2013! My first article of the year! It's also my first commissioned article! Thanks to Oblivion for asking me to take a closer look at one of the games I enjoyed in my youth!
I mentioned in previous articles that everyone has their favourite Zelda knock-off or clone. And while I do believe in that statement, I'm not sure Startropics falls under that strange sub-genre of games. There's many similairities, but there's some crucial differences.
For example, Zelda games typically have one way of moving about in the world. Whether the area is one that you need to swing a sword around or not is entirely up to level design. By contrast, there's two methods, of sorts, of getting aroun in Startropics. There's the overworld screen, where no enemies will be fought and you can speak to townsfolk. In the other mode, it's serious time, and this is where the action of the game takes place. Your sprite is different, you control very differently, and the music changes to one of a more dungeon-crawl oriented sort.
There's something else to this second mode, though, and is where the meat of the game lies.
See, most games have a kind of flow to them. Zelda II, for example, has a sort of momentum to the movement that lends to keeping that momentum going as efficiently as possible, which lends a feeling of flow to the movement. Mastering that flow is key to mastering the game.
By comparison, Startropics has a rhythm.
The controls seem kind of clunky and awkward, but as you play you adapt to it, and everything tends to follow a rhythm of movement. Making your movements according to that rhthym is the key to success.
For example, the first boss. It has a very predictable pattern, and rather quickly, you find a pattern yourself. Pause, pause, jump, jump, attack attack, pause pause, jump, jump, attack, attack, repeat repeat. Follow that rhythm and you'll win no problem.
By the same token, a lot of the enemies follow a similar suit. The snakes that charge at you when you're in their sight are quick, but when they come across a wall, they have a momentary pause. Jump at the right times, and avoiding the snakes are no issue. They follow the rhythm of the game.
And in an interesting case: Some of the most difficult enemies do not follow this rhythm. Such as, the bone-head ostrich-things fairly later on. Other than a small pause when they need to leap across something, they charge relentlessly towards you, not even pausing when they turn directions like most other enemies. This breaks the rhythm that you'd been so used to playing by the whole game, and so they're a bit difficult to adapt to.
But that's all gameplay stuff. What else does this game offer?
Well, see, there's a curious thing about the villians in this game. If I may experiment in a small thought experiment, read this next sentence while paying attention to how your mind reacts to it.
The villians of this game are aliens.
See? How did you react there? Probably something along the lines of thinking the aliens as silly. Especially since this is kind of an older game on the NES. How much effort was put into them?
And the answer is.... Well, a surprising amount of work went into them. See, you find out quite early on that your uncle has been kinapped. His lab assistant is extremely reluctant to tell you who or what kidnapped him. Something firghtening took him, that's for sure. Right away, you know there's something special about whatever did the deed.
Sure, it's not long later you find out that it's aliens behind it all, and at first you may scoff. But... Give it time. There's a very real presense of threat and mystery to these aliens. What are they? What do they look like? What do their ships look like? You just don't know! It really starts culminating later on, with some haunting coming into the mix to really sell it.
So there's imposing antagonists. What else is there in Startropics?
Well, there's puzzles.
Augh, is there puzzles...
See, I've never been much good at them. And some of the ones in Startropics can be real doozies. So much of my early Startropics experience involved me going through the action dungeon parts, coming to a puzzle, and phoning my older brother, who had beaten the game before, to get his help on the puzzles. I know he didn't have to, he could have just said he was busy and not help me, but he did, and I got as far in the game as I have because of that. I'm thankful for that, since he was rarely helpful to me otherwise. This was before I had access to GameFAQ's, heck, before I had internet at all, and certainly no Nintendo Power subscription.
Is Startropics worth your time? I'd say so. If at least to try out. It's on the Nintendo Virtual Console, if you're willing to drop some cash to give this a spin.