Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: StarTropics (NES)

Action-Adventure, Nintendo Entertainment System
1990 Nintendo

StarTropics is an RPG-flavored action adventure game from the cusp of the early 90s. I'm lucky enough to have a cartridge of this one, and as I promised in my game collecting post about it, here is the review!

Young protagonist Mike Jones (no, not the rapper) is visiting tropical C-Island to see his uncle Dr. Jones. The chief of the natives informs him that his uncle has been kidnapped and mysterious monsters are roaming the island's underground. Mike must act to save both his uncle and the archipelago from imminent danger.

From a world map, the player travels into a classic RPG-style town. There, a basic yo-yo weapon is provided by the town's chief, and you are loosed into the bowels of the first dungeon almost immediately. On the other side, Baboo, the assistant of Dr. Jones, gives you access to his submarine and hints that something darker is going on amongst the seemingly peaceful islands.

The game has a somewhat odd movement system in the dungeons, wherein pressing a directional button makes Mike pivot in that direction prior to actually moving. It leads to a sort of slip-and-slide style walking, but it makes for more precise aiming of weapons and actually becomes second nature before you've even finished the first dungeon. Also of note is the fact that the player's sprite doubles in size when in the dungeons. Why Mike is not always this size is beyond my understanding, but it's still pretty interesting to see such large, detailed characters in an old NES game.

You had better get used to jumping. A lot.

Keep an eye out for the bosses, as well. These guys require really good timing, can kill you in only a few shots, and take a lot of beating before finally perishing. It's amusing that a pixelated, flailing octopus can get your heart pumping a lot more than the bosses in many modern games! You can fend off these baddies with your trusty yo-yo or an assortment of other (usually sports-themed) limited-use weapons. Why are random baseball paraphernalia hidden in the cave systems of a tropical archipelago? Don't ask me.

In a lot of ways StarTropics seems like an organic broadening of the concepts put forth in The Legend of Zelda only a few years earlier. Whereas Zelda is kind of like one big dungeon, StarTropics utilizes the spaces between dungeons to insert dialogue, characters, and reemphasize what Mike's goals are. For the most part, it's just a repetition of dungeon, town, dungeon, town; but the pacing feels comfortable and the breaks between the sometimes frustrating dungeons are much needed.

The music is on the bland end of the spectrum, but isn't so bad that you'll feel the need to mute the game. The puzzles almost entirely comprise of jumping on green tiles until you find one that hides a button, so I wouldn't really class this as a "puzzle" type game. There are some unique stylistic choices, namely with the setting, that I honestly don't see developers striving for much nowadays. Collecting interesting items, fighting new enemies, and tackling the quite difficult bosses is a lot of fun in itself, and for those reasons alone the game is not to be missed by any action-adventure fans out there.


  1. Star Tropics is one I used to read about in Nintendo Power, but regrettably I never had the chance to play it. The yo-yo wielding hero reminded me of Mikey from The Goonies 2 video game.

    I know what you mean about bosses in older games getting your heart going, especially when you realize that you just might be winning at a boss fight that previously seemed impossible. The feeling of finally beating that boss and getting to actually see what the next level looked like was quite exhilarating for me in those days. I honestly remember sweating and breathing real heavily when I finally beat the Grim Reaper in the original Castlevania.

  2. I finally started playing this one. I am at chapter 5. The game is a lot of fun and the RPG flavor is very charming, though the game is super challenging. It almost seems to take pride in making the gamer repeat the same dungeon levels, over and over and over, again. But I do like that I continuously get better at the levels, each time. I’m quite nervous as to how much more challenging the game is going to get from here on out. Hope it is worth trekking on.

  3. As much of a pain as the last chapter was, I finally completed Startropics, and I have to say it probably had one of the best endings to an NES title that I've ever seen.