[StarTropics logo]

[C-Island!]


System: NES
Publisher & Designer: Nintendo of America
Release Date: February 1991
Genre: Adventure/RPG
Players: 1
Save Feature? Does Nav-Com look like R.O.B.?

StarTropics is probably the one Nintendo-made NES game that truly qualifies as being "underrated." With its tropical atmosphere, humorous dialouge, and captivating story, StarTropics was quite the impressive game pak for its time. It borrowed elements from Zelda and Dragon Quest fame and added in just enough original content to create something unique. This is one game that you won't want to pass up!

Overview: Like many of my fellow NES fans, I somehow passed up StarTropics during its heyday and didn't get around to playing it until just after the NES' life cycle came to an end. I remember browsing through some of the NES racks at Toys 'R Us in early 1995 and seeing a brand new, shrinkwrapped StarTropics game staring back at me for a mere $10! I figured that this was one of the few Nintendo-made NES releases that I had not yet played so why not give it shot?

I did not regret my decision either. After playing the game for several months and finally beating it, I found myself mystified as to how StarTropics was not a more popular video game. It is a fairly lengthy adventure game with some juicy RPG elements thrown in and some of the gameplay mechanics were quite original. Granted, there are some obvious references to The Legend of Zelda and the overworld will remind you a bit of Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy but so what? Why not StarTropics?

It is simply a theory of mine but perhaps StarTropics' so-so popularity can be at least partially attributed to the game having an "Average Joe" as the main hero instead of some super-cool super hero like Mega Man or Link. Mike Jones is your typical teenager who has a knack for both baseball and puzzle-solving. He is a likeable guy and was certainly a satisfactory protogonist in my eyes. However, perhaps other gamers didn't share the same opinion and overlooked the game because nothing about its hero truly stood out...? Maybe it isn't worth discussing but something definitely kept this game from becoming another long-lasting Nintendo franchise. StarTropics did receive one sequel (and a really good one at that!) but this series had the potential to last a long time because of the action/puzzle-esque gameplay along with a pretty good background story. Sometimes, fate doesn't look too kindly on a game and perhaps that was the destiny of StarTropics...despite the Southern Cross' best attempts at the alternative. ;)

Whatever the case, what you have in StarTropics is a very pleasant island-hopping adventure that is divided into two categories: The main overworld segments where you walk/swim in Sub-C and can explore your surroundings and talk with NPCs (ala Dragon Warrior) and the action sequences where you enter a dungeon and can jump from platform to platform, collect special weapons/items such as baseball bats and medicine, and fight the game's many enemies/bosses (ala The Legend of Zelda). Most rooms in the action sequences also contain tiles and by jumping on these tiles, you can sometimes trigger a switch, find a special item, or even open up a secret passage! These areas are a lot like The Legend of Zelda but are not quite the same due to your ability to jump. The whole "tile" mechanic is quite intuitive as well.

This blend of action and RPG elements works very well and is one reason why StarTropics is such a worthwhile game. The island atmosphere gives StarTropics a really fun, adventurous feel and the use of the overworld maps keeps this game from feeling like a simple action game. And despite the fact that this game obviously borrowed a few elements from other Nintendo classics (most notably The Legend of Zelda), the intuitive controls/gameplay, funny dialouge with NPCs, and original story allowed StarTropics to still retain an original, inspired feel.

[R.O.B. in disguise?]
[Can you help my son?]
[The first dungeon]

Graphics: I wouldn't quite put StarTropics up in the NES pantheon as far as visuals go, but the graphics are still well above average. The simplistic overworld graphics with their character sprites and old-school charm harken back to the Dragon Warrior/Quest days of yore and make me feel very nostalgic. Simply cruising across the ocean in Sub-C or speaking with the various NPC's (some of which have some pretty funny things to say) has a great retro feel for sure. And speaking of character graphics, some of the up-close character scenes like when you speak with the Mayor of C-Island or finally encounter your long-lost Uncle Steve are actually quite impressive for an 8-bit game. These particular graphics reminded me a lot of the Ninja Gaiden series with its detailed cut-scenes.

The diversity of the game's dungeons is very satisfactory too. While most of the game features a tropical atmosphere, there are lava stages, graveyard areas, and even levels that take place inside of an alien spaceship! The color schemes were nicely done and some the enemy/boss sprites are quite impressive as well!

Lastly, any review of StarTropics would be incomplete without at least touching on the remarkable graphics that play during the game's ending. These hand-drawn scenes really capture some of the more memorable moments of Mike Jones' adventure and are definitely good enough to add a few points to the game's overall score. I would have loved to have seen a montage of this nature in more NES games because it really leaves you satisfied after finishing the game. Some of the scenes just look that impressive and are so much more fleshed out than in the actual game itself.

Music: Like with the graphics, nothing truly blows you out of the water as far as the music goes in StarTropics. However, most of the music is very catchy and has a nice tropical charm to it. The main overworld/C-Island theme gives this game a happy-go-lucky vibe while the Sub-C/ocean track just carries you away with its adventurous feel. The main dungeon theme is pretty good too and sometimes shifts into a more intense melody. And although the main dungeon theme plays a bit too much (a little more variety in terms of dungeon music would have been nice), at least there is a remixed version that plays during the final two chapters. The secret room theme which plays when you find some of the more out-of-the-way areas has a simple-yet-mysterious feel and reminds me of Shadowgate actually!

Another favorite of mine is the Miracola theme which just has a really pleasant, charming melody. I could listen to this tune for a while and not get tired of it! And finally, the ending theme is a calm, memorable piece that fits this particular game nicely. Overall, the music in this game is just like the graphics. Nothing strikes me as awe-inspiring but as a whole, the music fits this game perfectly.

Play Control: When I first fired up StarTropics, I have to confess that the controls felt a bit wonky. However, after playing this game thoroughly, I have to say that they are pretty good...for the most part anyway. Moving around in the overworld is a cinch and gamers with any RPG experience will have no qualms with these controls. Jumping around and fighting enemies in the game's dungeons takes a little getting used to, however. The whole perspective of the dungeons is a lot like The Legend of Zelda or even Blaster Master's base areas yet the controls feel completely different. The main reason for this is that, when you decide to turn in a different direction than the one you are facing, Mike Jones will turn and there will be a momentary delay before he actually moves in the direction you want to go. This allows you to face any direction without moving in said direction which can be quite handy. It can take some practice to really get the hang of it though and it certainly took me aback when I first played the game. Also keep in mind that, while you can move in four directions, you cannot move diagonally which is slightly disappointing. The mechanics are just a bit different than your typical game.

With all that being said, however, I honestly feel that Nintendo did a pretty good job in this area. Jumping from tile to tile and attacking enemies while jumping will become second nature and using the many special weapons in the game is a lot of fun! Speaking of which, this game features an impressive array of special weapons such as baseballs, shurikens, and even a laser gun! This certainly keeps the gameplay fresh and all of your weapons/items are relatively easy to learn/use.

[Zelda anyone?]
[A ghostly encounter]
[Enter Zoda...]

Challenge: If you are able to pick up the controls without too much trouble and are proficient at making adjustments on the fly as well as being resourceful with your weapons inventory when necessary (Hint: Save your baseball weapon for the Easter Island boss!), you should be well-suited to handle the various hazards in StarTropics. This is important too because StarTropics is definitely not an easy video game. Some of the puzzles can be quite tricky (the piano clue that Peter the parrot gave was a tough one to solve during my initial playthrough) and direct contact with boss enemies is almost always a one-hit K.O. which is a real threat...particularly late in the game. Speaking of which, the later chapters can be brutal since even minor enemies like the gun/laser-wielding aliens can eat away at your life very quickly. The key is being able to understand the layout of the many dungeons in the game including secret rooms and where helpful weapons/items can be found. Making the necessary adjustments after losing to a certain boss or not being able to advance past a particular room is the key and is also what makes StarTropics such an engaging game. Some of the secrets are quite clever and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if some of the programmers who worked on the original Zelda NES game were involved with StarTropics as well. I have always loved games with secret areas and out-of-the-way places and StarTropics really appeals to the adventurous gamer because it is a fairly large video game.

Storyline: For an early 1991 game pak, the background story in StarTropics was actually very good. It basically involves your typical teenager (Mike Jones) going on a summer vacation to a tropical island in the South Pacific to visit his Uncle Steve who happens to be an archaeologist and explorer. However, Mike's "vacation" ends almost before it begins when he discovers that his uncle has actually been abducted! As a result, Mike, armed to the teeth with a Yo-Yo (okay...maybe armed to the teeth is a stretch) decides to go on an adventure and attempt to rescue his uncle from the mysterious kidnapper!

What makes the story in StarTropics click is that the game is divided into eight chapters and each chapter has its own feel and area to explore. You might have to rescue a helpless dolphin in one chapter while another chapter might involve you attempting to make it past a blockade created by a ship of historic significance. And despite the cheesy nature of some of the game's dialogue or even a few somewhat silly quests, StarTropics still comes across as a great adventure due to the later chapters having some genuinely epic moments. The final areas of the game are pretty intense and have some twists that you might not have seen coming since most of the game has a carefree, tropical vibe. The ending is very satisfying too!

Funfactor: If you enjoy old-school adventure games like The Legend of Zelda and Crystalis, you will dig StarTropics! Seriously, this is one of the better adventure games on the NES and it has the perfect blend of comedy, mystique, and "epicness." Some of the character dialogue and jokes remind me just a little of EarthBound and help give StarTropics its unique atmosphere. And how can you go wrong with a game that mostly takes place in a network of mysterious tropical islands? Nintendo took elements from Zelda, minor features from Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy, and added enough new/original content to create a really special game. I would probably place this game at the very top of the second tier as far as my favorite NES games go. I don't think that StarTropics is quite a top tier masterpiece but is being a solid, very good video game such a bad thing? Just play the game already!

Negatives: This was not the case during my initial playthrough of the game at all but StarTropics does feel just a tad bit short once you know what to do/where to go/what to use. This is not an egregious offense mind you...it's just that the game is a lot of fun and you almost hate to reach the end so soon.

And while the controls are very good, I would probably give similar NES adventure games like The Legend of Zelda or Crystalis (or heck...Zoda's Revenge!) a slight edge just because they feel more natural and easy to use. Also, while the game's challenge level is very solid overall, the one-hit kills against bosses seem awfully harsh...especially against the final boss which literally tries to run into you. It isn't a game-breaker but it is worth mentioning.

Lastly, while there are no major flaws in StarTropics, this game doesn't really have anything to completely hang your hat on either. In this respect, I suppose that you could say it reminds me a little of EarthBound for the Super NES. StarTropics is a very good, very enjoyable game that is as "Very Good" as a game can get without quite reaching the top.

[Do you have bananas in your ears? ;)]

Ratings: Graphics: 4.0 Music: 4.1 Play Control: 4.0 Challenge: 4.3 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.4 Overall Score: 25.3 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Bronze Bravo

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Last Updated: February 26, 2015
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