. Some may feel that the game is a shade easy, but this can actually be seen as a positive in that it makes the game much more approachable to both younger players and to those that just want an enjoyable afternoon romp through a colorful land. This isn’t the kind of title that you play to challenge your reflexes or to practice your problem solving abilities. Rather, it’s the kind that you play for its aesthetic and personality. In addition, the play mechanics of the many quests in the game are quite varied, and in spite of the relative ease of the title overall, this diversity certainly contributes to Solatorobo’s enjoyability.
Solatorobo looks great from both technical and artistic perspectives. Given how late we are in the lifecycle of the DS, it’s not all that surprising that developers have figured out how to squeeze every last bit of performance out of the hardware. But CyberConnect2 should still be commended for how easy on the eyes Solatorobo can be. Prerendered cut-scenes almost always look great, and that’s no exception here. But even in game, everything has a lush, anime style that simply fits the overall aesthetic.
It’s clear that the developers take pride in the attention paid to the audio production of Solatorobo, and the first run comes packaged with the original soundtrack on CD. Composed by the same team responsible for the background music for Tail Concerto, the soundtrack does a nice job of setting the tone for the game and fits the visual design elements nicely. In this day and age of high priced limited or collector’s editions of games, it’s nice to see a game come packaged with a little extra just because it’s a nice treat for fans of the game who may wish to revisit its music.
Again, it’s not that Solatorobo brings anything fundamentally new to the action-RPG table. It’s also not a terribly difficult adventure. But the truth is it doesn’t do much wrong either, and there’s enough going on to make it an entertaining adventure throughout. The game is also relatively lengthy, making it a good bang for your gaming buck. Further Solatorobo is so packed with personality that it will almost certainly put a smile on your face. It’s easily recommended for fans of adventure games in general, and it would be a shame if it were forgotten due to its relatively low profile and its release for a system in its twilight.