What is your favorite NES game of all time?
Many of you would choose Super Mario 3, and I wouldn’t blame you – it’s a great game with solid platforming and awesome music. Some of you would choose The Legend of Zelda, because it has really fun dungeons to conquer. Me? I chose something different.
Don’t get me wrong, both those games are excellent, and I had lots of fun playing with them (and still do, to this day). However, there is one game I love even more than those two. Even though this game wasn’t as popular as a Mario or a Zelda title, it was still loved by many.
That game… is StarTropics!
StarTropics is an action/adventure game with unique, compelling gameplay. Released on the NES in December 1990, it was originally developed in Japan to appeal to Western audiences, but never caught on quite enough to become an established franchise. There was a sequel (Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics 2), which was released almost four years later… on the NES, while the Super NES was in full swing. It’s not hard to wonder why there aren’t any more sequels.
You start off the game as Mike Jones, a teenager who is heading to C-Island to visit his uncle, a famous archaeologist named Dr. Jones (no, not that one). But, when you arrive, the island chief tells you that your uncle has been abducted. You then set out on an epic adventure to look for your uncle – an adventure that takes you to several islands, mountaintops, a spaceship, and even the belly of a whale!
(I’m still unsure as to which of the last two is more impressive.)
The gameplay is basically split into two parts: over world exploration, and underground dungeon segments. You also have hearts as a measure of your health, and you can increase your health with heart containers – or by completing specific achievements. Also, the game is divided into chapters, and you can replay these chapters after completing them. I’m not sure why – I just typically play through the whole game, never really felt the need to replay a specific chapter.
The over world exploration sequences are fairly reminiscent of the earlier Dragon Warrior games. Although without those annoying random encounters, opting instead for puzzle solving and maze exploration before you head back underground for more action. The dungeon segments have you solving puzzles, looking for hidden paths, and fighting enemies.
You also earn points by completing dungeons, which seems unnecessary, because they’re typically the same amount of points every time, and they don’t count towards anything. It would be like earning points in a Mega Man game. Oh wait…
Unlike most fantasy titles for the NES, StarTropics takes place in a unique tropical setting with a more modern theme. There are no swords and shields in this game, nor is there magic to use (except for a few plot-specific events). Instead, Mike Jones, being from Seattle and a huge baseball fan, uses baseball bats and baseballs as weapons. He is often described as an “ace pitcher,” and is given a Yo-yo at the beginning of the game – which he then uses to kill enemies like snakes, rats and bats. You can also earn upgrades for the Yo-yo throughout the game: the Shooting Star, for example, has greater range and does more damage. Although you need six full hearts in order to use it, otherwise it reverts to the Yo-yo.
While movement during the over world segments feels okay, it gets a little stiff during the dungeon segments. Basically, you can move up, down, left and right, and you have to hold the D-pad in that direction to actually move, otherwise you just turn in that direction. It does feel awkward at first, but as you get used to moving around, it becomes beneficial in later chapters when fighting enemies and dealing with sinking tiles. Jumping isn’t too complicated; unless you have a tile to jump on, or a pitfall/water hazard to jump over, your jump will be stationary.
Some of the puzzles can be a bit tedious because they require you to find a hidden pressure switch by jumping on the right tile, which isn’t a big problem, unless you have a room full of tiles (yes, they do exist). A major complaint of mine is when you realize that you have to look for a hidden path, and you find one… by walking through a random part of a wall, with no indication of a path there to begin with.
Each chapter gets progressively harder than the last, giving you more dangerous traps and hazards to deal with. Chapter 5, for example, has instant death bowling balls that rock back and forth across the screen. You can freeze the bowling balls by hitting them with your weapon, but they will recover quickly, and can move faster than you can. You also have to be wary of tougher and faster enemies, like the aliens in Chapter 7. Seriously, they fucking suck!
Having said all that, the challenge of the game is also what makes it fun, because it feels good to discover a new secret, or a hidden exit. It feels good to kill a monster, because there’s a satisfying little explosion that occurs when you’ve administered that final blow.
Even though the soundtrack is limited in this game, I never get bored of it. It’s one of the many things that keeps me coming back to this game. Never mind the fact that, to this day, I still use the boss theme as my ringtone. And no one can ever forget about that spectacular ending music. Especially with that pixelated montage that accompanies it.
I was hooked on this game from the first time I played it. While it may have frustrated me at times, it has never disappointed me. I loved it then, and I still love it now. I will continue to say positive things about this game until I die… and I await that fateful day when Nintendo finally revisits – and hopefully reboots – this franchise, and give it the sequel/remake it deserves.
Or, you know, put Mike Jones in for Super Smash Bros. (Hey, it could happen!)