Year released: 1991
When you think about it, there have been a large number of games that try to combine two different genres of play together. The Guardian Legend, Metal Gear, and Zelda II leap into mind. One of the reasons why this practice may be so welcomed is the fact that after a while, the concept of any one genre grows tiresome, thus programmers must look to other avenues to make their game stand out that much more. Still, many of these attempts fail because neither element of the game is developed to autonomy. That may be one of the reasons I like StarTropics so much.
The plot starts out about as pedestrian as one could imagine: Our hero visits an isolated island in the South Pacific to visit his archaeologist uncle, only to find that he's been abducted. Since nobody in the village (not even the chief) is willing to do anything, they volunteer you to do the dirty work. What makes the story more palatable is that along the way you encounter so many different tangents - most notably in chapters 4 and 5 - that it keeps itself from getting old and tired midway through. A few of the NPCs add humor, a welcome addition since you'll be talking with at least 95% of the population you come across.
Many people have testified that they bought this game for one main reason - its apparent similarity to Zelda in terms of its movement and battle structure. Well, they're not totally wrong - the isometric view of the battle scenes are certainly reminiscent of said adventure game, while the traveling portion of the game is not unlike Zelda 2. Thankfully, the overhead scenes have their own features, such as the searching for Big Hearts, preventing it from becoming just a vehicle to get from one cave to another. I would've enjoyed it a little more if there were random battles like an RPG, however.
The game's presentation is certainly worthy of merit. The traveling graphics are unmemorable - blocky, undetailed sprites that look like the tropical equivalent to Dragon Warrior abound outside. But the in-fight graphics are spectacular. Mike is animated superbly, as are the many bosses which often take up a healthy amount of space. Flicker happens very rarely during the game, which is especially impressive considering how some rooms are filled with fast-moving enemies. The music is just as great, but like before the traveling theme is faulty. The harmony seems to fade out and fade in out of synch, thus if you spend a long time walking the music will sound aimless.
The one glaring fault with this game can be blamed on overattention, and that is the play control. First of all, never may you simply walk onto a tile; you must always jump on it. I can somewhat imagine the motivation behind this - they don't want you to simply happen onto a trigger tile by chance and not by experimentation - but at the same time some rooms are filled with unneeded tiles which really slow you down. Secondly, you don't automatically change directions onscreen when you do so on your controller; it takes a split second for Mike to turn before he can continue. Again, I see their reasons, but a faster reponse time could've made things better. Third, in order to get any forward progress on your jumps, there must be something to jump over or onto. This makes jumping over bullets that much more difficult.
Once you've really got a hang of the game and its mechanics, though, getting all the way through isn't much of a difficulty. The learning curve really doesn't tug on the leash until Chapter 7, but that's when it really gets hard. In the first area of said chapter, many of your foes have a longer range than you. True, you do acquire weapons along the way with more reach and strength than the lousy yo-yo you get at the start, but you can't use them unless you have enough life, and once you lose your weapon in such a place as Chapter 7, you're much more likely to bite the dust than recover enough hearts to retrieve your weapon. Which brings up another point: In each action scene, you always start with 3 lives; no more, no less. Any extra lives found in the last dungeon are not carried over. However, the same is true for when you lose lives, so I guess they cancel each other out.
When it comes to how much fun you'll have playing this game, it depends on how you look at each strength and each weakness. I, personally, had a blast until Chapter 7, which took many a day and thrown controller to finally complete. Still, Chapter 8 was not as much of a problem, and once I saw the ending, I knew that even facing the abominable chapter 7 was worth it. Trust me, you'll want to complete the game at least once to see the magnificent ending; easily one of the best on the NES. And the idea of drenching that pack-in letter you got with the game in order to progress to Chapter 5 was yet another interesting move that really worked for me.
Despite its major problems in the area of play control, which you will be able to forgive once you've figured them out, StarTropics is a wonderful game, and well worth the time invested in it, if for nothing more than to see the ending over and over again.
|Play Control: ||
|Technical Score: 12
|Aesthetic Score: 21
|Overall Score: 79%|