Game Review: StarTropics

Startropics Title Screen

  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Released: December 1990
  • Game Type: Adventure
  • Players: 1
  • Product Number: NES-OC-USA
  • Rarity: C- (Slightly Uncommon)
    Game Ratings:
    OVERALL: 8

    Box Scan
    Startropics Screen 1 Startropics Screen 2

    In late 1990, while everyone was jamming to Super Mario 3, Mega Man III and Castlevania III, Nintendo released an overlooked game called StarTropics. It was basically an adventure title set in the south Pacfic combining the exploration of Dragon Warrior with the fighting action of The Legend of Zelda. While the title never took off as expected, it still earned a place in the hearts of NES gamers and Nintendo even brought out a sequel four years later. So is this game a dream vacation, or a tropical depression?

    Our protagonist in this title is a young lad named Mike Jones. He was out to visit his uncle, Dr. Steve Jones, a researcher living in tropical C-Island. When he reaches the island, he receives word from the Cheif of Coralcola that his uncle has been abducted by an unknown force. Naturally, Mike decides to search the tropics for any sign of his uncle, but soon finds that there's more to this caper than just a simple abduction, as he finds himself battling forces from a far-away star.

    Mike's quest through the south Pacific paradise covers eight chapters. The gameplay features two main views of the action. In the overworld view, Mike wonders around on an overhead map visiting villages and talking to various people. Some of the villagers you speak with give him information and clues, others can give him much needed items. Mike can also utilize his uncle's submarine, the Sub-C, to go where he needs to go.

    Once he enters a cave or a dungeon, the Legend of Zelda-like battle scene starts, and Mike must battle his way through legions of creatures to reach the cave exit. Mike starts with three red hearts and two lives, both of which can be extended. Your main weapon is the yo-yo, but at certain points it can be upgraded into the Shooting Star, and then into the Super Nova. Mike can also find various secondary weapons to assist him, but most of the weapons can only be used a number of times and can't be carried over to the next cave. Other magical items, such as medicene to recover his energy, can also be discovered. In addition to the monsters, many rooms contain tiles, which must be jumped on to uncover switches that open certain doors and unlock chests. Most of the caves have a boss monster you must defeat before you can proceed. Once he exits a cave, he gets points based on monsters killed and energy expended, and can move on in his quest. Ultimately Mike must find his uncle and defeat the force behind the monsters, the alien leader Zoda.

    Graphics & Sounds:
    The graphics are good for the most part. The overworld and village scenes have some nice colors and good details; you can easilly tell that everything is, though it looks a little too blocky at times. The sprites are decent, but Mike's sprite looks like a multicolored blob. At least the close up scenes when you talk to certain people, such as the village cheifs, are excellent. In the battle scenes most of the characters look good and the bosses are very well done. However for half the game most of the levels look exactly the same, except for different color schemes. It isn't until Chapter 6 when you finally get some variety. As far as the audio goes, the overworld scenes feature a nice range of background tunes, from Caribbean themes to spooky themes. In most of the battle scenes you hear the same music over and over. It's not bad but it does get on your nerves after a while. The sound effects are just so-so, and the warning tune that plays when you're low on life is really annoying. On the other hand some of the screeches you hear from the bosses are cool.

    This is where StarTropics falters. You can only move and fire in four directions, hampering your ability to dodge hazards in the battle scenes, and you move one tile length with every step. Often this means you can't stop yourself from running into enemies. Also you can only jump forward if you leaping across a stream or onto a tile, otherwise you'll jump straight up. Plus there's a slight pause when you try to make a turn; Mike has to stop and change direction, leaving you open to attack. This can lead to a lot of unfair deaths. It'll take some practice to get used to the controls. At least the buttons work the way they're supposed to, with one for firing and one for jumping, and switching between weapons is no problem.

    Challenge & Playability:
    While the game has a pretty good challenge level, it does have its frustrating moments. The first two chapters are pretty easy and most players will breeze through them. From Chapter 3 on the difficulty starts to rise, and last few levels are very tough. Many enemies take quite a few hits to kill, and if you're stuck with the weaker weapons (especially the yo-yo), you probably won't stand a chance. In addition, StarTropics has quite a few instant-death traps, such as rooms filled with water that will kill you the instant you step through the door. Each dungeon has restart points where you can begin your next life, but these are few and far between, and if you die you could end up restarting quite a ways back. Plus you start each life with just three red hearts, which can go by pretty wuick in the later stages. If you lose all your lives you have to start from the very beginning of the stage. This can be a pain especially in the later stages, when you finally get past an tough obstacle, only to perish and have to endure the pain again.

    Fortunately StarTopics isn't a totally negative experience. The main gameplay is still fun and enjoyable, and while the last few levels are pretty tough, the game can be beaten with a little practice and perseverence (the final boss is actually pretty easy to defeat, believe it or not). The game has an auto-save feature, which saves your game wheverer you enter or leave a cave, and this is a big help. The Review Mode is a nice feature as well, letting you replay previous chapters without affecting your progress. The game story is fun to follow along as well; it flows at a nice pace and features a few cool twists and turns.

    While StarTropics is still a great Nintendo outing, the negatives described above keep it from paradise. If the gameplay controls were done better and the challenge better balanced, then this cart would have scored much higher. In face Nintendo addressed these issues when they brought out Zoda's Revenge in 1994. As it stands, this game does do a good job of providing a good time in your NES system, and adventures fans won't be disappointed. If you can tolerate the controls and the frustration, then you'll have a nice trip through the Tropics, but Id recommend the sequel just a bit more.

    - Review posted on July 15, 2006