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Rodea the Sky Soldier Makes Modern 3D Sonic Look Like a Masterpiece

Yuji Naka's pet project definitely doesn't feel like it was five years in the making.

Analysis by Bob Mackey, .

So, Rodea the Sky Soldier sure has been in the works for a long time, hasn't it? I remember being pegged to potentially review it back when I worked at 1UP.com—a website that's coming up on its third anniversary of being officially dead.

It's a game that, in purely Capitalistic terms, probably shouldn't exist. The name "Yuji Naka"—the brains behind Rodea and (kinda) creator of Sonic the Hedgehog—hasn't carried much sway since the mid-'90s, and the age of the mascot-based 3D platformer fizzled out with the close of the last console generation—at least, if the collective shrug directed towards Knack is any indication. But these are the reasons I really want to love Rodea; like many of my favorite pieces of entertainment, it came into being simply because someone at the top wasn't paying attention.

Obviously, the people behind Rodea believed in it; I doubt we'd be seeing a 3DS and Wii U port of what could have been a forgotten, Japan-only Wii game if no one actually cared. But it's a game that's so bad and so misguided, getting angry or snarky seems about it like an unreasonably harsh response. After my experience with Rodea, I could only walk away feeling extremely sorry for the people who undoubtedly sunk their lives into a project, only to end up with... this.

The gameplay premise of Rodea initially comes off as promising: It's what I'd call a mix of Sonic Adventure, Pilotwings, and Jumping Flash. Holding the jump button puts Rodea in "pre-flight mode," and from there, he can boost through the air to different destinations (chosen via a reticle) until the corresponding meter hits zero. His movement is essentially very Sonic-like, but slowed down to about a third of the speed—there's even a boost attack similar to Sonic's homing jump. With these design decisions, I can definitely see what Naka was shooting for: The post-Adventure Sonic games all share the same, fundamental issue of making it fun to control a fast character (and collect objects) in a 3D space, due to how easy it is to blast off a ledge or go zipping into some other deadly hazard. But Rodea complete drops the ball by making its protagonist feel more like the Wright Brothers' glider than the sleek, smooth jet he should be.

To be blunt, Rodea feels like a circa-2000 Dreamcast game. It's an era I have great fondness for, but Rodea doesn't seem to be channelling it intentionally; instead, it's more a case of developers completely forgetting the lessons of game design we've learned over the past fifteen years. Everything from the camera to the controls to the general flow of Rodea feels torn from a time when developers were still trying to figure out how to design games set in 3D worlds. Super Mario 64 got it right nearly 20 years ago by zeroing in on the most important element of a 3D platformer: Controlling the character had to be fun, in and of itself. Even in its best moments, Rodea is finicky and fussy, and never does quite what you thought he'd do after steering him to the next floating island.

And fighting enemies only makes the game more frustrating. A second kind of offensive boost allows you to slam into and destroy foes, but you have to make sure you're close, since you eventually come out of this move and can slam into them unprotected. This means with every attack, you'll also have to judge the distance between you and the enemy in question, often in mid-air—something that isn't always the easiest task when you're relying on a flat image representing a 3D world. More often than not, Rodea would drop out of attack mode just a few inches from the enemy, causing another chunk to fall off of my all-too-short health bar.

Ultimately, though, Rodea's camera is the real killer. If you're making a game that revolves around collecting an assortment of items spread out within a 3D world, knowing where you are at all times is extremely important. Yet Rodea's brain-dead camera is slow to turn and has the unfortunate tendency to drift under him whenever he boosts through the sky, which does an efficient job of obscuring absolutely vital visual information. This single issue undermined so many jumps, and added so much misery to my experience, I honestly couldn't believe Rodea shipped with this massive problem intact. Yes, the controls are fussy and, at times, unresponsive, which is bad enough as it is. But these funky jumps, combined with a rebellious camera, make even the most basic actions in Rodea an absolute crap shoot.

What makes this all the more tragic is the fact that some work went into building a convincing world for Rodea—even if some of it comes off like a glorified Sonic fanfic. There's clearly an intent to create a whimsical setting akin to Mega Man Legends, with floating islands, ancient robots, and anime melodrama. But the sheer creakiness of Rodea barely lets these qualities shine through.

Now, it's entirely possible that I could just be playing the wrong version of the game; my experience was with the Wii U port, and the GamePad certainly doesn't feel "right" with Rodea's control scheme. Perhaps Rodea only plays as intended in its original Wii form, though you have to wonder why Wiimote controls would be disabled in the Wii U version if this was the case. But, with all the hand-wringing I'm doing about Rodea's "good intentions," it's hard to imagine the experience being any better unless it was an entirely different game in almost every respect. I could handle a few minor flaws for the sake of an interesting premise, but here, they run to the absolute core.

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Comments 54

  • Avatar for sean697 #1 sean697 2 years ago
    Ok so I read this yesterday, but apparently the Wii U version is an HD port of the 3DS version. And it's not very good. But the Wii version it comes with is supposedly a different game and is better. In fact Yuji Naka tweeted, play the Wii version.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #2 bobservo 2 years ago
    @sean697 Like I said in the article, though, I still don't see how much better the fundamental experience could possibly be. It's ROUGH.
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  • Avatar for Elliot-Gay #3 Elliot-Gay 2 years ago
    The Wii U version is pretty significantly different from the Wii version. The team that worked on the Wii U/3DS version is not the same team that developed the Wii ver.

    A big part of the problem is that levels and movement are designed for the Wiimote and motion controls, as you're supposed to be flying around interrupted and not stopping and floating in place while you choose where to go next.

    I highly recommend playing the Wii ver as it's better in pretty much every conceivable way. I couldn't even believe it when I bought the Japanese version.Edited November 2015 by Elliot-Gay
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  • Avatar for rudderless #4 rudderless 2 years ago
    @bobservo You'd be surprised. The Wii version looks better, runs smoother, and is built around a pointer-based control scheme that allows you to fly and to aim with some degree of accuracy. And there aren't the same arbitrary limits on your flight time. Kadokawa has basically made it worse in almost every conceivable way.
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #5 mobilesworking 2 years ago
    Naka even took to Twitter to encourage people to play the Wii version. It's a shame more reviewers aren't acting on his advice, but I assume NIS sent review code for the Wii U version.
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  • Avatar for StevieWhite #6 StevieWhite 2 years ago
    So this game comes with the Wii version too? I'm a little confused.
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #7 mobilesworking 2 years ago
    @StevieWhite Yes, all first-print copies come with the Wii and Wii U versions.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #8 bobservo 2 years ago
    @mobilesworking NIS gave us a choice between code for 3DS and Wii U. And it's unfortunate, but the Wii version is essentially an extra bundled with the Wii U port at this point. And even if it fixed the control issues, there's still many more problems within Rodea that a Wiimote alone can't fix.
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  • Avatar for Elliot-Gay #9 Elliot-Gay 2 years ago
    @bobservo That said, the game is also balanced differently from the Wii U/3DS version in multiple different ways. It's a shame you didn't have access to it as it's a much more enjoyable game, especially in terms of movement. Controlling Rodea just feels good.

    Wii U version is a turd by comparison. =/

    I'd love to know what happened behind the scenes that led to Kadokawa shelving the finished Wii version for a year(s), then making a busted version of the same game for other platforms.
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #10 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    Hey, whoa, hold the phone! Who does this person think they are!? I mean, even if this so called "Rodea the Sky Soldier" may suck donkey scrotum, that does not, and I repeat, DOES NOT give them the authority to put down Sonic the Hedgehog that way! Listen here, buddy! I don't know who you are, but Sonic the Hedgehog is an awesome video game character who has made more money than you could ever make throughout your entire CAREER, and yet you still have the AUDACITY to make such a comment!? Well, I don't approve! So you leave the Internet and take your needle-nosed, bug-eyed, boneheaded goons with you!!!
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #11 Vonlenska 2 years ago
    Oh, it's breaking my heart to read these reviews. I'd been looking forward to this, as it appeared plum full of 90s Sega Magic, and now... What a mess.

    It seems like, instead of one polished and definitive release, there are three completely different unfinished games sharing the title just thrown out into the world with inadequate context, and the "best" version as a limited tie-in that no one can review. How confusing.
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  • Avatar for StevieWhite #12 StevieWhite 2 years ago
    @mobilesworking So only first print copies come with the Wii version? If that's the case, I can't blame a review for not mentioning it. Particularly if the game isn't being sold or advertised as a collection.
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  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #13 Lord-Bob-Bree 2 years ago
    I have to say, if the Wii version really is so much better than the others, it's a real shame it's being made so hard to get.
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #14 Roto13 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 I can't tell if this comment is a joke or not. There are some pretty... special... Sonic fans out there.
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  • Avatar for Natabuu #15 Natabuu 2 years ago
    @StevieWhite I doubt that there will be a second printing.
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  • Avatar for nickdaniel17 #16 nickdaniel17 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 Sonic does suck and you know I'm right because I'm a BILLIONAIRE!!
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #17 SuperShinobi 2 years ago
    It seems like a pretty traditional and competent on-rails shooter, like Kid Icarus Uprising for example. However, for some people Uprising for some reason counts as a masterpiece, while this would somehow be quite the opposite of it. For me, it just goes to show that even a brilliant dev like Yuji Naka is just a mortal, like everyone else, and becomes more ordinary without all those talented Sega people that he could rely on in the past.
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #18 mobilesworking 2 years ago
    @StevieWhite That's a fair point (assuming there is a second print at all). It's not impossible that the Wii version could come to the eShop, though.
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  • Avatar for matthewjohnson31 #19 matthewjohnson31 2 years ago
    Well, thanks for this, disappointing as it is. I really wanted to like this, too. Preordered it and everything. But I'm not going to take a flyer on a sixty dollar game, so back it goes.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #20 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 years ago
    @bobservo All the more reason I'd love to see you review the Wii version sometime, if possible. Put what everyone's saying to the test! =)

    (I'm mostly just interested in the Wii version from hearsay, and that's the only reason I'd go for the Wii U version at this point.)Edited November 2015 by LBD_Nytetrayn
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  • Avatar for odaiba-memorial #21 odaiba-memorial 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 Woah there, tiger. Assuming your comment isn't, in fact, a joke -- seriously, I can't tell -- that response is really immature. I'm a Sonic fan as well, and yeah, that jab at Sonic was a little unwarranted (and, let's face it, not even very clever -- Sonic has effectively the industry's punching bag for more or less ten years). But that's no reason to attack Bob personally, considering you don't even know the guy. That's a lot of anger to direct at someone for simply voicing an opinion.

    In short; chill, bro. Opinions are opinions.

    (Also, using financial success to gauge quality is just asking for disappointment. I could remind you how much money the terrible Michael Bay Transformers movies have made. Or how rich that absolute scumbag of a human being Donald Trump is. See my point?)Edited 5 times. Last edited November 2015 by odaiba-memorial
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  • Avatar for themblan #22 themblan 2 years ago
    I am disappointed with this game, but it has so much potential. With the right control-scheme, it could be a masterpiece.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #23 Y7748837 2 years ago
    So last month it was the Triforce Heroes review that left out the multiplayer, and this month it's a Rodea writeup that doesn't talk about the Wii version. Get it together, USGamer.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #24 Kuni-Nino 2 years ago
    Reading through comment thread, I'm just more confused about the whole thing.

    I kind of feel for Naka here because his name is getting thrown in the mud for a version of his game he had nothing do with. Kinda sucks.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #25 link6616 2 years ago
    My experience is from pre ordering the Wii U version in Japan.

    Rodea the sky soldier, in the formats most people are going to play it, is an awful messy uncomfortable game I couldn't recommend to anyway.

    Rodea the sky soldier for the format it's intended, the wii. Is just a blast. It's camera isn't perfect for sure, and I think it was a little too keen to be wii remote only as opposed to using the nunchuck it DESPERATELY NEEDS. When it's doing the stuff it's good at, which is 80 percent of the time, it's just fantastic.

    Basically, the Wii U version is the dreamcast sega at its worst, the Wii version channels dreamcast sega not at it's best, but is a much better representative of the positive. (If I was to put this in score terms, Wii U 4/10, Wii solid 7/10, fun if you can deal with the camera)
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  • Avatar for link6616 #26 link6616 2 years ago
    @bobservo Seriously, you'd be surprised how much different the games are. From level design tweaks, generally being faster, controls that feel functional (although, ground movement in the wii version is not good... But you'll be avoiding that most of the time anyway) from the colour palette being brighter and more colourful. I was just amazed and frankly a little terrified that the Wii U version could be so bad.

    Judge the Wii U game for what it is of course, but make the effort to get a hold of the Wii version, it's just a joy and the fact the Wii U version is terrible will not help it out in the least.
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  • Avatar for jmroo #27 jmroo 2 years ago
    I've been playing the Wii version mostly, and I dabled in the Wii U version a bit. Their really very different. But there's no arguing that both are rough and objectively not that great.

    However, the controls on the Wii version are so dang fun. I just like using them and flicking about and exploring - though there's not much to explore.

    I wouldn't give it a good score/review/recommendation, but I can really appreciate the Wii version and I"m having a great time regardless!
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  • Avatar for Zebetite #28 Zebetite 2 years ago
    This game interests me, but not at 60 bucks. I have a hard time justifying that price point with most any game these days, especially one this rough. Let's hope for a cheapo Eshop release!
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  • Avatar for Toelkki #29 Toelkki 2 years ago
    Given the video one YouTuber put up where he played both Wii and Wii U versions, Wii U version looks a lot slower indeed... but it still has big issues with the camera.

    Oh well, I hope the order I've been sent contains both Wii and Wii U versions.
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  • Avatar for KobunX #30 KobunX 2 years ago
    Hmm, I will have to see for myself when my copy comes in (a certain online retailer seems a little slow to ship), but if I could power through "Black Knight" and "Secret Rings", then surely I can find some enjoyment from Rodea.

    From what I have seen in the comments, the Wii version (not WiiU) is the way to go.
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #31 MetManMas 2 years ago
    When I heard that Rodea: The Sky Soldier on Wii U was going to include the unreleased Wii version as an extra I thought it was just gonna be a neat li'l "what could've been" curiosity, not the superior version of the the game. It's pretty messed up that the version which by all rights should've been the superior one is a sloppy port of a sloppy port while the alleged "good version" is an extra that isn't even being handed out to reviewers.

    I feel bad for Yuji Naka and co, but all the same you can't expect most reviewers to go out and pay $60 just to review a version they didn't receive the code for.
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  • Avatar for sylvan #32 sylvan 2 years ago
    "I remember being pegged to potentially review it back when I worked at 1UP.com—a website that's coming up on its third anniversary of being officially dead."

    Ouch Bob. That still stings a little. I can't freakin' believe it's been nearly 3 years!
    Well thankfully you, Jeremy, and Kat are all here at USgamer, and you're owned by Gamer Network and not IGN.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #33 bobservo 2 years ago
    @Sylvan No one owns me! ...except for my student loans.
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  • Avatar for sylvan #34 sylvan 2 years ago
    @bobservo Haha! Well if nothing else writing about games can pay down ones debt.
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #35 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #36 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #37 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #38 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #39 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #40 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
    Sign in to Reply
  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #41 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #42 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess my reaction was rather uncalled for. I'm just a REALLY big Sega fan. It's the same with Nintendo. So, once someone insults either of the two, it sot of flares up the ol' temper. My bad...
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  • Avatar for Zebetite #43 Zebetite 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 Boy, your apology must be REALLY sincere if you had to post it eight times!
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #44 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @Zebetite Well, yeah. That's just me.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #45 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Well, thanks for this article, because the comments under the article made me realize I need to hurry up and order this game while I can still get the good Wii version! I'm glad I didn't miss my chance to get the good version because from what I'm hearing it sounds like something special. Just ordered it!Edited November 2015 by brionfoulke91
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  • Deleted November 2015 by ol\'dirty\'bus\'stop
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  • Did this reviewer try holding the attack button instead of just tapping it, or upgrading his speed? The boost lasts as long as you have flight energy and also allows you to travel much faster. Maybe you should get somebody else to take a look at this one only it sounds like you played the whole game without figuring out the controls or the systems.Edited November 2015 by ol\'dirty\'bus\'stop
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  • Avatar for TernBird #48 TernBird 2 years ago
    @bobservo Yeah, if the Wii version were so vital, then that should have been the version we got in the first place.

    Shoulda-woulda-coulda. I was looking forward to this game: a lot of its design really appealed to me. But, hey: at least apologists have a new torch to bear!
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #49 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @nickdaniel17 Look here, buster. I don't care if your great uncle's sister's father's grandpa's son is a Super Saiyan.Sonic the Hedgehog is an awesome video game character and he's surely better than YOU! As a matter of fact, battlefield wise, Sonic could probably beat most characters out there. And this isn't just me supporting him. Run the numbers. You'll see what I mean.
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  • Avatar for odaiba-memorial #50 odaiba-memorial 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 He was joking. Calm down.Edited November 2015 by odaiba-memorial
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #51 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    My bad. I just don't like him badmouthing Sonic
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  • Avatar for odaiba-memorial #52 odaiba-memorial 2 years ago
    @GigaPanda108 Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but badmouthing Sonic is something that's been known to happen. A lot. Best to just learn to get used to it. It's okay to be a Sonic fan, but it's not okay to lash out and insult people for having a different opinion.
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  • Avatar for GigaPanda108 #53 GigaPanda108 2 years ago
    @odaiba-memorial Yeah, I guess you're right. I put down stuff ALL THE TIME. That's just how I feel on the matter. The only reason I lash out like that is because of the way these people PUT their insults. It's so HARSH.
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  • Avatar for jjh #54 jjh 2 years ago
    Yeah I'm getting a "Heroes of the web" vibe from some of these comments.
    The creators of Dolphin have clarified some of issues with the Rodea Wii U and 3ds versions. Also, if anyone is looking for a deal and has a Japanese Wii U, you can buy the Japanese special edition of Rodea for about $15 USD. Ouch!Edited 2 times. Last edited November 2015 by jjh
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  • Avatar for alexb #55 alexb 2 years ago
    Not that it matters at this point, but I've got to agree with the people saying that the Wii version deserves consideration on its own. It's the real version of the game, created by Yuji Naka rather than a band of mercenaries repurposing an older game for a new system to wring a little profit out of its troubled release schedule.

    No RPG elements to bog it down, much better controls, graphics that are better given the capabilities and standards of the system it was made for. Every first run copy of the game has the Wii version as a bonus, which is to say all copies of the game come with the Wii version.

    Honestly this game reminds me of the B-tier stuff Atlus used to publish in the PS2 era before they put out nothing but their own franchises. Same kind of bright and sunny outlook and unusual setting and control scheme as games like SkyGunner and Dual Hearts. It's not top grade stuff but it's fun, it's a little different, and it's got heart.Edited November 2015 by alexb
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