Solatorobo: Red the Hunter takes place on a planet with anthropomorphic animals, and the protagonist is Red, who is a bipedal dog-man. Assisted by Dahak, a fighting robot, Red and his sister Chocolat travel the world in an airship and do odd jobs for people to earn money. Things go sideways when they attack a pirate's airship to steal a few financial records for a client. The records are lost, but they find two other things: a mysterious pendant and a young boy. It turns out that the pendant and the boy are the key to stopping a terrible monster that threatens to destroy the world, and only Red can help them. It's a fairly clichéd story, but it's redeemed by the surprisingly likeable characters.
The world of Solatorobo is ridiculously charming. The silly cartoon animals and bright colorful visuals somehow manage to convey a fantasy world that is fun to watch and explore. Early on, it seems like the game is trying to hit a checklist of JRPG clichés, ranging from a mysterious pendant-wearing character to a hero with amnesia. It's really the strength of the cheerful atmosphere and writing that keep it enjoyable. Red is a really affable protagonist and the supporting cast manages to avoid ever becoming annoying or stupid. The plot isn't really surprising and the characters all follow well-worn trails, but watching them go on the journey is fun enough to keep you interested.
The combat system in Solatorobo is simple and distinctive. Dahak isn't equipped with any weapons, but he fights by grabbing and throwing enemies. Weak enemies can be picked up instantly, but stronger enemies require you to mash the button a few times. You can throw enemies on the ground or leap into the air to perform an Air Combo by throwing and grabbing foes before they hit the ground. This does more damage but is slower and leaves you vulnerable to other baddies. Some enemy projectiles can also be grabbed and thrown back at your enemy.
Dahak is a pretty customizable bot. He begins simply, but as the game progresses, you'll gain all sorts of customization options for it. Customizations come in the form of specifically shaped blocks that you can place on a grid (think Tetris or Resident Evil 4 inventory system). Blocks come in five flavors: Attack, Defense, Hydraulics, Mobility and Revive. Attack and Defense are rather obvious. Hydraulics let you pick up objects faster, and Mobility allows you to move around faster. Revive will revive you if you die.
By default, you have a three-by-three grid on which to place your objects. As you find P-Crystals throughout the world, you can spend them to increase your grid size so you can equip more customizations. Later, you'll also get the ability to change Dahak's type to one of a few different frames. You can switch to a speedy R-type Dahak to dash faster, an S-type that performs wrestling moves, a G-type that blocks and smashes enemies, etc. These types further modify Dahak's stats, so you can better customize your robot.
Solatorobo has a very severe problem: It is one of the easiest games I've ever played, and that includes Disney-branded games for young children. By default, Red is amazingly powerful. It takes enemies a lot of effort to do damage to him, and he can wreck most enemies with one or two combos. On top of that, the enemies have easily exploitable patterns that make it incredibly simple to damage them. You don't need to time your grabs to throw projectiles back at enemies because you can just pound the grab button and toss them back successfully without fail. Keep in mind that everything I'm discussing here is the base Red. As the story progresses and you unlock ways to power up your robot, Red's unfair advantage just gets even more ridiculous.
There's nothing wrong with a game being easy. In Solatorobo's case, however, it is a hindrance to the game. There are some extremely cool features that, in an even slightly more difficult title, would make customizing your robot a lot of fun. In Solatorobo, it feels pretty pointless. There's no reason to invest in Defense when at 0 Defense, enemies need to take an absurd number of shots to damage you. The ability to change Frames makes combat a little more exciting, but only in that it adds variety, not challenge. If the game were simpler, then the ease wouldn't stand out so much, but giving you so many customization and upgrade options only serves to point out how enemies are an insignificant threat. Solatorobo is divided into two halves, not unlike two seasons of a television show. However, a huge chunk of the interesting features are locked in the second half, so you have to play through half of the game before you can change Dahak's frame and access many of the new abilities. As a result, the first half of the game is not only simple, but it's also more boring than the latter half.
The dungeons are not any better. For most of the game, you'll be told the solution to a puzzle when you enter the room, so it's just a matter of placing crate A on switch B. Even when the game tones back on this, the puzzles are so exceedingly basic that it may have been better to not have any puzzles at all. A game like this shouldn't be overly difficult, but something on the level of a Zelda game would've been just fine. Many of the puzzles involve picking up a box and putting it on a glowing switch that's smack-dab in the middle of the floor. This sours the Solatorobo experience more than anything else. You have neat dungeons to explore, but there's very little that makes them feel like dungeons.
Solatorobo has a good amount of content. Aside from the main quest, you're able to take on an abundance of side-quests from the local guild. Some side-quests are fun, although others can be dull, with you wandering around a few locations and talking to people for a few minutes. Aside from the side-quests, you can also spend a lot of time finding collectibles. You can collect kittens to unlock concept art and musical plants to unlock songs. You can learn backstory tidbits by completing certain in-game achievements and finding obscure items. You can also do a few different minigames, like fishing or airship racing, to unlock money and upgrades for Dahak. There's never really a moment in Solatorobo where you can't find something new to do, and that is nice. Some more challenge in these side-quests would have been welcome, but it's far from necessary.
Visually, Solatorobo is very appealing. It uses a paper-doll style of cut scenes, mixing 2-D and 3-D visuals in a way that gives the game the feel of a pop-up book. It makes every scene interesting to look at and is used with some nice effect in the cut scenes. The 3-D character models for combat are not bad, although there's a disappointing lack in enemy variety. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is top-notch, containing a lot of memorable and enjoyable songs. The lack of voice acting is noticeable. Each character has one or two sound clips, and otherwise, there is no voice acting. While this isn't particularly noticeable during simple dialogue scenes, it stands out a lot during some of the game's cut scenes, where voice acting would've aided the game tremendously.
Solatorobo: Red the Hunter is easy to play and appropriate for all ages. Its only problem is that it is too easy for anyone but the youngest of gamers. If you don't mind that the title won't ever challenge you, there's a lot to like here. The world and characters are charming, the visuals are a delight, and the atmosphere is so optimistic and cheerful that it is hard to not smile. Solatorobo feels like it would've been better as a television show instead of a game. It is a game, and it's not a bad game, but there are only a few moments when the simple gameplay complements the story instead of merely delaying the plot.
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