Hi readers! Last week, we looked at one of the most influential shooters of all time.
This week, we're gonna lighten things up a bit with a trip to C-Island (and a bunch of other kooky locations).
StarTropics, a bonafide NES classic from 1990, casts us in the role of Mike Jones, just your average teen (albeit one with a bit of a yo-yo fetish). Mike goes to visit his uncle, archaeologist Dr. Steve Jones, on C-Island-only to find him missing. Acquiring a submarine that belongs to Dr. J (as the locals call the doctor), Mike sets off on an adventure to locate his uncle, armed with but a simple yo-yo for a weapon.
Right off the bat, you can tell StarTropics is just bursting with personality. The island setting, the yo-yo, the increasingly quirky characters...there's always something new and impossibly charming around the next corner.
But how does it play? Well...
Developed internally at Nintendo, StarTropics at very first glance heavily resembles The Legend of Zelda, between the overworld/dungeon areas and the presence of Heart Containers and various items. StarTropics differs significantly in it's handling of dungeons, however.
The first thing that you notice upon entering a dungeon, aside from the different viewpoint, is that Mike moves in "tiles;" that is, you're locked to an invisible grid, much like the overworld gameplay. Press up and Mike moves up one tile, for example. It can make the dungeon gameplay a bit annoying, as some enemies actually aren't beholden to this grid. But most of them are.
As I said, Mike is armed with just a yo-yo, at least at the start. It turns out to be a pretty potent weapon, made even stronger when you upgrade it to a long-range mace-like weapon. Which is pretty awesome. You also get a bunch of neat sub-weapons, like bolas and a rod that turns everything to ice-the latter an absolute necessity for a boss battle against a squid. Also there's baseballs and a bat you can get. Which is nice, but I never find myself leaning too much on the sub weapons, particularly when the yo-yo is so potent.
There's a variety of puzzles abound, as well. Most of these involve the annoying tiles that Mike has to jump on. See, you can't walk across these things. You gotta jump on each individual one, and it gets tedious as you jump on literally every tile you see just to find some hidden switch-of which there are many. Ugh.
Other puzzles involve traipsing around the world map, and one puzzle in particular requires at least a basic knowledge of music (y'know, do-re-mi and so on). And then, there's that puzzle.
It's probably what StarTropics is most famous (or infamous) for. After you escape from the body of a whale (!), Baboo, who was also inside the whale and is a friend of Dr. J, relays a message from the Doctor, telling Mike to dip his letter in water. Apparently, this would reveal a frequency for Nav-Com to guide your submarine.
It's at this point that everyone, including yours truly, quickly panicked when they realized no such letter existed in our inventory. We'd in fact never received a letter. Had we?
Turns out we had. One simple had to open up the instruction manual that came with your copy of StarTropics. At the last page was a fold out letter from Dr. J to Mike. Physically dunking the letter in water would reveal that frequency, in invisible ink. This was such a cool level of interactivity with your game that hadn't been seen before, and really isn't seen now. (Bear in mind, at the time, I didn't play all those PC games from the late 80's/early 90's that came with a bunch of "feelies," so as a kid, this was pretty freaking cool to me.)
On a side note, my older brother and I tore our house apart looking for that instruction manual upon having this revelation. Who keeps those things around, anyway?
But gameplay quirks aside, StarTropics remains a very cool game. As I said, there's a remarkable amount of charm on display. StarTropics features a variety of locations despite it's island theme. You'll travel through forests, beaches, and oceans, sure, but you'll also get eaten by a whale, and finish up in an alien spaceship. Even games today don't usually have that kind of variety.
Also, on another side note, StarTropics is what I voted for when Kotaku held this poll.
StarTropics is a pretty impressive looking game for it's time. It came out at the tail end of the NES's life, when Nintendo was by then gearing up for the SNES. The most graphically impressive games tend to come out at the end of a console's life, naturally, and StarTropics didn't disappoint, with a cool variety of enemy designs and a surprising color palette. The music is pretty good, too, if a tad bit repetitive, but it kinda fits the island theme.
Go check out StarTropics if you never had! It's on the Wii Virtual Console, and even includes a little simulation of the immersive letter. It's still a cool game despite the whole "grid" nature of it's gameplay and it's often brutal challenge. But the game is brimming with such charm, you won't care about difficulty or moving in tiles.
You'll just be smiling too much.
Next week, we'll look at a highly cinematic game featuring multiple playable characters, multiple endings, and even multiple titles, thanks to unnecessary title switching for the U.S. release. Stay tuned!