Always one step ahead of you
Everybody should know what Legend Of Zelda is by now. It's the game that helped in adding some variety to game libraries by having an overhead view, allowing for up and down movement, instead of a sidescrolling platformer. What I'm saying is that instead of just being another platformer, it's an adventure. It felt epic and had suspense. As you traversed through dungeons, you get the feeling of trekking through foreboding locations, killing monsters and solving puzzles. In the end, you meet the bad guy, and kill him. Now, let's take that concept, and put it in a tropical island setting, and just plain mix a few things up. That's Startropics for you. In more ways than one, Startropics feels very similar to Zelda, but also has its own identity, so it at least stands out amongst the crowd.
Mike Jones is visiting his uncle over at C Island, but learns that he's kidnapped by aliens. Immediately, I thought of Zelda, since Zelda starts of kidnapped, and Link comes over to a desolate part of Hyrule to rescue her from the clutches of a monster or alien he can't even put a face to a name to. Same with Mike. He has no idea of these aliens, but he's going in anyway. There's a huge degree of suspense, since the villain is found very, very late into the game.
What's more perplexing is his arsenal. While Link had a sword and a shield, Mike has his yo-yo. Link eventually finds a bow and set of arrows, bombs, a boomerang, and a candle to light up dark rooms; Mike finds baseball bats, slingshots, fireball pellets, and a couple of other things. It looks like the odds are stacked against Mike, but his yo-yo upgrades as he progresses, eventually into a formidable magical weapon of mass destruction, so all who stand against Mike - your days are numbered!
The visuals are fairly good. The overworld graphics look like something ripped straight from Dragon Warrior. Pretty basic stuff, like dots signifying detail on the ground. It at least looks nice and keeps your eyes a little busy, so no harm done. They're just outdated by about 4 years. Then you have the dungeon visuals, which look a hell of a lot better. Mike looks like he's from an Atari game, but I guess it's to make him stick out from the detailed surroundings and stuff. Color usage is all good, with grays, browns and greens, and it still feels like you're on a tropical island... just in the caves of such. The cutscene graphics are freaking impressive. Just one look will make you think "can they do that", as these are some of the best visuals I've seen on the NES. Stunning detail, and.. that's it.
As for the soundtrack, it's pretty catchy. None of the songs have escaped from my head to this day, but why should they? They're pretty cool tunes. The overworld tune has a sort of tropical island feel to it, while the dungeons have an adventurous feel to them (instead of the foreboding nature of Zelda's dungeon theme). Each song manages to exude the right mood for the right situation, while being as catchy and memorable as they come. Fair effort, guys.
So yeah, you'll be in dungeons for a fair bit of the game, walking around, killing monsters with the almighty yo-yo, and solving puzzles. The puzzles aren't nearly as cryptic as Zelda's, since most of them require jumping across squares, hoping to get to the right squares (one for revealing, one for activation). They manage to make them harder and harder with the inclusion of sinking blocks and falling blocks amongst other hazards, so it doesn't become completely redundant... Although I would've loved a few cryptic puzzles, it would've felt a bit more like an adventure that way...
One thing that you might have some issues with would be the controls. Mike moves in a grid, as do the enemies, and he doesn't move diagonally, giving him only 4 directions to move in, just like Link did. That means that moving, at first, will feel a bit stiff. It takes about half a second to switch directions while moving due to the grid-like movement, and jumping is really only used to jump across blocks... That may sound like shit, but trust me, these controls, when used in settings like this, are anything but. The dungeon designs, puzzles, enemies, and even bosses are set up to suit the style of the controls, and when you allow it to happen, you'll learn to love these controls.
Hopefully, that process takes a couple of dungeons, because this game gets harder and harder as you go, and towards the end of the game, you'll encounter some pretty tough situations. Basically speaking, the traps will be harder to avoid, the puzzles will get harder to conquer, and bosses will employ smarter tactics amongst stronger attacks to halt your progress. This game will always be one step ahead of you, and I really like it. I like a game that forces you to better yourself as you go, thereby improving your skills as a gamer.
Of course, Startropics isn't all dungeon crawling - it has an overworld, which works like Dragon Warrior's. You walk around C Island, walk around the villages and talking to villagers. That's the point of the overworld - to talk to villagers, mostly just for kicks, but partially to get some information about Mike's uncle's whereabouts. Typical for RPGs and adventure games, so points for that. Unfortunately, it's also to a detriment. You have to talk to EVERY villager in order to gain access to the other exit of the village in order to get to the next dungeon, and believe me, this gets pretty tedious when you consider how many villagers are actually helpful, and how many are as helpful as the dude from Zelda 2 that goes "I AM ERROR". They all might as well say that; it'd be about the same thing. It's a very uneven ratio most of the time, and that begins to take its toll on you.
Startropics is an excellent game. Very excellent. My only real gripe is having to talk to villagers, but when you consider that an element that is usually a flaw manages to actually work very well here, you can't help but to really fall for Statropics. It has a sort of charm to it, and it never wants to really loosen its grip on you as you progress through the game. The graphics and soundtrack are excellent, especially for 8-bit stuff. Really, unless you're looking for an easy game, you can't really say no to Startropics. It's definitely one of the finest NES games out there.
If you liked this game, I also recommend:
The Legend Of Zelda (NES)
Zelda 2: Adventure Of Link (NES)
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