StarTropics ReviewJoe Shaffer
Circa 1991, there was a game that slept in my NES for many moons: StarTropics. It was an enthralling title that grabbed my attention with lively music and a whimsical presentation. After showing me its pleasant side, it ushered me into the first dungeon where I found an addiction so powerful that I accepted the game as my master. Until I saw the end credits roll, I lived to play StarTropics. Only upon completion did its grasp over me loosen, and I realized soon after that I had fallen slave to electronic merriment again. However, I didn't feel an ounce of regret this time.
It was that damn entertaining; solid enough, in fact, that I was able to stomach tedious tasks like speaking to natives and gathering clues in villages. The game doesn't grant you access to the more entertaining forbidden temples and trap-filled caves without solving a puzzle or speaking to certain NPCs. Before entering the tunnel in chapter one, for instance, you must converse with everyone in the village Coralcola. After all, you can't expect them to allow some random punk to enter their sacred proving grounds.
In later chapters, the process isn't so simple. You can talk to all the NPCs you want in chapter five, but only brain power will get you into the dungeon. Instead of chatting, you must play a tune on a massive pipe organ by stepping on keys in a certain order, based on clues obtained from a talking parrot.
Gathering such hints can be a chore, but it's nowhere near as bad as in earlier NES games. Titles like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest and Dragon Warrior II had you wandering around gigantic worlds to gather vague clues used to solve obtuse puzzles. This left you seeking out a walkthrough or taking shots in the dark until you happened upon a new path or secret. StarTropics cuts this nonsense by dividing the game into chapters and assigning a different island to each one, thereby limiting the overworld. With less area to explore, there are fewer possibilities to exhaust in terms of solving puzzles and advancing the game. This streamlines the more tedious segments, allowing you to move on to the heart of the game and the true challenge in the underworld more quickly.
The riddles in the overworld are safe, only punishing you by disallowing progress; but in the subterranean darkness, you wager more than that. For it's in these horrific depths that you will vanquish vicious beasts, ranging from giant slugs to maddened minotaurs. Alongside them you'll find nasty traps and killer obstacles. You'll outrun enormous impaling stakes and dodge mighty boulders that threaten to reduce you to a greasy stain. Death becomes more eminent when enemies and traps work in tandem. For example, trying to battle a consortium of land-roaming octopuses while negotiating sinking platforms is a royal pain, demanding both your attentiveness and timing.
One false move and you'll plunge into the soup and drown or become a cephalopod's dinner.
Dire moments like those described above are when StarTropics comes to life. It's not just summoning precision and aggression to overcome a legion of nemeses that's exciting, but the living to tell the tale of how you lasted in a grim situation that sweetens the experience.
You'll encounter numerous desperate occasions, as it's a large part of each stage's design. Think of each dungeon as a multi-room gauntlet with locked doors barring your escape. In order to open them, you need to meet specific conditions. In most cases, you must defeat all of the enemies in a room. Sometimes, though, you need to jump on platforms in order to reveal a button, then leap on it to release the door. You'll find little solace escaping a single room, though. You'll often find yourself exiting one skull-crushing episode and entering another.
Some of these scenes are not so complex. There are times when you'll find a plain room filled with froth-mouthed monstrosities who want to bathe in your blood. While you're not armed to the teeth with military-grade weaponry or wielding a laser-shooting sword, you do possess a mystical yo-yo. Hey, don't laugh; it beats fisticuffs and it evolves to more powerful weapons as you advance. The yo-yo may be sufficient for dealing with most of the game's rogues gallery, but there are far better pieces of arsenal waiting to be picked up. Nothing drops venomous serpents like flame-shooting torches, and what better way to destroy murderous mudskippers than with a baseball bat? Having trouble with man-eating flies? Teach those suckers a lesson with spiked shoes that automatically nail every enemy on the screen!
With epic boss battles waiting at the end of most levels, you might want to consider stockpiling your weapons. The aforementioned torch will come handy against C-Serpent, a titanic fire-breathing snake. The baseball bat is a great choice against the eight-armed Octo the Huge. Some bosses, though, are impervious to damage. Nothing in your backpack can bring down Magma the Fierce, a pissed off fire elemental; or Ostroid, a bird-like robot. Such battles, once again, require brainpower. Attention to detail and trial and error will win the day, as well as the willingness to explore each boss's room at the risk of taking some damage.
Every devious inch--from escaping death at every turn to puzzling out mysteries--adds up to one hell of an adventure. Unlike previous quests, StarTropics doesn't stymie your progress with idiotic mind-benders and arbitrary solutions. But the truly succulent parts involve dodging sick traps while battling exotic animals in labyrinthine levels. Think of it as Saw meets Legend of Zelda meets Indiana Jones. So fire up your gray matter and ready those thumbs if you want to take one of the greatest rides of the early '90s. Plug StarTropics into your NES and enjoy the trip.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.