Game of the Week: Solatorobo

Dog day afternoon.

At quiet times, we often like to award Game of the Week to the fruits of the PC indie scene - avant-garde experiments and one-man labours-of-love that really deserve the exposure. Few of 2011's weeks will be as quiet as this one was, and so it was with grateful relief that I opened up Kristan's download roundup this morning and discovered a 9/10 Proun review within.

With a pay-what-you-want price ticket, stunning abstract visuals and a ready-made hipster hero in the form of idealistic developer named Joost van Dongen, Proun fits the profile perfectly. Kristan even slipped out of his pithy roundup persona to wax lyrical.

"Dongen weaves together the rippling flow of the visuals so effectively that, the better you get at the game, the more it feels like you're not even playing it anymore," he wrote. "Your role in the proceedings is as a visual conductor, commanding your own hypnosis, sucked into a maelstrom of motion quite unlike anything you've ever experienced."

Game of the Week on cred points alone, surely? Well, it would have been a worthy one, but I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today - and there was another labour of love to salute, a very different game with a very different story behind it, but made with just the same obstinate passion.

Solatorobo: Red the Hunter

This DS action RPG was actually released last week, but we weren't given much warning and weren't sure what to expect when it turned up on Friday. The fact it had been picked up by Nintendo itself for distribution in Europe was encouraging (Namco Bandai published the game in Japan last year; it will be released later in North America.)

Solatorobo DS launch trailer

What we found was an unheralded game with bountiful charm starring a canine adventurer in a steampunk world: a game that was varied, fresh and crammed with ideas, yet with the comforting familiarity of the 16-bit romps of your childhood. Solatorobo looks like a Studio Ghibli film and can sit proudly next to the Mario & Luigi games or Dragon Quest IX on your shelf: a proper summer holiday special.

"Solotarobo is a great surprise and a breezy pleasure to play," wrote Rich Stanton in our Solatorobo review. "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."

The best part is that Solatorobo is effectively a sequel to an old PlayStation game called Tail Concerto, which developer CyberConnect2 has wanted to follow up since it was released in 1998 - but publisher Bandai rejected it then on the basis of poor sales. Even outside the fast-moving world of video games, 12 years is a long time to keep a dream alive. It was worth the wait, if only as an example of the craft and lightness of touch that once typified Japanese games and that we shouldn't be in too great a hurry to leave behind.

Of course, it's not the only late-nineties refugee we've reviewed recently. So it's also reassuring to find that, for every Duke Nukem Forever, noisily dragging you back somewhere you didn't really want to return, there's a Solatrobo: creeping up quietly with an unexpected invitation to revisit the reason you always loved games.

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