Fear the yo-yo!
If there's anything I've learned over the years, it's that I prefer games that emulate the Legend Of Zelda formula more than I do the Legend Of Zelda games themselves. It's not so much that the Zelda series is bad because it's really not, but games like Startropics, Crusader Of Centy, Alundra and Darksiders focus less on tedious block pushing (hi nearly every 3D Zelda game out there) and running around like a headless chicken (hi original Legend Of Zelda), and more on devious puzzles (hi Alundra) or fun combat (hi Darksiders... okay I'm sorry, this is getting silly). For that, I'll always praise these "imitators" because they're more fun to me and thus I'd be more than willing to keep playing through them... can't play a game if it's not fun or engaging, you know? But having said that, Startropics starts off by DEFYING what I just said. It doesn't start off fun... maybe somewhat engaging as you learn a bit more about your situation, but fun isn't the first thing I think of when I think of the first time I played this game. However, it's a game that just clicks. Whether it takes a few dungeons or a few playthroughs is up to the fates, but nevertheless, when it clicks, you'll see why this is a great game.
Mike had received a letter from his Uncle Steve, an archaeologist, which tells him to come visit him at C-Island. However, upon arriving there, Mike learns from the natives that Steve had been abducted by aliens. Using the mythical yo-yo of death, Mike must search far and wide for his uncle. While you do learn more about the aliens as you progress, this is very much an NES game through and through - as in, if there's a story, it's concise and you're given no time to get absorbed into it. I'll give it an A for effort, but if you come in expecting Shakespeare, you may end up very disappointed. It just does well with what it has at its disposal because the reality of the matter is that it is a simple story - it's about alien abductions on an island. Modern developers could easily overcomplicate with 20 minute cutscenes, but Locomotive Corporation don't have a Hideo Kojima amongst them, so brief dialogue between dungeons and even briefer dialogue from the natives are all you get, bucko.
COME HERE LITTLE PIGGY!
Speaking of dialogue from the natives though, one problem with this game is that you absolutely HAVE to talk to everybody. Okay, fair enough on your first playthrough because in adventure games, talking to people will give you clues, items and a bit more insight into the story, and that's always a good thing, especially if you're lost and have absolutely no idea on what you're doing. But you won't be so thankful for it in any subsequent playthroughs. Given that most of the natives don't really say much that's funny, insightful or even worth the bytes on the chip playing this game, it can get fairly annoying - doubly so when you know how to solve a puzzle and yet it won't recognize that you have because you forgot to talk to a native who will only say something among the lines of "I AM ERROR". This makes the majority of the overworld sections of the game seem rather dull as that's basically all you do - walk around, talk to people, and... that's it. Joy.
Then you head inside a dungeon and notice that the controls feel really, really stiff. That's because in Startropics, you move along a grid. Like in the overworld, one step equates to moving from one space to another, and you cannot change direction mid-step - at least, not without it being delayed, provided that you're still holding the d-pad in that direction - or move diagonally. Jumping is another form of movement that'll feel stiff. For one thing, you can only jump across gaps or onto, off of and across square tiles. If you jump and there's land all around you, you'll only jump in place... no matter what. Even if you can jump, you can only jump to a tile adjacent to you or across one gap space.
But like any good game, its design choices compliment the playstyle. For one thing, a lot of the puzzles are based around jumping on tiles to find the switch that opens the next door. While I think they rely way too much on it, it at least works and admittedly, they do get trickier by giving you more devious room designs and tougher enemies to dispose of. There are a few puzzles that differ from this, but most of them are found in the overworld and are admittedly not too exciting, but eh, maybe I just got too used to what you find inside the dungeons despite the lack of variety. Not only do the puzzles work, but the enemies and bosses' designs compliment the playstyle too, as they move on the same grid that you have to. That doesn't mean that they'll be easier to dispose of and in fact, they actually seem to have an easier time slaughtering you depending on their method of attack - usually revolves around charging straight into you, though some have ranged attacks - but hey, at least they play by the same rules!
Despite the stiff controls, fights can actually be rather fast paced, with a lot of the bosses employing rapid fire attacks that are designed to keep you on your toes, and some rooms can have a lot of enemies running around or a few enemies that are more resilient. It becomes a matter of adapting to the system in order to dispose of your enemies without getting killed, and if you didn't get turned off by the controls and have that "MAN I GOTTA BEAT THE NINTENDO" attitude, you'll wind up getting used to the controls, and that's always a good thing, because Startropics is not above throwing you deeper and deeper into the ocean. While I think "you'll get used to the controls" is a weak defense for bad controls, Startropics is one of the few games where the controls are more nuanced and therefore require a bit of time to get used to because everything is designed around them.
What happens when you stay in the hot tub for too long.
There are two distinct graphical styles - one that looks like your usual everyday JRPG overworld, and one where things are a bit more detailed. The overworld designs may be amusing to look at because everybody looks fat, but otherwise, it actually doesn't look very good. Technically, it's competent enough as everything at least looks like what it should, but the colors are a bit drab. Most places just have one color strewn throughout with the only contrasting colors residing in the characters and maybe a darker shade for the huts or around the border. Nothing ultimately special, but it looks alright. The dungeon designs are a bit better and the bosses all look really impressive with a good amount of detail put into their outlines and colors, but otherwise, like with the overworld, it just looks kind of drab. Sure, the enemies are a bit detailed and Mike has more put into him, but then they had to go ahead and make every dungeon look exactly the same! Just because you're exploring caves doesn't mean you can't mix it up - Zelda did that!
The soundtrack isn't much better in terms of quantity, though the quality is certainly up there. The songs are all fairly short and simple, but they tend to be very memorable and really fitting to the situation. The main overworld and dungeon songs are ones you'll most likely remember for a long time to come, and why not? They are nice, simple songs that are very enjoyable to listen to, regardless of whether you're playing the game or not. There are a few more songs, like when you're fighting a boss (which is fairly intense given its fast paced hard hitting nots) or when you die (which sounds rather gloomy), but the main two tracks are what stand out the most for being the most prominent and being the best songs to listen to overall.
Startropics receives an 8/10. While its controls have a learning curve, the game's design gives you an opportunity to get used to them and apply what you've learned to increasingly harder situations. But that's the thing - everything this game throws at you compliments its design. The dungeons, the fights, everything is designed around its playstyle, and that's what every good game does. Perhaps it'll still feel a bit stiff after all that's said and done, but after some time, it'll become second nature and what you'll receive in the end is a well made game that's a lot of fun to play through... even if you have to talk to everyone in the game or deal with some mediocre graphics.
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