StarTropics

I’m rushing through all the games included with a Switch Online subscription, along with other NES games available on current consoles via other classic gaming collections, trying to get the Indie Gamer Chick Retroboards ready for launch (coming this Fall!). I usually post what games are the ones I’m about to hit-up during my NES play sessions. And then, when everyone saw that I was about to play StarTropics, it got an usual amount of hype and anxiety. Which took me by surprise, because StarTropics is such a non-entity in Nintendo history. It’s literally the only Nintendo-published franchise that has no representation in the Smash Bros series. Not a single cameo, trophy, sticker.. nothing. Maybe because it never came out in Japan and Smash Bros is supposed to be a tribute to Japanese games. I don’t know. I do know that, based on what I’ve seen from my fans (who tend to skew 7 to 10 years older than me), it is remembered. That should count for something.

It doesn’t, apparently. Frankly, I’m surprised Nintendo has even thought to include StarTropics in Switch Online, or the NES Classic for that matter. Maybe it was an afterthought. Given that the Switch Online port doesn’t include the “dip the note in water” instruction book mechanic that reveals you’re supposed to give the R.O.B. that pilots your submarine the code 747 to get past Chapter 4, it probably was an afterthought. And that’s a shame, because there’s some very fun gameplay in StarTropics. And a whole lot of bullshit and downtime, but hey, it’s free!

Hey, this place sucks-cola! You’re boring-cola! Go fuck yourself-cola!

StarTropics is one of the most give and take games I’ve ever played. It has a very indie feel to it, with lots of pop-culture references, or NPCs being given quirky speaking ticks (adding “cola” to the end of a lot of names and sentences for no fucking reason), and awful pacing issues. Action areas are buffered by sloggy top-down RPG style talking, and this is where the game is almost entirely ruined. It’s such a chore. You don’t open up the first action section of the game until you talk to every single, solitary member of the intro village. Which wouldn’t be bad if they had anything relevant to say. They don’t. It’s busy work for the sake busy work. If it was done for immersion, talk about a fail. It’d be like saying I couldn’t play a round of golf at the country club until I’ve talked to everyone in the dining hall, pro shop, gym, and swimming pool first. The world doesn’t work that way. StarTropics does, because it’s the absolute stupidest good game ever made.

Which is not to say it’s always stupid. It has some clever boss fights that are more than “smack enemy until dead” encounters. Here, you have to activate two buttons that drop this fire god thingy into water. Why a fire god thingy would place its lair above its only weakness is beyond me. Okay, fine, maybe it’s always stupid.

And that sense of busy work never ends. In the third chapter, you have to once again to talk every boring villager, then make your way through a bush maze to the bottom of the village to talk to a chief, then make your way through the bush maze and to the top of the building the same chief is in, go up a stair case, talk to his comatose daughter who literally only says “Zzzz” before going back through the bush maze and out a different exit. BUSY WORK!

In the fifth level, you have to talk to everyone in a village, including a chief, to unlock a parrot. Then you have to walk all the way to the left of the map to find the parrot who will tell you that it won’t talk with you until you bring it a gift. Then you have to get into your submarine, where the R.O.B. the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go all the way south on the map, then east and submerge in your sub, which will take you to another island, where you pass a giant pipe organ that you can’t get past even if you know the right tune because you haven’t triggered the event that allows it yet. You have to make your way through a maze to find a worm to give to the parrot. You then have to go back to your sub, where AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. Then you have to go south again, submerge in your sub, then go back up north to the island you started the level on and give the worm to the parrot. The parrot then tells you what keys you have to press on pipe organ to open up the action stage for the chapter. You then have to go back to your sub, where ONCE AGAIN the ROB the Robot tells you that they’re looking for your uncle and he’ll let you know if they get a hit. You then have to go south and east and submerge AGAIN in the same spot, then go to the island north of you and into the place with the pipe organ, where you now can press the keys and it’ll actually work. Finally, this opens up the action area for the chapter.

BUSY WORK!!

So much busy work that I’m surprised California schools don’t make StarTropics part of their ciriculum.

You can suck my asshole, Chapter 5, you miserable fucking slog.

It completely killed the mood of the game for me. Instead of feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation about the Indiana Jones-like adventure that awaited me every new action section, I felt a sense of relief that I was given a break from the boring RPG stuff. And that’s where StarTropics really fails. The RPG stuff is among the worst I’ve ever played. The writing is embarrassing. The NPCs are not remotely interesting (No, I don’t give a shit who won Miss Cola in a village with a population of eleven. IS THERE EVEN ANOTHER CHICK ON THIS ISLAND BESIDES THE 103 YEAR OLD? DID SHE EVEN COMPETE AGAINST YOU? You fucking won by default!) It’s BORING! But the action stuff is not among the best ever, which throws off the balance so much. I can’t tell if the action stuff is interrupting what the director thought was a brilliant RPG or if the RPG stuff was added to pad out the action. The two gameplay elements do not mix well at all.

And then there’s the action, which is based on grids and features some of the strangest movement ever. It feels clunky and never intuitive. Then again, I also had StarTropics 2: Zoda’s Revenge for the Wii Virtual Console, which kept the same basic idea but eliminated the grid stuff and found it to be practically unplayable. Maybe they were onto something here. But the issue is that too much of the “puzzle solving” is limited to slowly hopping around on different tiles hoping to spawn buttons that will open up the next room. It gets tedious. And then there’s times where you open up a new room and walk into it, only to find out it’s an insta-kill death pit. OR, even worse, you go up a staircase and it takes you out of the fucking stage and forces you to start it over again. A mechanic I officially nominate as the worst “gotcha” in gaming history. I can’t imagine playing this without the Switch’s Infinity Gauntlet-like rewind feature. I’d say it’s beneath the quality of StarTropics, but then again, read what you have to do to simply open up the action section of chapter five. Clearly Genyo Takeda had a busy work fetish and his main focus was coming up with as many ways as possible to create it for players. I literally can’t believe this is the same guy who was responsible for my beloved Punch-Out!! games. This shit feels beneath him.

With some older games, you can spot the exact moment that everyone creatively gave up and then broke out the cocaine. With StarTropics, that moment is easier to spot than most.

Reading back all the above, I realize it must sound like I hated StarTropics. I didn’t. All the above is frustration, because the level design (besides the gotcha shit) is really well done, and the combat is truly fantastic. Using a yoyo (now ROM-hacked into being called an “Island Star” because Yoyo is a trademarked term) to smack enemies works. It feels like it has weight to it, and I’m all about combat that feels like actual damage is being registered. There’s also a ton of items, a huge variety of enemies, and some of the most entertaining boss fights from the NES era. It mostly made the RPG slog worth slogging through. And then the game totally shits the bed by having the final two chapters turn into a generic space adventure. Hell, Zoda, the final boss and the titular character of the sequel, you don’t even learn the existence about until the very last action stage of the game. Having my island-hopping tropical adventure devolve into a dull affair featuring space aliens and ray guns was just the final punch in the gut for what is the most inconsistent NES game ever made. That’s what gives it that indie feel. It’s like nobody was ever there to tell anyone involved “maybe drop the 30 minute long RPG runaround stuff” or “maybe we shouldn’t do aliens.” It’s a great game without an editor, and hence it becomes merely okay.

The reveal of the whole game being about aliens would be quite the twist. That is, if that wasn’t spoiled by a single throw-away line earlier in the game. And here, seeing Zoda morph into this giant alien piranha thing would have been a heart-pounding final twist to the final boss fight. That is, if you the game hadn’t showed the morph about fifteen minutes earlier when you beat Zoda’s first form.

And that sucks, because there’s a masterpiece buried somewhere in this dumpster fire. A game that can be one of the most boring shit-sandwiches in gaming at its worst, yet still feels fresh when you’re actually fighting monsters and hoping around tiles. Perhaps because no game ever has felt like StarTropics. Not even its sequel. It’s almost thirty-years old and still feels like it has new ideas to bring to the table. I’d love to Nintendo give this to an indie developer with a pedigree and let them try to revive the series for modern audiences, only with sharp writing and less gotcha bullshit. Sadly, StarTropics has never had the chance to live up to its potential. That it can’t even get a passing reference in Smash Bros, a game that has EVERYTHING Nintendo in it, really tells you how much faith Nintendo has for the franchise. It’s dead. And it’s unlikely to come back. Well, at least beyond re-releasing it every few years. I mean, they’re not going to not re-release it. It’s Nintendo! That’s what they do!

StarTropics was developed by Nintendo
Free to play with a Switch Online Subscription

StarTropics is Chick-Approved and soon to be ranked on the IGC NES Retroboard

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

One Response to StarTropics

  1. jbevan70 says:

    I never played Star Tropic when it first came out. When I finally got to try it on the Wii a decade ago, I thought it was flawed in some areas but still an enjoyable, unique adventure. Then I got to the spaceship and it all went downhill to the point I lost interest in finishing it. A shame, because there was potential for a great game. The devs just didn’t know how to refine it or stick the landing.

Leave a Reply to jbevan70 Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: