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Ristar (Genesis) artwork

Ristar (Genesis) review

"It never fails. Look at each and every quality videogaming system that’s ever hit the market. They all have had their share of heavily-hyped flops — those games that were awesome to hear about, but nightmarish to play. But, to balance it all out, occasionally you find a surprise. Buried deep in that system’s library, you dig up a game you’ve never heard of before. A game that proves to be one hell of a playing experience. A game like Ristar. "

It never fails. Look at each and every quality videogaming system that’s ever hit the market. They all have had their share of heavily-hyped flops -- those games that were awesome to hear about, but nightmarish to play. But, to balance it all out, occasionally you find a surprise. Buried deep in that system’s library, you dig up a game you’ve never heard of before. A game that proves to be one hell of a playing experience. A game like Ristar.

Released late in the Genesis’ lifespan, Ristar didn’t exactly make waves, which is too bad. You see, this wonderful story of the little star that could proved to be one of the most charming and enjoyable platformers of the 16-bit generation.

Sure, at first glance, aspects of this game may not be overly intriguing. You control a personable little star with arms and legs as he ambles through a series of planets in order to destroy the forces of the evil Greedy. Ristar DOESN’T have the speed of Sega darling Sonic the Hedgehog and also has the jumping ability of a sumo wrestler.

But just pick up the controller and fiddle with Ristar a bit. Flora, the opening world of the game, is a great place to get used to how the little fellow controls and is the PERFECT place to fall in love with him. With a little experimentation, Ristar will prove you don’t need super speed or jumping prowess to get the job done -- at least not when you have arms of rubber and the best headbutt this side of old-time pro wrassler Bobo Brazil.

It won’t take you too much wandering around in Flora’s first level to find the first of countless spherical enemies known as Orblets. Now, it’s time to test Ristar’s power. By pressing the proper button, your heavenly protagonist will reach out, grab the Orblet and instigate a massive head-on collision that will prove fatal to the poor blob-like foe. Easy as pie -- and since Ristar can take four hits, you have plenty of room for error at this point, especially considering that Flora has little more than a smattering of foes and a few thorn beds to provide a minimal threat to your safety.

But, Ristar’s awesome powers aren’t just confined to the destruction of enemy forces. Mastering that same “reach-and-grab” technique is necessary to make it through the 13 levels of this game. Let’s say you’re traveling through the lengthy underwater maze that forms the final level of the game’s second world, Undertow. As you swim through a narrow corridor, the current suddenly becomes far too strong for Ristar, catapulting him backwards. What do you do? Simple. Odds are that there will be some small bars affixed to one of the walls. Grab them and hold on for dear life when the current picks up. After it dies down again, swim the rest of the way, where you’ll find a high-power fan. One good “grab-and-smash” and that’s one problem solved!

On those early worlds, you’ll want to take every opportunity to master Ristar’s abilities, as the stakes get higher as the game goes on. Look at the first level of Automaton (the last “real” planet). At one point, you have to use Ristar’s “jump-and-grab” skill to scale a lengthy series of platforms leading up a shaft. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, add in the fact that each platform is covered with spikes on one side and things get a bit more complicated. They’re safe to grab, but you CAN’T land on top of them. To make matters worse, the next platform up is situated too far away for you to be able to simply grab it before landing. The only way to scale this shaft successfully is to vault over a platform, grab one of the walls, bounce off it, grab the next platform in mid-air and repeat the process about a half-dozen or so more times. Let’s just say that if you aren’t perfectly comfortable with Ristar’s moves by this point, this little section will be HELL!

Fortunately for you, Ristar controls wonderfully, meaning that as you take damage and die during these brutally difficult sequences, you’ll never feel that you’ll have to overcome the controls in order to succeed. And that is very good, as this game is just too innovative and fun to be ruined by lazy programming..

Each of the game’s six worlds are vastly different and pose different challenges. While most are standard platformer staples (fire, ice, forest, mechanical, water), they are simply done better than other games in the genre. There are two levels in each world with a boss fight following the second and I can safely say that few (if any) of the second levels reminded me of the first. Just look at Automaton, for example. The first level is an nightmarishly difficult level that requires complete mastery off all this game’s platforming elements. The second level? Well, you’re in a gigantic building warping from room to room while facing a multitude of different challenges.

But just to remind you that Ristar isn’t a standard platformer (in case you’re too dense to figure that out quickly), the fourth world of Sonata proves to be as innovative as anything I’ve ever seen. Utilizing a musical theme, the two levels and boss fight of this world are simply magical. Early on, you find yourself needing to find metronomes, ferry them through obstacle courses and deliver them to songbirds. Later, things are more grim as an egotistical and tonedeaf boss bird attempts to perform a deadly sonata -- forcing you to knock him off his perch once and for all.

While that bird is one of the game’s coolest bosses, this game has no shortage of excellent and innovative encounters. In Freon, you first have a miniboss fight against a bizarre alien. The weapon of choice isn’t a gun or a sword or even bare fists. No, instead, the two of you will engage in conflict with....snowballs! Defeat him and he’ll pop back up in the main boss battle to help you. Take the hot plates of food he hands you and fling them into a gigantic ice creature’s mouth in order to thaw it out and advance to the next world. Later, Greedy proves to be an excellent final boss as he throw multiple attacks at you, including the ability to create his own black hole to suck you away to a quick demise.

To be honest, just about everything in Ristar is perfect. As I played through the game, I even noticed some of the little touches -- like how Ristar starts building a miniature snowman on Freon if you neglect him for a few seconds. When your main complaints about a game are that it doesn’t have a save function and that there are barely a dozen levels to play through, you know you’ve got a winner.

Ristar may not have received the publicity that many other platforming games had, but the simple truth is that it has better gameplay and more charm than nearly all of those venerable greats that initially come to mind when you think of old-school platformers. Ristar looks and sounds wonderful and plays like a dream -- factors that have to make it one of history’s most underrated video games.


overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (February 02, 2005)

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

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