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Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 (NES) artwork

Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 (NES) review

"The original StarTropics was mostly confined to a random series of tropical islands, and everything blended together after a while. In Zoda's Revenge, you control Mike Jones as he travels from a prehistoric land, to ancient Egypt, to other areas such as a Transylvanian castle and King Arthur's Britain. Each chapter contains a minimum of one dungeon to explore as you search for a collection of Tetris -style blocks known as Tetrads. You need to reach them before various incarnations of Zoda (the villain from the first StarTropics game) can harness their power for evil."

Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics II is basically what you'd get if you combined The Legend of Zelda with a watered-down kiddy version of the first “Bill & Ted” movie. A teen protagonist travels through time, meeting real and fictional historical figures like Cleopatra and Sherlock Holmes in various goofy scenarios that require him to navigate dungeons and fight off various boss monsters that are being commanded by an evil alien overlord. Sometimes things get tedious, but there also are wonderful moments when the title reaches the potential offered by its premise.

And there really is a lot of potential here. The original StarTropics was mostly confined to a random series of tropical islands, and everything blended together after a while. In Zoda's Revenge, you control Mike Jones as he travels from a prehistoric land, to ancient Egypt, to other areas such as a Transylvanian castle and King Arthur's Britain. Each chapter contains a minimum of one dungeon to explore as you search for a collection of Tetris -style blocks known as Tetrads. You need to reach them before various incarnations of Zoda (the villain from the first StarTropics game) can harness their power for evil. The locations you must explore tend to widely vary, which keeps things feeling fresh.

Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 screenshot Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 screenshot

I found the dungeons to be more fun to travel through here than they were in the original StarTropics, for the simple reason that your character is a great deal more mobile. Mike can now move and fire weapons in eight directions. Also, in rooms that are loaded with blocks that may or may not be hidden switches, you no longer must jump just to leave a given tile. That change alone makes getting around the labyrinths a much smoother and simpler process, which is a big deal when you consider that the StarTropics games are modeled so closely after The Legend of Zelda (with the most notable exception being that here you throw various weapons from a distance of a few tiles rather than getting in close and engaging enemies in melee combat). You'll also deal with hazards such as fast-moving conveyor belts and the regular threat of instantly losing a life upon falling into water or bottomless pits. When you consider that any missed jump can lead to an immediate demise, it's nice that the developers at least removed the possibility of cheap deaths by not forcing you to take unnecessary leaps.

You shouldn’t take that change to mean that there won’t be the occasional moment of cheapness in Zoda's Revenge, however; it s a NES game, after all, and that means it delights in ramping up the difficulty to obscene levels as you approach its conclusion. While recently replaying it, I found myself silently applauding "High School/College-aged Rob", that amazing guy who beat this game without a Game Genie or any other cheats. "Thirty-something Rob" didn't have the same luck when he got to the last couple of chapters. As the challenge ramped up, he didn't take long to cave. Then again, my younger self must have looked at beating this game as a one-time deal; I remember picking it up many times and playing through a good portion of the game, but I don't actually have many memories of those final two chapters.

When I play the game now, I find myself dividing Zoda's Revenge's nine chapters into three categories. The first and second chapters are boring, the third through the seventh are great fun, and the final two are just frustrating. The initial chapter provides a brief plot overview that leads to the impulsive Mike grabbing a mystical book and warping to prehistoric times, which leads to a simple second chapter culminating in what could possibly be the easiest boss of all time (unless you ignore the primary target and use your throwing axe to kill the wild boar it's munching on instead, in which case the enraged beast becomes near-impossible to defeat). Until it finishes the boar, the creature ignores you… even if you're relentlessly pelting it with projectiles. By the time the boar is gone, odds are good that your nemesis will be also. Thrilling…

But then you move to ancient Egypt, and things pick up. There are three dungeons and two fun boss fights that properly kick off the game. Trips to the sewers of London and the Wild West both add to the fun and, after a somewhat lackluster sixth chapter, Zoda's Revenge enters the realm of the truly awesome with its Transylvanian-themed seventh chapter. For most of the game, the dungeons are pretty linear. There will be side paths leading to health-restoring medicines and limited-use weapons, but those are minor deviations from the obvious main path. In this castle belonging to the second version of Zoda, though, you get a pretty good take on some Zelda-class dungeons as you travel through a maze-like building in search of the lair where the shape-shifting alien is awaiting your arrival.

Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 screenshot Zoda's Revenge: Star Tropics 2 screenshot

Sadly, victory propels you into the annoying final two chapters. It takes a lot of effort to not have your life meter decimated by the average foe in King Arthur's land, especially when you're in a room with multiple knights constantly firing off triple-shots from some sort of projectile weapon. And then you start running into a tougher version of this foe that carries a shield which prevents you from hitting its front side. I liked fighting the similarly-armored Darknut enemies in The Legend of Zelda, as there was a fun sort of strategy required when you found yourself in a room full of them. They wouldn't be so much fun to fight if they also regularly sprayed their rooms with spread-fire projectiles, though, which is what their Zoda's Revenge doppelgangers do. Also, one of the two bosses in this chapter is a dud. There's nothing fun about zipping around a room on a conveyor belt while dodging a barrage of projectiles and hoping that you can manage to strike your adversary. He’s very annoying filler, that guy.

The final stage starts out with promise, as you revisit the tropical islands from the first StarTropics and battle an undead version of the giant snake who served as that game's first boss. It’s a nice bonus for those of us who played the first game. Sadly, that encounter is followed by boring, lazy programming… By that, I mean you’ll have to endure a boss rush during which you reunite with most of the game's big baddies (fortunately, Mr. Back-And-Forth Knight was left on the cutting room floor) before the game ends with an absolutely sadistic two-part battle with the final Zoda. That's an underwhelming way to finish what had been, for the most part, a very good game.

Arcade elements also help the game stand out by offering a few nice touches you don't usually get from games of this type. All disposable items are only for use in the dungeon in which you originally find them, meaning that you’re not penalized for using medicine and other limited-use weapons. They’ll only go to waste if you don’t. You also get (and occasionally upgrade) a psychic bolt attack that decreases in usefulness as you start taking damage. By the time you maximize your life meter late in the game, a fully-charged bolt strike reaches across the screen and makes taking on tough foes a far less painful proposition. Let yourself be knocked down to your final few hearts, though, and you’re left with a weak, short-ranged weapon that's easily inferior to your primary attack. This setup adds a compelling reason to keep your life meter near its max.

When all things are properly considered, Zoda's Revenge gets a lot more right than it does wrong. The adventure might start slowly and it might not offer the most replay value unless you have the skill and patience to overcome those late-game frustrations, but it's definitely a step above the average Zelda clone. Things like that add to the fun of this title and keep the frustrating parts from being game-ruiners. It might not be an all-time classic, but the second StarTropics outing is still a worthwhile addition to the library of any fan of this genre.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (October 29, 2012)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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pickhut posted October 31, 2012:

I actually considered reviewing this a few weeks back, but decided to pass for something else, so this was a pleasant surprise to see! I haven't played this title in ages, so your descriptions really helped me remember some moments. I actually nearly forgot what the final moments of the game were like, so when you said there was a boss gauntlet, I was shocked. And yeah, the availability of more directions was StarTropics 2's best improvement, though, as you said, that didn't make the game any easier.

Good review! I've been itching to replay this recently, and I think your review helped in during so.
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overdrive posted October 31, 2012:

That's awesome news! Yeah, the only way the "move more directions" makes things easier is that you don't have to jump onto switch blocks simply to see if they're really switches or just decoys. Which is more of a convenience thing, unless you mistime jumps and land in water. Which I've done before. But for the most part, they negated any advantage you'd get from added mobility by giving enemies that same freedom, as the spread shot knights and a few other foes take advantage of. My least favorite foe was probably these magician-types in the seventh and eighth level that just wander around while dropping bombs that go off and fire in multiple directions. The randomness of their movement makes it hard to get a bead on them for more than 1-2 shots at a time and by getting in range to hit them, you're easily in the path of their shots. Or the gold knights with their shields, so you have to deal with their spread attack while trying to get behind them or at their side so you can actually hit them.

Other things that make this one easier than the first: NO instant death room in an dungeon. That was f-ing cruel in the first game when they put an death trap in the very first dungeon. Also, NO dark rooms where you have to use consumable items to get a brief moment of light. Those were definite improvements, as was the variety in locales. You just have to get to Chapter 3 without being too bored to continue, as Chapter 2 is boring as hell.
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zippdementia posted October 31, 2012:

As a kid I couldn't get into this because it was so different from Startropics (which I loved) but I believe that now I would better be able to appreciate it.

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