Yo-yo, islands, submarines, spaceships?
In what kind of world can you destroy enemies using a yo-yo, travel from island to island via submarine with a little robot, and find yourself fighting in a spaceship? That would be the world of Startropics. This is one of those games I purchases as a little kid, having never even heard of it. This game turned out to be one of my favorite NES purchases. I found out that this game was actually pretty popular by those who played it. The thing is, I never ran into anyone who has ever played it. It was made by the same creators of the original Legend of Zelda for the NES. Though there are some similarities between the two, but Startropics is a game of it's own. It is one of those diamond in the rough games that belongs in any NES fan's collection.
Startropics has two different views of game play. Both are top down perspective, but with some differences. The exploration sections are areas where there is no danger. This is where you explore the island itself as well as walk around villages and talk with the villagers. The look of this mode is almost exactly like Legend of Zelda, but with much better graphics. The graphics are VERY bright, and the objects are surprisingly well shaded, given the type of far away view it is. The second mode is the action mode of game play. These areas take place in the 'dungeons' of the islands. This is where about 3/5 of the game takes place. This is where all the fighting is done. The view, like the exploration sections, is also top down perspective, but a bit more angled. Not only is it angled, but also zoomed in about 4x closer. Like the exploration sections, the colors are sharp and bright. The graphics are actually only slightly above average with NES standards. What makes this game have a higher rank is the fact that there are a LOT of enemies in the game. By the end of the game, you will be familiar with about 100 different game sprites. Each one is very detailed, highly shaded, and unique. There are times where there are up to 20 moving enemies on the screen, yet the game still remains fluid and fast paced.
In the sound department, think of things that made Zelda famous. You are probably thinking that good old Zelda music. In this game, might outdo that. You will come to recognize three different tunes, which are the exploration music, action stage music, and boss music. The exploration music is calm, cheerful, and pleasant. The action stage music fast and somewhat eerie. One thing I also like about this particular one is that in some action stages, it is the same, but with a slightly different sound to fit the level. For example, you get the same song in the graveyard action stage, but it is toned differently to make it creepy. The spaceship stage does the same thing, but gives it a tech sound. Finally, the boss music is just sweet. The first 4 seconds of it is super dramatic to get you set into boss fight mode! The exploring sections have different music in other areas such as being in the submarine or in the grave. Talking to specific islanders such as the chiefs has their own music as well. As for the sound effects, they don't quite live up to the music, but still does good. The sound effects are not screechy or muffled, which is pretty good for NES. Each weapon you use has their own unique sound, jumping and landing has their own, and even the splash of water has sound. The bosses however, all have the same scream, which is kind of a shame. Lastly, there is one little sound that will get on your nerves. When you are running low on hearts, you will hear this annoying ringing that chimes every time you jump, attack, or anything. That is what bumps it down a point.
In all honesty, the core game play of this game doesn't really change. But each level gets appropriately more challenging and more full of puzzles to figure out. You will die a lot. Fortunately, if you lose all your life, you don't have to worry about being sent back to the beginning of the game. But what makes this game great is it's story and development. This game is heavily story driven. You have one clear goal, with a lot of side interruptions. But the journey will keep you coming back for more until rescue your lost uncle. But as you do so, you uncover something much larger going on. But you don't have the repetitiveness of not closing in on your goal because each island has a problem for you to solve. This keeps things fresh and the pace does not slow down. But once you finally reach that point where you start getting closer to finding your uncle is when things really start taking off, and you just HAVE to uncover the mystery behind what is happening.
As I said, this game is heavily story driven. It starts with you heading to C-Island to visit your uncle, who is an archaeologist. When you get there, you find out that after a bad omen, the islanders have lost contact with your uncle while he was on an expedition. He apparently found something important, which put him in danger. You are given the task to find him, which you get to take his submarine to search for clues in other islands. As you reach each new island, you will find that they are having their own problems, which you must take care of in order to progress. For a while, you get no clue as to where you uncle could be. But once you finally get that one clue as to what direction to go, you start to see what your uncle discovered To avoid spoilers, I'll leave it there. This story will also take you a long time to get through, which is always a plus.
In all honest, the game play does not change drastically throughout the game. All the exploration areas are the same, as there are no enemies, modes of attack, jumping, or abilities. So this never changes. For the action stages, the base game play also doesn't change. But the game play does give something to offer. As stated earlier, the levels get progressively more challenging. Where it starts out with a simply mix of puzzle and skill, the islands constantly change that. Some areas will be heavily skill based, another will be highly puzzle based, another is strategic, and then you start getting heavy combinations that are anything but simple. There are also a LOT of items in this game to use ranging from your main weapon (which evolves as you progress, causing you to have to develop new strategies), there are throwing items, close range weapons, and even items like mirrors to reflect enemy magic. You constantly get new enemies that cause you to have to develop new strategies. Some enemies are fast and hard to hit, some come come in groups, and others might be slow but super tough. Combining this with a diverse and involved story, you got some great depth here. If it weren't for the huge repetition of the exploration sections, this would be rated higher.
One downfall (for my preferences, that is) is the fact that the game is not all that challenging. Don't get me wrong, your first or even second time playing, you will die a lot (most likely). I sometimes run into times where I lose all my lives and have to restart the level once in a while, and I have beaten it at least 10 times. But really, this game requires much less skill once you memorize everything. Half the challenge is the fact that unexpected things happen like vanishing jumping blocks or puzzles that result in death if done incorrectly, which often require very fast reflexes to avoid. But once you know they are there, it is no problem anymore. But despite this, it does not remotely take away the replay value in the slightest.
An 8 is a very solid score, and this game definitely deserves it. With two given game play sections, it isn't the same thing over and over. The graphics are bright, colorful, and there are a LOT of different types of enemies. The variety of enemies makes you have to adapt your strategy for each island dungeon. The music in this game is amazing, and the sound effects are solid as well with the exception of the annoying low health sound. This story is extremely well developed and offers enough variety to make this game very addictive. Though the game play core is somewhat repetitive, the amount of usable weapons, and changing strategies makes this addictive. Though the game is pretty hard to complete the first and second time through, you realize that the game is actually less skill and more memorization. Of course, once you beat it once, the puzzles are no longer a challenge because you know how to solve them. Despite that little setback, this game deserves a spot in your list of owned games.