Offendr's StarTropics Review
Very challenging levels, especially after it eases you into it for the first two dungeons, managing to give players looking for a challenge a run for their money; button controls are fairly responsive; looks good; sounds pretty damn amazing; clever tricks with the instruction manual.
Can be diabolically hard at times; stiff controls; dungeons begin to look the same after a while; having to talk to literally everybody in a village to progress is annoying, especially if you're playing a subsequent time.
Startropics is a game I enjoyed a fair bit as a child. It definitely had the edge that a good amount of other NES games didn't. It had heaps of fun, excitement and challenge just waiting behild your TV screen. Nowadays, it's... mostly a cult classic among retro gamers. Do I think it's a classic? Yes. Do I think this is the best NES game out there? Absolutely not. This doesn't compare to Metal Storm or Super Mario Brothers 3. Startropics definitely ages well in most departments like graphics, soundtrack and gameplay, though controls are fairly stiff in dungeons.
Typical "rescue this from that" kind of scenario, though you don't figure this out until you talk to a bunch of people in the first village you encounter (and believe me, this is common - read on to find out why I have no enthusiasm for it here) on C Island. You're actually on C Island on a sort of vacation to visit your Uncle, but he gets abducted by aliens by the time you get there. The story is basic, but
Upon starting, you'll encounter this Dragon Warrior looking overworld. The purpose of this is to just walk around, and get to villages or dungeons. It's a nice touch that makes it seem like a bigger game, though the linearity of the game makes it really useful only when you're backtracking for some health restoration potions or whatever at a nearby village.
So yeah, villages... The main point of the villages is to talk to the inhabitants about... well, some will talk about your uncle, and some will give you an important task to do, which further justifies exploring dungeons, but a decent amount of citizens just says inane shit you're not interested in. This makes going through the villages more of a chore than they should be. It becomes an RPG staple later on, although what RPGs do is that they let you progress if you talk only to a certain person or people, not everybody!
It's more annoying if you're playing the game a second time. You already know what they're saying, you already know the quest; why should you need to talk to EVERYBODY again!? One example, there's this one puzzle on the overworld that you already know how to solve if you're playing a second time, but you can't solve it unless you talk to everybody in that village. Screw them!
Not to worry, for the reward is sweet... I welcome you to the dungeons of the game. Immediately, Zelda pops up into your mind. Fair enough, it definitely plays out a lot like it. You move in four directions, fight enemies with a weapon (here, it's a yo-yo), solve puzzles, and take out giant monsters at the end. Throughout, you find items to use against enemies, and instead of just a sword and an item, you get your yo-yo, and three additional items, although you have to select one using the select button, instead of a button for the sword and a button for the extra. But yeah, it definitely feels familiar.
Possibly the biggest difference is the fact that you can - and have to - jump. Jumping is the key to solving most of the dungeons' puzzles. You'll be encountering a series of blocks, and there's usually one with a switch hidden until you stomp on a certain block. Activating that switch allows progression through the dungeon. The thing is, these puzzles begin to get old after some time, and there are a fair amount of them. Not to worry, there are other ways to use your ability to jump. You have to jump across water, sometimes in pitch black. In that case, just watch the snakes when you walk to a grid adjacent to them. The closest one is where you jump to. So yeah, there's a bit of variety here and there. There's more, but I'd rather you experience them for yourself.
Another difference is that you get lives. When you lose a life due to screwing up a jump or getting hit too many times, you restart either at the beginning or in the middle, depending on how far you got in the dungeon, with just three hearts. When all are lost, BAM! Back to the beginning of the dungeon for you!
Of course, you have the normal boss encounters, and if you didn't die too often, you'd have more of an advantage using the items than you would with the yo-yo. The items did significantly more damage... oh, uh, anyway, the bosses.. yeah, they're mostly typical ones where you have to figure out their patterns and expose their weakensses, yadayadayada. The big thing is that these guys progressively get harder and harder, almost to diabolical heights. Some later bosses actually had me cursing a blue streak. That's actually quite an accomplishment for a good game to get me so angry.
The biggest thing, though, is how hard each of the dungeons get. As made evident by my boss category, the game is friggen hard. The first two dungeons are a bit of a cakewalk, smartly lulling you into a false sense of security. Enter the third or fourth dungeon, and lo and behold - enemies requiring some fancy footwork to defeat, bosses requiring you to expose secret weaknesses, and secret passages begging to be explored and found through convaluted solutions - all of which, requires patience and trial-and-error. When you're cursing a blue streak, patience is often lost, I'll tell you what. Eventually, the dungeons just pound you in the nuts with a 50 megatonne sledgehammer. If you're not prepared to get your ass kicked a few times, you're not going to have a good time.
Now, this one will displease emulators - some puzzles required a map and the manual to finish easily. This would be easy if you had them... which you get by buying the game (original NES or Virtual Console), so if you're playing this game with an emulator or bought this one used without a manual and map, umm... consider yourself screwed for some of the puzzles. This part of Nintendo were smart thinkers, making us feel more inclined to keep the manuals for more than just collection purposes.
Here's the thing - movement controls are a hassle to deal with, due to how stiff they are! Movement may respond, but not all that fluently due to moving on a grid. It gets annoying when you have to deal with harder puzzles and frantic enemies. The inability to move diagonally ends up being a pain in the ass, because there are moments when you really have to! Then come and meet the jumping controls - unless you're dealing with snakes, to jump over water or to do block jumping puzzles, this is almost useless! You can't really use this to evade attacks or to do much beyond jumping over water, onto blocks, or over snakes! Honestly, what were they thinking? Thankfully, they improve it in Startropics 2, even if the jumping was just a minor hassle and the movement controls adjustable (otherwise, how would people be able to beat it? Or even have the patience to get through the game?).
So what did they do right? The movement controls in the overworld manage to work well, responding... less stiffly. The attack button works competently with all weapons, and so does the weapon switching button. The attack and selection commands work the best, but the movement controls just... meh. I know you'll probably bring up the original Legend Of Zelda - that game's movement controls were more merciful! At least that doesn't make you think "oh shit gotta go diagonal!!!" The jumping controls, when used at the appropriate moments, work pretty well. So yeah, I'm mixed with the controls.
The overworld definitely reminds me of Dragon Warrior. From the little trees, to Mike being the size of them (and a bit chubby looking, I might add), to the water... pretty much, it just looks a lot like Dragon Warrior, but not in a medieval setting. Villages also look pretty good, sporting either olive or green grounds, with trees and people everywhere. They look good, but the character models (except for when you're talking to some in the first person view, which makes for some damn fine 8-bit art) kind of like Atari 2600ish. I guess it's to stick out, but they just don't look that great.
Now for the cream of the crop - dungeons! They're good and bad graphically. Good, because they sport some fine detail in the walls, and manage to up the detail in the ground, and the bosses look a bit menacing and are quite nice to look at too. What I find weird is that I actually like the Atari 2600 looking models, since they manage to actually stick out a fair bit from the ground, allowing me to know where I am and where the snakes are. Bad, because the backgrounds you see in the first dungeon are... kind of all you see for the rest of the dungeons... okay, maybe not all that bad, but it gets kind of old looking at the same backgrounds for the dungeons over and over again, especially due to the challenge level of the dungeons.
The soundtrack is very impressive, one of the finest I've heard on the NES. It manages to catch your attention the minute you turn on the system, and while you're playing through the game, until the minute you turn off the NES. This is the sort of soundtrack that stays inside your memory forever. Maybe because it can get repetitive, but hey, this is the sort I dig. The tunes never really feel annoying, which is something I can dig as well. No matter how long you hear them, you just want more!
Sound effects are typical NES affair, but what gets at me is that there will be times where lots will sound for quite some time, and they're louder than the music, so while you're grooving to the tunes, sound effects will ruin your good time because you're whacking shit with your yo-yo for a number of hits. It just gets at me...
Oh, good god, playing this game a second time is not all that great. It's one of those games that definitely has you going the first time, but the second time, it's like "so what"? It pretty much just felt old and stale after the first time through. The one real stinker is that you have to talk to everyone to progress, even though you know full well what to do. Good Jesus...
Startropics will give you a good time if you're prepared for some really tough moments and boss fights. If you like Zelda, Startropics will be more than willing to show you good gameplay, solid controls, good graphics and a hell of a soundtrack to boot. And even if you don't, it's a game worth trying, even if it is similar to Zelda... could be because Nintendo made it. Anyway, Jak recommends!