Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
Star Tropics is one of those games that makes up for not quite being in the mainstream by clearly showcasing the passion and hard work its developers put into a game concept that they truly believed in. It is a delightful, original, wonderful adventure game with some role-playing elements, a tropic islander theme, an in-depth storyline, and quirky humor.
A bold attempt at carving a new path in the Zelda-like top-down adventure genre, Startropics (sometimes referred to as one word, sometimes as two) turns out to be a worthy member of the category of underappreciated, often-overlooked retro gaming titles.
The protagonist is Mike Jones. Hailing from Seattle, he is the nephew of a famous archaeologist, Dr. Jones. During a visit to Dr. Jones’ laboratory on C Island, Mike discovers that his uncle has been abducted, and in his search is thrust into an ocean-spanning adventure wrought with puzzles, monsters, weapon upgrades, heart containers, and even a plotline involving aliens.
Mike is apparently a pretty good pitcher for a teenager, and it is with the lethal speed of a fastball that he wields a series of yo-yos he can collect throughout the game. Using a yo-yo, other collectible items in his inventory, and a mono-directional jump, Mike alternates between overworld views, in-town visits to tropic villages to interact with non-player characters, and dungeon sequences.
Many of the dungeon challenges revolve around jumping from block to block, searching for hidden ones that unlock doors or provide other boosts. There are even blocks during the boss battles, adding a layer of difficulty since jumping in the wrong direction can land in a pit, or in water, and instantly kill our hero Mike Jones. This emphasis on block-jumping can grow tiresome in Startropics/Star Tropics
In addition, this title does have one glaring flaw: An intensely challenging level difficulty. Initial levels are met without much adverse effect, but by the mid-game, dungeon levels on the islands have become incredibly hard tests of reaction time, precision, and trial-and-error techniques. By the time Mike is fighting for his life aboard an enemy warship, this game is nearly impossible for a flesh-and-blood human being to beat.
This game looks real good for an 8-bit title, showing off lush tropical jungle environments in startling juxtaposition to the extraterrestrial elements. From the interesting (zombie ostrich?) enemy designs to the crisp animations, the graphics of Startropics leave little room for complaint, considering the NES era it took place in.
The jungle beats are effective hooks, with several themes being memorable and worthwhile. The dungeon theme eventually gets repetitive, but even in its last plays, it remains a catchy tune. The background tracks definitely hit their target for intending to create a lighthearted, laid-back, Pacific Islander feel in the overworld view. Overall, good sounds enhance good times.
Creativity & Innovation
In some ways, this game somewhat blatantly rips off the original Legend of Zelda title: With the alternating overworld and dungeon views, the upgradable weapon, the title screen with very familiar-looking save slots, and some other elements, but perhaps none more astounding than the heart container mechanic. Yes, our protagonist pitcher Mike starts with three hearts’ worth of health, and can upgrade to more hearts by collecting heart containers. Rip-offs aside, the game has some lovable original elements too. The island characters provide witty remarks, with certain in-game jokes (the -cola suffix, “Do you have bananas in your ears?” insult, different women claiming to be the most beautiful or oldest on the islands, etc.) being repeated for rewarding effect throughout. The story is gripping and in-depth, if not a little farfetched. This video game truly had the potential to be a classic, had it not been for clunky one-block-at-a-time jumping controls, or the insanely aggravating difficulty level of its later stages. Even with its flaws though, it is definitely better than the vast majority of titles for the NES, and worthy of a respectable, solid four stars out of five in the southern sky.