Dust Off The Cartridges: Forgotten Franchises That Need A Makeover – Star Tropics
For the first post of this type, I’ll talk about one of my favorite games (amongst many others). It does have a pretty decent reputation among retro gamers and did get quite a bit of recognition recently, but it’s not frequently mentioned as one of the better games on the NES and it frankly should. Star Tropics is a truly unique action-adventure game in the Zelda mold, but with very unique gameplay design to it.
Let’s check out why I think it deserves to return!
Star Tropics came out on the NES. It was made by Nintendo in 1990, and is actually one of the few NES games to never get released on the Japanese Famicom. At first glance, Star Tropics looks like a standard RPG with an overhead view of a low-detail map where you can go to villages and caves. After going in the first village and talking to everyone (who like adding “cola” at the end of words, and also their island/village names), you’re told that your uncle disappeared and you have to go save him. You’re given a weapon to fight off enemies, i.e. a yo-yo, and you’re off on your quest, and this is when things get interesting.
The overworld map is only a tiny portion of the game, with most of the action actually taking place in dungeons. In these dungeons, the graphics get a massive boost, with nice large sprites and more detailed visuals. The gameplay is sort of Zelda-like but with many unique twists.
Here movement is restricted, both for you and enemies, to a grid (you don’t see the actual grid, but it’s there). When you press in the direction you’re facing, you move in that direction, otherwise your button press will only make you turn in that direction and longer button presses will then enable you to move in that direction. That’s actually really nice, since it makes timing dodges a bit more complicated than just twitching out of the way, so planning your movement is just as important as timing it. It’s a bit unwieldy at first, but you get used to it really fast, and the whole game is very well designed with the limited movement in mind, to the point where it feels natural.
Another movement option is jumping. Jumping normally only makes you go vertically (which does have uses). If there’s a tile in front of you, you can jump onto those. If there’s a hole/water in front of you for a single square on the grid, you can jump over that (you can TRY jumping larger bodies of water, but that will just make you drown). Jumping is useful not only for traversing obstacles, but also attacking and dodging. And certain of the “tiles” you can jump on hide buttons, which can either open doors or reveal/open treasure chests to get weapons and items.
Your main weapon is a yo-yo, which is really fun to use. It has a range of about a square and a half on the grid. As you get more hearts in your health bar, your yo-yo can get better, being stronger and even shooting a projectile, it’s really quite great. But be careful, as losing too much health will downgrade your yo-yo, greatly upping the challenge. Other weapons are mostly dungeon-specific, like baseball bats, a string with a ball on each end (not sure what those are called), laser guns and a snowman that freezes everything on screen for a short moment.
The dungeons are truly well designed. Each of them has a certain gimmick (or more) while retaining the same overall style. Each is also full of secrets with different rooms to find and helpful items. Of course, searching can lead to death traps, like rooms full of water, but that’s part of the fun I’d say. Each room will feature a different puzzle or enemy selection, each with different solutions and strategies to get through, and each of them are fun and interesting. Each dungeon is topped off by a boss battle, and I must say those are mostly very interesting (minus a few bosses which are really just super-powered normal enemies). Most of them are large and cool-looking, and all of them have a pattern for you to beat them with, or a weakness to an item you can find in the dungeon, as well as limited movement on your part (some only have a few blocks for you to jump on). The most memorable to me is probably the fire boss which… nah, I won’t spoil it, so much more fun to figure it out yourself after dying time and time again.
The only sticking point with playing this game now is that one of the puzzles 100% requires the internet to figure out. In the original game, the box came with a letter from the main character’s uncle. In the game, a character mentioned that you should dip that letter in water to reveal a code, but nowhere in the game did you ever find that letter. You had to, in fact, dip the actual letter that was in the game’s box in actual water to get the code required to use the submarine, and that’s something you’re not terribly likely to find nowadays. Even boxed copies will sometimes be missing the letter. It WAS a really awesome idea and something unlike anything you see in games nowadays… but it makes used copies a bit tough to play fully without the internet.
Also, having to talk to everyone to progress is annoying at parts (especially when you know a solution to a puzzle but can’t solve it until you talk to certain people), but not really as bad as it sounds.
Overall, Star Tropics stands as one of my favorite NES titles and one of the higher-quality releases on the console. The gameplay is amazing and very well designed, the graphics are great, the music is very memorable and there’s definitely a lot of nostalgia value for me there, in addition to the actual high-quality.
There WAS a Star Tropics sequel. It came out near the end of the NES’ lifetime (in fact it was one of the last official releases), and it was called “Zoda’s Revenge: Star Tropics 2″. The title was rather misleading since Zoda, while he WAS the final boss in the original game, didn’t really have much of a role in the story… you killed him and that’s it, you didn’t even know about him until near the end of the game. As for the actual game, it’s a massive downgrade to the original. The grid concept was removed, and now you can move diagonally as you want, and you have air control. However, you still have that “it takes a little moment to move after you turn around” element of the original, so it feels a lot clunkier than before. There’s also no invincibility time after getting hit so you can die in mere moments if you’re not careful. The platforming is also a lot more complicated than before and not as precise. The plot was weird and involved time travel, and wasn’t nearly as interesting as the first one. You have no yo-yo here which is a huge problem for a lot of people (including me) and the new weapons suck (swords, axes and a few other things that you throw) and they cannot be upgraded (your magic attack can, but it’s not as strong). The music sounds terrible in comparison too, it’s like Nintendo forgot how to use their own sound chip. Definitely not a worthy sequel.
Otherwise… well, you can find both games on the Virtual Console for the Wii, and I think there was a Mike Jones trophy in Super Smash Bros Brawl… But it still feels like Nintendo forgot this existed after the sequel failed… kinda like how Nintendo is happy with fully ignoring the Mother/Earthbound franchise.
Why I want a remake/sequel/re-imagining
Star Tropics has been massively ignored by Nintendo, largely due to the sequel being a flop and the whole Star Tropics fanbase probably being able to be counted on one hand (minor exaggeration). But I think Nintendo had a very interesting world in Star Tropics that could be explored (aliens, telepathics, giant monsters, talking animals, robots, a setting of weird tropical islands, interaction with many types of people and animals, clever puzzles) and it would be something that would be incredibly fun to revisit. Since the world of Star Tropics isn’t 100% set in stone, I think it would be very interesting to see what they could come up with here.
They wouldn’t specifically need to retain the grid design from the original, especially if they go 3D here, but maybe they could make a real sequel to the original, one that feels like an actual advancement to the original’s gameplay concepts rather than one that feels rushed and untested like Zoda’s Revenge did. Keep the puzzles, keep the buttons in dungeons, keep the overall Zelda-ish feel of the dungeons, keep the yo-yo, make sure the combat is as fun as in the original… And I’m sure you have gold here Nintendo. I don’t know what would be the perfect form for this in modern days, but I know it could be fantastic since Star Tropics features such an interesting world and cool characters.
Sure, there wouldn’t be many sales based on the fact that it’s an old series since few people know about it, but proper marketing and, well, just making it a great game and I’m sure you’d have at least a moderate success in your hand. People want Nintendo to make something new, this could be just what people are looking for. Instead of re-using the same small selection of franchises for new games, Nintendo has a large back-catalog of unused franchises that they could re-insert to their lineup, and this is one of the more interesting ones.
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