StarTropics II: Zoda's Revenge review
I get the feeling that I'll be stepping on plenty of toes here when I say that Statropics 2 is a vastly inferior sequel that feels like it just crushed all of its hopes and dreams of being more than just a cult classic and a bad follow up to said cult classic (even if the cult classic was actually a big hit back when it came out, only to share the same fate every Playstation 3 exclusive faces). A lot of people actually think Startropics 2 is a huge improvement, and to me, it just says that they didn't actually play much of Startropics 1 to appreciate how well everything worked with the nuanced design. Startropics 2 feels like a betrayal of all of this, opting for more fluid controls while sticking with level designs tailor made for the rigid controls of old. That ought to sum up the rest of the review right there, but for those whose curiosities need more satisfaction, well, by all means, read on.
I swear, any time a game deals with time travel, I always feel like tuning the story out and just playing the game. At least unlike a lot of other games, the story isn't all that important. Basically, Mike has to travel through time to find Tetrads, which are necessary in defeating the evil Zoda, who had been brought back to life after the events of the first game. At least they simplify it by saying "oh the book has magical powers within it to make time travel possible", unlike a lot of other games that complicate it and make it downright confusing, but that doesn't make the story any more compelling than the first game's, or any NES game's for that matter. The dialogue this time around is a bit more ridiculous, which can be fairly entertaining at times, but other than that, it's pretty much your typical NES game that attempts to have a story - inconsequential.
Help, I'm in a crappy sequel!
But let's just explain what this game really did wrong - the playstyle and how it clashes badly with the design. Startropics 2 features more fluid controls, allowing you to move in 8 directions and not on an invisible grid. You can attack in 8 directions, turning and moving doesn't require an engagement ring, and overall, it just feels... right, or at least it should if the level designs had actually catered to that. See, my main problem with this game, if haven't already gathered, is that the levels seem to be tailor made for the old, stiff controls. There are still plenty of squares you have to jump on in order to activate switches and plenty of square/rectangle shaped rooms/islands. Not to mention, unlike before, there are no invisible barriers around the edges of the room, and given the newfound ability to move more freely, it's fairly easy to fall into the water and die.
Oh... and did I mention that jumping isn't rigid anymore? I didn't? Well, I just did, and believe me, that's more of a curse than a blessing when you realize that platforming is actually a hell of a lot harder this time around. Instead of a fixed distance and a fixed direction, you'll jump up in one direction and while on your downward descent, you can change the trajectory of your jump. Sounds great, until you realize that you can jump from anywhere, meaning that you HAVE to be exact with your jumps if you want to land... and oftentimes, you wind up overshooting your jump and fall into the water. Unlike with the first game, getting used to the controls doesn't really help the game's case because they just don't work too well with the levels! This also affects the bosses. In the first game, you were given a design that can either aid you or the boss, depending on how you utilize it. Here, eh, you can just fire infinite tomahawks at them (oh yeah, instead of a yo-yo, you get tomahawks) or use whatever item you find in the dungeon without too much worry about positioning. In an effort to balance it out, you have like no recovery time. You get hit and get maybe half a second of invulnerability, then you're free to get hit again, and given the controls this time around versus enemies who play by those rules too, some enemies can downright molest you. This happened maybe once in the first game and even then, that was all my fault for being so ditzy. Can't quite say the same here.
The reason I harp so much on this is two-fold. One, it's an unwelcome change. The idea of a sequel is to improve on a game while giving the fans more, not to twist and distort the game to appeal to everybody who didn't get into it - yes folks, this happened way back when, too. It's not just these days where sequels water down or get rid of anything that's even remotely complicated. See, a lot of people didn't like the first game and how rigid its controls are, so Nintendo fixed the controls without taking into consideration how those controls will work on the levels. Locomotive Corporation had bugger all to do with this game, folks - if they did, they would've worked on the levels too, or at least made it feel more accessible with consideration towards everything around it like they did with the original. Secondly, when the lack of recovery time and poorly implemented controls aren't frustrating, Startropics 2 is just a boring, boring game to play through. The dungeons don't really have anything special to them, the bosses are maybe mildly interesting to fight at best and there's more emphasis on the overworld. Given that the overworld in the first game had the appeal of paint drying on a wall, this is just torture. Besides some smile worthy dialogue, running around to find stuff or talk to the right people in order to progress just feels like boring, tedious and borderline unnecessary busywork, like I could be outside doing something else.
Throwing these pop rocks at this bear should kill it, right?
The boredom continues with the presentation. Like before, there are two different graphical styles - the overworld keeps the JRPG style of a bird's eye view of where you happen to be while the dungeons are more detailed but still somewhat have a bird's eye view. Technically speaking, the graphics are better. There seems to be a bit more detail placed into a lot of what you see, with more detailed buildings, objects, enemies and even Mike. The addition of vertical heights in dungeons do make them a tad more interesting to look at, and there's a variety of places to go to, so at least it's not like we're looking at the same old same old like in the last game. But oh man, I think the colors are a lot worse this time around, making this a lot more boring to look at. A lot of them look very washed out, dark and very... safe. There aren't a lot of good contrasting colors, if any. Hey, at least the first game had some contrasting colors every now and again that kind of looked interesting! Not to mention that some areas lack detail, making it look like you're just walking on a solid color. Zelda may have done that, but Zelda came out in 1986, while this came out in 1994... really, this should've been a Super Nintendo game, not a regular Nintendo game. But eh, I'm not Nintendo and I don't make the rules; I just analyze and critique a game I've spent upwards of $50 on when I could've put that into buying a house or paying bills.
The sound design is just drab. Each song seems to lack strong bass and percussion or even a hook that keeps the melody ringing in your mind. It just sounds like static going through your head, especially when it ought to sound like you're either exploring caves, taking a stroll through London or fighting a boss. I've heard comparisons to it being more fit for a Master System soundtrack and honestly, that's not too far off. The only thing keeping me from making the comparison myself is that at least it doesn't drive me insane because it's not high pitched enough. But yeah, not a good soundtrack here, guys. Not. At. All.
I apologize for constantly comparing this to the first game, but let's be honest - it's the best way to talk about this game. Taking it on its own terms, I'd actually say it's a lot worse because there'd be no way to justify how its dungeons and bosses are designed. At least when compared to the first game, it's justified, but not very well implemented. From there, I'd give Startropics 2 a 3.5/10 simply because it's really boring to play. The aim of any given game is to be even the slightest bit fun, but when you find yourself struggling to play through it without falling asleep and there isn't an interesting moment to be found, it just sucks the life out of you and there's no real need to play it. Add the drab graphics and lackluster soundtrack, and really, Startropics 2 isn't that good.
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