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Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics 2

Released: 1994
Company: Nintendo
Genre: Adventure

The year 1994 was a sad one for us NES fans, as it saw the last gasp of the system we all love. Zoda's Revenge was the second-to-last game licensed for the console1, and with it we also saw the end of one of the system's most successful late series. When I wrote my capsule review, this was readily apparent, as the game really seemed to me as being quite thrown together without a whole lot of attention being paid to making this game worthy of being the deck's penultimate release. I've come back to the game recently and played it through, and while it did show enough spark to get the rating back to sea level, it still left me thinking that the NES could've ended on a better note.

The game chronicles the continuing adventures of Mike Jones, the teen from Seattle who saved an entire alien race from extinction only two years ago. While aiding his (previously abducted) uncle with some findings, he accidentally warps himself back to the stone age. From there, he bounces from time period to time period in search of the seven magic tetrads. Oh, and Zoda's come back to life, too, and he wants to make sure that Mike doesn't find those tetrads.

For a game to start on the right foot, the plot's got give the player something to work with, and the storyline to Zoda's Revenge is, if you couldn't figure out above, dreadfully formulaic and porous. I'll forgive the use of time travel in this game since that really doesn't detract anything from the plot. However, the game seemed unsure of whether to go in chronological order - as the first two stages take place in caveman times and ancient Egypt - or hop around the various points of time. I would've preferred a linear chronology, since it follows the book analogy used in the game.

While the prequel didn't have a whole lot of exposition to fill out each stage of the game, you at least got a sense that there was some flow to the game. In ZR, though, the overworld segments seem almost superfluous. Each chapter consists of finding the person who says "I found a tetrad in ____", then going to that place to retrieve it, with only minimal puzzle-solving before getting to the fighting. Moreover, the use of tetrads as the mystical items to collect is appalling. Have the folks at Nintendo completely run out of ideas? Finally, Zoda's return to the series was pretty hackneyed. I would've been a little more comfortable with a new nemesis instead of just rehashing an old one.

With that rant out of the way, the game does recover later on. The audiovisuals have made some improvements over the prequel. Most notably, the graphics used while walking around are halfway decent at this point. They're still a bit simplistic, but at this point I don't think we should've expected anything more than what we got here. There's much more variety in the music, with several themes for the battle scenes and a few boss tracks as well. They may have spread themselves a little thin, though, because while just about all the music is pretty good, nothing really stands out as being something you'd really want to listen to. Another problem carries over from the first game - the siren used to warn players of low energy is even more incessant than before.

Much has been said about StarTropics' handling, and not very much of it has been positive. This is probably where the most time was spent in this game, because the control is very much enhanced this time around. Now you can walk on tiles instead of having to jump on every single one of them; if a tile is supposed to trigger something, it'll flash when you step on it, prompting you to jump on it. You can now walk and fire diagonally, a major boon to the boss battles. Still, some problems are evident. The biggest problem of all is that while you're allowed to walk to the edge of land masses, you can fall off the edge of a moving platform. Considering how you can be conditioned to treat the ground in a certain way, wasting some lives on the exception to the rule can be quite annoying. Also, while you can move around when you jump in this game, the maneuverability can be a bit flaky. Sometimes I wish you'd simply jump in a straight direction once you leave the ground, as many times I've jumped straight into the pit I was trying to jump over.

With all the negative things I've said about the plot, it's no wonder I gave up on this game originally in the fourth chapter. The second time around, I was about to do the same thing, but the learning curve of the game rescued it from this fate. In each and every play session I've had with this game since I restarted it, I've always gotten a little bit further. This, folks, is exactly the way a game's challenge should be, since this trend continued all the way up to the end of the game. I particularly like the layouts of each dungeon, with lots of forks in the road and loops along the way.

I'm tempted to score a perfect 6 in the Challenge category, but I can't, on account of two problems that push the rating into the "Hard" territory.2 First off, while it's understandable to have the player start with only a portion of his hearts upon starting a new life, five hearts is too low. Most of the time, I wind up resetting a game, because I'd much rather start from the beginning of a cave with all my hearts intact than begin at the halfway point with only a third of them filled, along with no medicine to heal them. (Especially since the enemies are extremely stingy on the hearts and stars in this game.) Also, there's no invincibility time allotted after taking a hit, so it's quite common to lose a large chunk of your energy on account of a bat or scorpion following you around.

When it comes down to the fun factor, the smooth learning curve will help keep you coming back, as each game gets you a little further in your quest, hence beckoning you to give it one more try after a game over. Still, once you've beaten the game, is there really any point in coming back? True, there are some interesting challenges in the game that will have you puzzling over how to defeat the next boss or through the next room. But that plot just gives you no incentive for a second go-round. The ending was a nice touch - recapping the events as the first game did - but it does little to salvage the train wreck of a storyline.

Zoda's Revenge really had an opportunity to become a very fun game, and in some ways it succeeds. It does have some big problems, though, and I can't help but think the terminal condition of the NES played a contributing factor to it.

1. And probably the only reason it wasn't the last game is because the people at Nintendo didn't think people would spend $54.95 to play Wario's Woods on the SNES.

2. Then again, if I did give this rating a 6, I might've compensated by docking the last available point from the Plot rating. Only one game has scored a 1 in plot, and I don't think Fun House wants a roommate.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 12
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 16
Overall Score: 67%