StarTropics

January 4th, 2008 by J. Spiffyman

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Generally speaking, any game that flows in the same veins as the Legend of Zelda series will be decent at least, and excellent at best. While Startropics does indeed emulate the LoZ style of gaming, it throws in it’s own parts which really change how it plays; some for the better, and some for the worse. But when you throw in the fact that your main weapon is a yo-yo, and you’re still fighting the same epic monsters Link would be fighting with a sword, this game is definitely a keeper.

While the story of Startropics is nothing new, at least there is a story. Your uncle Dr. Jones (whose first name is not Indiana!) goes mysteriously missing, and it’s up to you and your “mighty” yo-yo to rescue him from certain doom. Piloting his submarine, the Sub-C, you hop from island to island following his trail, and must fight through conveniently-placed caverns full of monsters along the way. The plot is fleshed out and very solid for an NES game, and though it won’t be winning any awards, it’s good enough to get you through the day. Another very nice touch is the setting; tropic islands and blue seas are a pleasant change of pace from medieval fantasy or futuristic sci-fi.

StarTropics is broken up into two parts: the overworld and the caverns. Both are from the top-down perspective as opposed to side-scrolling. In the overworld, there are no enemies, and you walk around the different islands or inside villages to complete your quest. When you enter a cavern, the graphics change and the game switches to the action scenes. In these scenes you’ll be fighting monsters with your yo-yo and your wits in an attempt to progress to the next room. Hidden switches and passageways add a puzzle element to the game, and while none are very complex, they can get pretty obscure at times. Monsters range from common slugs and rats to starfish and octopuses, and even fanciful skull-faced birds and minotaurs. Most caverns culminate with a boss fight, which are pretty challenging, and each has a different strategy.

Graphics are strong for the NES, and the action scenes use a psuedo-3D angle on the camera to give the illusion of depth. Sprites are well-colored and well-defined, so you know exactly what it is you’re killing with that yo-yo of yours. A slight bone of contention I have, however, is that it seems several sprites are direct copies from either Dragon Warrior or Legend of Zelda. While StarTropics does run in the same graphical family as these two, the similarities are just too close for comfort.

Music and sound are well-done for the time. The overworld and village music are nice and tropical, simulating the steel drum flavors of island tunes. Action sequences sound equally good, with the background tracks becoming more and more dramatic as you approach the boss. Common sound effects for jumping, attacking, and being attacked are present as well; nothing new, but they get the job done. The beeping effect which alerts you of low health can get annoying, as it doesn’t stop until you are healed, but that’s my only real complaint.

Now, if you’ve played any of the Legend of Zelda games on the NES, SNES, or Game Boy, listen up! While StarTropics feels and plays very similar to the LoZ series, there’s a few key points that can make a huge difference:

1) You can jump whenever you want. This really changes gameplay, as you can now jump over projectiles and monsters, and nearly all puzzles in the game require jumping to solve. Zelda series veterans will understand that this is a big deal.

2)Your movement is restricted to a grid. When you move, you move one grid “block” at a time, as do your enemies. You also have to stop walking when you want to turn. This really makes battling clunky, and if you’re used to the free movement of Zelda or similar games, it can become very aggravating.

3)You have lives. You start with 3 lives, and must begin from the start of a dungeon when they are gone. This may not seem like a big deal to LoZ vets who have to restart the dungeon after just one death, but trust me when I say you’ll be dying enough for those 3 little lives to get really annoying really fast.

4)The game is linear rather than free-roaming. StarTropics is broken up into 8 chapters, and you can only explore the chapter you are currently on. There’s no beating later levels out of order, there’s no re-exploring old areas with new items, and there’s no gigantic overworld to run around; just a cluster of small islands that you are forced to visit, in order. The game doesn’t suffer horribly because of this, but it could have been improved if it wasn’t so linear. Though, if it was free-roaming, we might have been treated to an 8-bit version of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, with over half the game time spent on the ocean!

Despite the aforementioned linear gameplay, Startropics is a fairly long game as far as NES standards are concerned. You probably won’t be able to finish it in one sitting (hence the three save files, a la Legend of Zelda), but you’ll easily finish it in under 20 hours, and 10 might even be a better estimate. A respectable length for an NES game to be sure, but just not quite on par with something like Legend of Zelda.

Personally, I believe more games like StarTropics need to be made. They took a good existing game framework, then tried to do something different with it. The result is an original game that is both fun and challenging to play. You’ll find parts to breeze through, parts to struggle through, and parts to throw your controller through. You’ll find story elements that make you nod, make you shake your head, make you cringe, and even just make you say, “What?” So if you like Legend of Zelda, or any puzzle/adventure game for that matter, StarTropics will definitely be a good experience for you.

P.S. – And don’t bash the yo-yo; it gets upgraded to a morning star by Chapter 3.

****½

Screenshots* (click the thumbnails for a larger version) :

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Buy from Amazon.com : Startropics
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Posted in Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

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