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 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

IGC on Gaming: April 17, 2017

So I haven’t been updating a ton lately. That’s mostly due to health issues. I do have a lot of games in my queue to review, including sequels to high-ranking IGC Leaderboard titles such as Bleed 2 and Gunmetal Arcadia. Look for reviews of them soon. By soon I mean 2017. Keeping my window for it wide.

Indie Gamer Chick has primarily been a review site since its launch in July of 2011, but being unable to write as many reviews as I wish I could has left me in a predicament. Thankfully, I’ve built up a decent following in the last five years and those people, for whatever reason, care about my thoughts on other gaming related news. So, why not turn it into a regular column? Let’s hit it.

Is 2017 going to be the best year in gaming?

Resident Evil 7.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Nier: Automata.

Persona 5.

In a weaker year (think 2014, where the pretty good but unspectacular Shadow of Mordor ran away with nearly every Game of the Year award), any of these four games would have swept the competition and walked away with game of the year. It’s April. We’re not even a third of the way through the year and there are four games that are in the hunt. After playing Breath of the Wild, I would have bet it would cruise to a sweep next January. But, within weeks, Persona 5 and Automata hit, both of which I liked more.

It got me thinking: it’s April and we’re already debating among multiple titles for the year’s best, not to mention one wildly disappointing would-be contender (Mass Effect: Andromeda). These discussions are usually reserved for the Christmas season, yet children aren’t even on summer vacation yet.

Is 2017 set to be the greatest in gaming history?

Honest question: if this had been called anything BUT Resident Evil 7, would people have reacted differently to it? It’s really good, yet a lot of people I talk to need a lot of convincing to even try it on the basis of “meh, another Resident Evil.” They could have called it Spooky Creepy Scary Horror House 2017 and lured in more people.

Maybe I’m overrating Resident Evil 7 (to my credit, I’m not even a real fan of the series and liked #4 only), and maybe Pesrona 5 doesn’t have the type of wide appeal that Zelda does. But it’s already a debate. When was the last time we could even talk about a year in gaming at this time of the year? Before we’ve had this year’s E3, before many of the big holiday tent-pole games even have release dates, if nothing else came out at all in 2017. Wow. By any standard, this would have to be considered an amazing year from an artistic standpoint.

Still to come in 2017 is the sequel to what I consider the best game ever made (not my favorite game, just the best game), Red Dead Redemption. The first Mario game that has stoked my imagination since Mario Galaxy hits the Switch this year. Sony is giving one of my favorite unsung gems, LocoRoco, another kick at the can in 2017. It’s almost hard to believe that at least one more spectacular game could hit this year, let alone many. I think 2017 will be a year gamers will talk about for years to come.

Switch Thoughts

It’s alright.

NES Classic

Nintendo finally released hardware that became the most in-demand retail item they’ve had in generations. No, not the Switch. Everyone knows that I’m “anti-nostalgia”, which isn’t remotely correct. If you’re going to do nostalgia, something like the NES Classic is fine with me. And Nintendo seemingly struck gold with the Classic. Stores couldn’t keep it in stock, or the extra-controllers for it. After failing to capture any mainstream love with the Wii U, or outright being antagonistic towards their own fanbase with their anti-YouTube attitude, Nintendo finally came out with a product that serviced their fanbase and became desirable to casual gamers.

Naturally, they cancelled it after only five months of production.

A friend of a friend is a regional inventory manager for a top big-box chain. He informed me that department managers got more inquiries about NES Classic availability than any other product in the consumer-electronics department, starting months before the release and continuing well after the Switch. Consumers wanted this product. They wanted it badly, if prices on Ebay are used as a barometer. Discontinuing the unit when so little demand for it was met is the latest in a long series of middle fingers Nintendo has given to fans and non-fans alike. And, it would seem, Nintendo has finally gone too far. This is one “fuck off and die” that even the most rabid fanboys are feeling the sting of.

Mind you, I’ve met people who got copyright-striked on YouTube by Nintendo for videos that were gushing love letters to the company. Some of who tearfully apologized for overstepping their fandom and having the fucking gall to show footage of their beloved Nintendo franchises. Nintendo stomped them for being fans, and they thanked Nintendo for setting them straight. They accepted that. At that point, I would think nothing short of Nintendo sending people to burn their house down would make them realize how much contempt they are held in, and how ungrateful Nintendo is for their patronage.

Nintendo didn’t allow their sales force to accept pre-orders for the Classic, leaving them to base their inventory order on how similar platforms like the Atari Flashback were received. So, here’s a picture of Black Widow on Atari Vault, mostly because I don’t want to post a picture of a Nintendo character and get sued.

Those fans, the ones who were unable to get their hands on an NES Classic, are not happy campers today.

Sure, it’s kind of amusing that the thing that made them realize Nintendo isn’t their bestie isn’t having them say “the money your videos earn really belongs to us because you showed a clip of our product”, but rather Nintendo saying “yea, we don’t care if you wanted to give us money, we don’t want your money for this product anymore.” But, the cancellation of the NES Classic is indicative of a greater problem: Nintendo doesn’t do fan service anymore. Oh sure, they’ll bring out franchise titles Mario Kart or Zelda. I’m sure a new Smash Bros is in the works that will license a couple of third-party mascots and get the diehards lining up. But that’s not performing a service for their fans. That’s just products.

As recent as a decade ago, Nintendo bent over backwards for their fans. They put out relatively high-risk franchise revivals like Kid Icarus or Punch-Out!! They had their wonderful Nintendo reward system that let people register their games for free Nintendo swag or sometimes even games. It would be hard to believe Nintendo would release a product like the NES Classic and then pull the plug after meeting less than 10% of the demand for it. And it has nothing to do with them not wanting to compete with their own Switch console. The two products were not in competition with each-other. Non-gamers who grew up in the 80s were chomping at the bit to snag the Classic as much as the slobbering fanboys. It was simply a matter of stores couldn’t keep it in stock. With Father’s Day fast approaching and a product tailor-made for such a holiday, Nintendo simply saying “no” to more inventory is kind of shocking. I was never a fan of Iwata’s business sense, but even I can’t believe he would say no to mountains of cash with relatively little overhead that the Classic presented. A feel-good product that stood to introduce a new generation of gamers to the titles that made them synonymous with gaming. Nintendo took that, and managed to turn it into the latest in a long series of dick moves. Unreal.

Q&A with my Readers

We’ll close this experiment with some Q&A from Twitter.

@religiousgames asks: “How do you know if a game is indie?

After five years, I still don’t really have a clear definition for what makes a game indie or not. Self-funded? That would exclude games that used Kickstarter or Sony’s Pub Fund, so that can’t be it. Self-published? That would exclude games by small studios who were found by houses like Adult Swim Games, so that can’t be it. In general, I use the definition “games made by small studios without creative interference by AAA publishers.” But even that won’t be universally true. Hell, I still get people to this day questioning whether I should count 2012’s Journey as an indie or not. Ultimately, it’ll be up to you to decide what you consider to be “independent.”

@iamtenith asks “What is the most common mistake you see in many indie games?

Proper difficulty curve, easily. Most indie developers forget that they, themselves, are the best player at their own game. They struggle to get proper testers, or they handle their testers incorrectly, and ramp up their game’s difficulty to challenge themselves and not everyone else. In some cases, they’ll get good testers but then hover over them and explain to them how to finish parts of their games. Sometimes I’ll announce I’m reviewing a game and the developer will tweet or email me to offer help to make sure I don’t get stuck. Unless they plan to include a clone of themselves with every copy of their game, they really shouldn’t offer help to reviewers. If you feel the need to talk someone through parts of your game, you really need to go back and fix it, because it’s broken.

@riobux asks “What singular thing in a game trailer can deflate your enthusiasm and interest in a title like a needle through a blown-up condom?

I actually don’t base my purchasing decisions on trailers, so I wouldn’t be a good person to ask. Everyone will mention showing cut-scenes without gameplay footage. I was going to, but then I remember that Grand Theft Auto III’s ads when I was a kid were among the most effective commercials in gaming history and they had nearly zero gameplay footage.

For indies, an over-inflated sense of importance is always annoying. If you’re a no-name developer on their first game, you seriously do not need to release multiple teaser-trailers, then primary trailers, then final trailer, then DLC trailers. No, seriously, do not. You need one trailer a minute-or-less in length that addresses what genre the game is and what the game’s audience is. If you present your trailer properly, games sell themselves. The worst thing you can do is leave it too ambiguous when nobody knows who you are or what you’re working on. You only get one chance to make a good first impression.

From the Team

William reviewed Bleed 2 and Butcher

Marc explained how a company can own the video game rights to the word “Super”.

For more features, be sure to check out IndieGamerTeam.com, a place where my friends post reviews and editorials. They’re already better at this shit than me.

We’re currently preparing for the follow-up to #IndieXmas on social media, tentatively titled #IGCParty. It will take place July 10 – 14, with ten featured games and thousands of free games being handed out on Twitter. Stay tuned.

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