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StarTropics (NES) artwork

StarTropics (NES) review

"Two brave soldiers must fight to the death, knowing that only one will survive. In one corner, we see a valiant knight, wielding a powerful sword, capable of annihilating anything in its path. In the other corner, an interesting little fellow, carrying no type of protection or weapon, takes the spotlight. Is this guy insane? Does he want to be ripped into shreds by the knight's mighty sword? At first glance, it seems that the knight will be victorious, chasing down his unarmed opponent to a trea..."

Two brave soldiers must fight to the death, knowing that only one will survive. In one corner, we see a valiant knight, wielding a powerful sword, capable of annihilating anything in its path. In the other corner, an interesting little fellow, carrying no type of protection or weapon, takes the spotlight. Is this guy insane? Does he want to be ripped into shreds by the knight's mighty sword? At first glance, it seems that the knight will be victorious, chasing down his unarmed opponent to a treacherous dead-end. But wait! Out of nowhere, the cunning little scum bucket withdraws a very unusual item. Nope, it's not a sword or gun or anything to that matter -- it's a Yo-Yo!

However, despite his brave efforts, the knight still has a great advantage. A Yo-Yo is definitely no match for a powerful, steel blade, right? But wait again! It seems the little scoundrel is not afraid, desperately wanting the entire show to continue! With outmost confidence, the brave, little soldier charges right towards the knight, confident that he'll shred him to pieces with his trusty Yo-Yo. Who will win this spectacular battle? Stay tuned!

While some people may think this is a ridiculous fight, in actuality, it is not. This battle can be applied to what Mike Jones -- the main character in StarTropics -- must encounter, but replace “Valiant Knight” with vicious rats, squirmy octopi, and horrifying ghosts. In the world of StarTropics, Mike's uncle, Dr. Jones, is a heavy researcher. He invites Mike to come to his home on C-Island for vacation. When he arrives to the island's only village, Mike discovers his poor uncle has been abducted by an unknown presence. Armed with his faithful yo-yo, Mike must now venture of to mysterious places to gather every clue possible to save his uncle.

StarTropics contains three main screens -- Overworld, Village, and Dungeon. The overworld and village screens are very similar to Dragon Warrior's: a simple birds-eye-view of the entire surrounding region Mike is in. The dungeon screen is where all the action takes place; you must bravely fight through every room, as well as solve any possible puzzle, Legend of Zelda-style. Conversely, the dungeons are all tile-based, which means you can only move one square at a time. With the inability to move diagonally, this can be a problem, since chasing down enemies and defending yourself from enemy attacks can become a bit of a chore.

Controlling Mike alone can be very complicated as well. You see, tapping once on the D-pad will only cause Mike to change the direction his facing. In order for him to move one whole square, you must hold the D-pad for a couple of seconds, leaving Mike temporarily immobilized for a split-second, and thus, making him vulnerable to enemy attacks. Furthermore, these awkward controls can especially be an annoyance whenever Mike is required to make a precise jump over deadly body of water. While Mike can safely survive the deadly jump across, the possibility is still pretty high that he'll suffer a watery grave. If the latter happens, Mike will be required to restart the dungeon from the very beginning. In my opinion, it's a big kick in the crotch if you happen to experience this fate.

The entire game is divided into eight chapters, and in each chapter, Mike must accomplish a specific goal to advance. Most of them require completing a certain dungeon with success, including annihilating a furious boss at the very end. Like Zelda, the boss fights are very enjoyable and interesting to say the least. In one dungeon, Mike must successfully defeat a colossal octopus. Here, he must bravely dodge all the octopus's direct attacks before launching “deadly” nonstop blows with his yo-yo. In another fight, Mike is up against a fierce beast covered in magma. He must strategically journey around him to destroy every tile he's on, or else you’ll quickly get baked by his intense flames.

Other than monster-bashing, puzzle-solving is another key aspect required to successfully complete StarTropics' various dungeons. Most of them are quite simple though, such as stepping on a certain tile to reveal a hidden switch, which happen to open a hidden pathway within the dungeon when pressed. However, while most of these puzzles are quite amusing and easy to complete, there are just too many that require simple “tile-stepping.” In fact, these types of puzzles are highly numerous in amount that they'll eventually become too tedious to complete in the latter stages of the game. In addition, there are a couple of puzzles where you may have absolutely no idea how to complete them. For instance, one puzzle actually requires some memory of the musical scale; you need to successfully press a specific organs key in the correct order, where one key corresponds to one “piece” of the scale. While this may be simple to those who are familiar with the scale, those that have absolutely no clue, including me, will have an especially difficult time completing this excruciating task. Bleh...

Another rather unique puzzle requires Mike to correctly select a three-digit number in the Sub-C submarine, his primary mode of transportation. Where could you locate this number, might you ask? Well for anyone who bought the game brand new, a letter that would reveal the correct number when submerged in water was concealed inside the box. Well that is nice and all, but I bought this game off a friend, who didn't even have this freakin' letter! As a result, I wasted countless amounts of hours to correctly enter the number. Yikes! You see, another problem with some of StarTropics' mini-games is the sheer inconvenience of them, giving a disadvantage to some people. Here, I did not have this “special” letter to quickly advance past this irritating mini-game.

StarTropics’ visuals are a mixed-bag in my opinion. On the plus side, just about all the dungeons designs are incredibly vibrant, especially the enemy sprites, despite suffering an overdose of “palette-swapping.” I especially adore controlling Mike through the dungeons in Chapter 6, as they appear like underground temples filled with menacing enemies destined to rip your guts out. On the flip side however, Mike's design is very simplistic and dull to say the least. In fact, some may even consider Mike being designed by a little kid in art class, taking into account its utter plainness. In addition, the backgrounds are nothing special, as they appear very bland and dreary in most places Mike must travel to.

The music is very pleasing to say the least. The dungeon theme's incredibly catchy beat is a nice addition to the game's superior and exciting dungeons, as well as the invigorating boss theme, in my opinion. In fact, StarTropics does a nice job of playing a certain theme to highlight a specific location’s overall atmosphere. For instance, when Mike travels within the Ghost Town, nice, gloomy music is played to highlight the settlement's depressing mood. Furthermore, upbeat, serious music is played whenever Mike encounters a totally fearsome location in a dungeon.

Despite a rather “negative” review, StarTropics remains as one of my most amusing games to play on the NES. Despite its numerous flaws mentioned, they are merely a simple disruption when controlling Mike in the game's ecstatic dungeons, filled with ravenous, tricky enemies and clever booby-traps scattered throughout. StarTropics is definitely one of the best rare titles to grace the NES.

Final Score – 8/10

centurion's avatar
Community review by centurion (September 20, 2003)

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zippdementia posted December 02, 2008:

Are we trying to weed out the decimal scores, for the sake of good presentation? If so, this should become 8/10.

If not... then I guess it doesn't matter.
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Felix_Arabia posted December 02, 2008:

I don't think it really matters . . .
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True posted December 03, 2008:

Nor do I. I can understand 7.5 and things along that line, but honestly where does a game lose .3 points, or gain .7?
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dementedhut posted December 03, 2008:

Why are there even two different ratings in that review...?
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Lewis posted December 03, 2008:

true: I think you can definitely tell at times, particularly at the higher end of the scale. Depends how anal you are about it. I know there have been times when I've been uncertain about whether something sways more in the direction of an 8 or a 9, for example, and decimal or percentage systems go some way to eradicating that.

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