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Star Tropics 2

Star Tropics was a solid game, one that was heavily inspired by Zelda and sort of scratched that itch for those seeking more adventure in that mold. While I enjoyed it I can’t say that I ever found myself hoping for a sequel. Aside from the shocking fact that Star Tropics actually received a sequel was its release; by 1994 the 16-bit war was about to enter its second phase and it isn’t a stretch to say that no one was paying attention to 8-bit releases anymore (unless you lived in Brazil). As one of a handful of NES games released that year Star Tropics 2 improves nearly every facet of the original and while it isn’t the most original or creative game ever made it is highly recommended if you enjoyed the series’ first outing.

Not much time has passed since Mike Jones rescued his uncle Dr. J and the Argonian refugees from the evil Zoda. When Mike helps his uncle solve a riddle that had stumped him for months he is unexpectedly thrown into the past, beginning a time hopping journey to ultimately find the Tetrads and make his way home.

The game’s plot is just as goofy as the first game and full of weird circumstances as well. In one of the game’s stranger sub quests you must retrieve a pizza delivery for Cleopatra, which is absurd not just because pizza shouldn’t even exist in that period but because it also takes days to deliver. The trip through time sees you rubbing elbows with many famous literary figures such as Sherlock Holmes, Merlin, and King Arthur. This is a game that revels in its absurdity with that charm being one of the reasons the game is so enjoyable.

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For the most part the game adheres to the same structure as the original. Rather than a series of different islands the game sees you visiting a different era in time each chapter. The change in aesthetic each chapter alleviates one of the biggest criticisms of the first game; the island theme grew old no matter how they tried to dress it up. As I mentioned previously the game makes the most of its premise by having you visit some historic figure and it can be pretty cool at times, such as solving a crime alongside Sherlock Holmes. The overall maps are smaller but the game is just as long as its predecessor and with its varied locales and brisk pace you’ll actually want to see it through to the end.

Aside from its theme the largest improvement comes from the controls. Like A Link to the Past Mike has full 8-way movement and it does wonders for dungeon exploration. With the rigid, grid based movement gone the game is a lot faster. Mike can also change direction in midair somewhat although it should be noted that the platforming segments are a lot trickier since your movements aren’t so measured. Some smaller gameplay improvements have also been added; your main weapon no longer degrades based on health and you can actually simply walk across the tiles on the floor instead of slowly jumping on each one. In the grand scheme these are minor but when taken as a whole it makes playing the game so much more fluid.

Where the game’s controls have been significantly improved the dungeons do feel like a step back. On average the dungeon’s are of medium size and for the most part follow a linear path. The puzzles have also been simplified although to be fair the first game leaned heavily on its tile based switches. Since you aren’t relegated to playing hopscotch to find tile based switches the clever disappearing blocks and other creative trickery are no longer present. More emphasis has been placed on clearing rooms of enemies rather than finding one off items for progress. While I can appreciate the game’s faster pace it also loses something in the process.

What hasn’t changed is the game’s difficulty. With a tighter focus on combat comes stronger enemies and as early as chapter four your life bar can be torn to shreds in seconds. It took longer to reach that point in Star Tropics and you would think having permanently stronger weapons would help but no dice. A few boss battles such as the undead miner are nearly hair pulling in their challenge and not in a good way. It’s certainly still manageable but the bump in difficulty might come as a shock to veterans of the series initial outing.

In a way it is amazing that such a meaty title was released in the last year of the system’s life as projects of this magnitude are usually bumped up to the successor platform. Star Tropics 2 is a worthy follow-up and a solid adventure game that has a lower profile than it deserves and is worth checking out.

7-out-of-10-1

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Star Tropics

These days there are probably few who remember Star Tropics as it seems Nintendo has washed their hands of it completely.  While some remember it fondly to others it has a bad rap as a cheesy Legend of Zelda rip-off.  To some extent it’s true; it’s immediately obvious where the game’s inspiration came from.  But in my opinion there are enough unique ideas in Star Tropics that it can stand on its own two feet as an enjoyable action RPG for fans of the genre.

Mike Jones is visiting his uncle, archaeologist Dr. Jones for the summer on C-Island only to find him missing on arrival.  After questioning his assistant Mike decides to explore the surrounding islands for his uncle after discovering a letter addressed to him, stating that he was in fact abducted by aliens.

From its interface, puzzles, and many of its items Star Tropics is a blatant clone of Zelda.  Created specifically for America I wonder if the reasoning behind its creation is that Zelda might have been too complex for most gamers.  As a linear experience it’s much easier to get into and its mechanics and puzzles never reach the abstract levels of its older brethren.  While the feeling of déjà vu is ever present the game’s story and setting are at least interesting enough to make up for it.  Despite the massive coverage Nintendo Power dedicated to the games the series never caught on as well as it should have, leaving guys like me to extol its virtues.

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Since the game is divided into 8 chapters you won’t have to explore the overworld for your next objective.  The overworld map is littered with many towns, dungeons and other locales to explore.  In most cases you’ll enter the towns to learn of a problem that needs solving in order to progress, leading to a cave or dungeon.  Though linear you are still free to explore the confines of each chapter’s section of the world map.  Heart containers and are hidden in clever locations for those willing to seek them out.

The caves and dungeons are where you’ll spend the majority of your time however and this is where Star Tropics takes its cues from Zelda.  All dungeons are room based and reach pretty sizable proportions early on.  There are enough hidden rooms, fake exits (you’ll curse when it happens), and traps that it’s conceivable that you’ll die often.  By Chapter 4 the number of instant death traps like spiked pits, rolling balls and my favorite, water traps increases significantly.  To say nothing of the game’s tricky puzzle elements.

The vast majority of puzzles you’ll encounter in the game are of the switch pushing variety.  The special switches perform numerous functions such as opening doors, destroying passages, revealing items, or even assisting in killing bosses.  It could very easily have become repetitive in short order but Nintendo has varied up the switches so that each one feels unique.  In most cases you’ll see the switch but will have to figure out the proper route to hit it.  There’s a heavy dose of platforming in the game that steadily ramps up in difficulty. You might not think it’s possible to die seeing as you can only jump when there are blocks to reach but disappearing blocks or approaching enemies will throw you off your game.   It’s in this regard that Star Tropics manages to distance itself from Zelda despite its surface similarity.

As well as its puzzles Star Tropics manages to avoid bogging you down with an extensive inventory.  Your initial weapon is a yo-yo that will upgrade to a Morning Star and finally a Super Nova.  Your weapon is dependent on your life bar as it degrades once your life dips below certain points.  There are a slew of secondary weapons such as baseball bats, bolas, and lasers that are limited in use.  There are a few special items that only see use in the dungeons as well, such as the Rod of Sight (to see ghosts), the lantern, or stop watches to freeze enemies.  While the burgeoning inventory of Zelda and other games of its ilk is missed it does keep the game flowing.

What doesn’t however are the game’s rigid controls.   Like the blocks that you spend copious amounts of time jumping on the game’s movement is grid based.  You can’t make slight movements, it’s all or nothing.  While the original Zelda limited movement to the four cardinal directions it was designed around that restriction.  With the exception of the floor tiles each room here is not.  Speaking of tiles, because you move so slowly (especially when jumping) the later portions of the game that feature excessive platforming become tedious.  It’s not to say you can’t adjust but the game suffers slightly as a result of this.

Star Tropics is a solid alternative to Zelda and a game that I urge any fan of action RPGs to seek out.  Nintendo’s use of Zelda as a starting point works in the game’s favor and in the end Star Tropics is unique enough that it shouldn’t be a deterrent.

7-out-of-10-1