Turn-based RPGs dominate the Nintendo DS, and Solatorobo: Red The Hunter is unlikely to help action RPGs establish a foothold on the platform. While it features charming characters and lovely animation, the game never provides enough of a challenge to keep it engaging.
Set in a world where cat- and dog-people live side by side and get around in mechs and airships, Solatorobo features the boilerplate plot of a young adventurer who turns out to be the chosen one who can save the world from a horrible threat. What’s nice is that the fox-like Red Savarin has no traces of angst. He’s cocky, goofy, and more than a little dumb, barely kept on track by his more responsible kid sister, Chocolat.
Unfortunately, Solatorobo’s action fails to deliver much excitement, and fights feel more like a chore than something to anticipate. Red uses a mech, Dahak, in combat, and these battles consist of pressing A to grab an enemy, pounding A to pick it up, then pressing A again to throw it and deal damage. Multiple enemies just make the fight easier, since you can throw one into another to deal damage to both. The best way to deal with enemy projectiles is to stand in front of them and wait for the grab prompt to come up, then fling them right back. Even boss fights just come down to moving around to avoid special moves, then pressing A over and over until you win. Aerial combat breaks things up, but the mechanics are so clunky that the addition is more frustrating than refreshing.
Red is nearly helpless outside of Dahak, but he can’t pilot his robot everywhere. He often has to dismount to do some light platforming, like avoiding attacking fish while swimming around to find the valve to drain the water, which will enable Dahak to get through. There isn’t much challenge to the game, with plenty of opportunities to heal, and unsolicited prompts and clues spelling out what you have to do.
The animators had fun with the anthropomorphic characters, populating the world with people who look like foxes, bulldogs, and lions. The airships are also well-designed, with cutscenes showing off gigantic, vibrantly colored vehicles topped with pagodas. There’s plenty of incentive to explore, with a bounty of side quests at each of the towns where you stop. These provide bite-sized adventures that take just a few minutes, cementing the fact that casual players using their DSes on the go will get the most out of Solatorobo.