Solatorobo is comfortable on this smaller scale, offering variation in the moment-to-moment of its quests rather than throwing everything at a big set-piece. It's a game full of detail, not only on the visual side, where a room's pictures and hidden crevices are as interesting as a treasure chest, but in its concept of an adventurer as part-time hoarder. So many games ask players to collect things these days, and in so few is it worthwhile.
Solatorobo's pictures, music, mech components and gradually-revealed library of lore and clues may not sound different from the usual, but their integration with Red's ongoing adventure is masterful. One of your first quests is to help a photographer who's had his snaps stolen: chasing down the thieves recovers one torn-up photo, but the others are gone. For the rest of the game you'll keep an eye out for these cat-burglars, noticing the telltale shake of a barrel and quickly chasing down the miscreant for another scrap. Every time it takes maybe five seconds of hide-and-seek, but it makes that growing photo collection a little more valuable.
Everything is integrated: a quest's goal is one thing, but exploring during it will nearly always contribute to some other aspect of the adventure. Such interlocking design is essential for Solatorobo and mitigates its biggest problem: for the most part this is a cakewalk rather than a challenge.
Partly it's the generous health allowance, and partly the enemy tells being far too obvious, but the upshot is that for yours truly (full disclosure: total badass) the game over screen is still a mystery. Things do get tougher once the first story arc is complete, and Solotarobo reveals one of its greatest tricks. [Snipped for spoilers! -Ed.]
Still, Solotarobo is a game that washes over rather than taxes the player, gently pulling you onwards rather than daring you to overreach. Only a lunatic would suggest all games should be Ninja Gaiden, but you'd be equally crazy to undervalue challenge and depth.
There are other missteps. For one, Solatorobo's story and visuals have epic moments that rarely tie in with the action: too often you'll watch a huge battle take place in a cut-scene that could just as well have been in-game. The narrative's also a little too lacking in subtlety. At one point, you're fighting a battleship that's trying to blow up an orphanage.
But for everything Solotorobo could have done better, there's far more that's done just right. The combat may lack depth, but its knockabout crashes and bangs never get boring. The story's simple, but Red and the rest of the cast are charming characters and the witty translation does wonders.
Solotarobo is a great surprise and a breezy pleasure to play. From the constant Nintendo motifs in the game's own brilliant chiptunes to the recurring minor characters, its world is crammed with touches that add texture, that give a little more detail, that make you play through just another quest before bed.
It feels familiar, but it's unlike anything else - and even on DS, where good RPGs are plentiful, this is in the top tier. It should have been called Awesome Robot-Riding Dog Adventures, of course. But you can't have everything.
8 / 10