A Zelda Knock-Off That Tries to Be Different By Being On An Island. 🏝🏝🏝
Oh Wait — that’s already happened before, too.
Digging through the NES catalog is like going through a graveyard. Here you’ll find a buttload of long forgotten intellectual property. StarTropics is such a find. Dormant since 1990 with only one whiff of a sequel, I went into it blind.
StarTropics is a weird mix. It combines dungeon crawling reminiscent of Legend of Zelda, the NPC-populated towns of Final Fantasy, and an offbeat humor that reminded me of Earthbound. The dungeon crawling part actually starts off pretty good, but after a while it becomes a grind against way too many enemies with not enough health.
That’s when you learn that this game is really good at one thing: wasting your time.
Unlike most NES games, StarTropics was made for the American audience and was never released in Japan.
The entire story is a cacophony of trite bullshit. You are a young kid that goes to an island to meet his Archeologist Uncle but finds that he’s missing. They give you a YoYo and a somewhat sentient robot that drives a submarine and wish you the best. It ends up being about an alien race called Argonians, but unfortunately not of Elder Scrolls’ fame.
The game is played out in three formats and all three are amazing at being a waste of your time.
The first are villages where you talk to NPCs that’s like every Final Fantasy ever made. The difference is that no one actually offers any meaningful interaction but often it is a required step to progressing. They say their thing, and you head on to the next person. The hardest puzzle of the game for me might have been its first: only after you speak to each town’s person in the first village are you able to get to the first dungeon. I didn’t know speaking to the beauty pagent queen was so vital.
The second format is worse than the first. The story is split up into sections where you enter a new island and have to explore using your submarine where to go. The game decides to throw out speed bumps to impede your progress instead of something that actually requires brain neurons to fire.
Here, you poke and prod until you find the right combination of hidden paths, obscured straits, and sea vortexes to get to the village town so you can talk to everyone in the town to only learn nothing and then go to your next dungeon.
The final format is the only one where the game has any merit. In dungeons, you control Mike and use weapons such as YoYo’s and baseball bats to defeat enemies. Following a similar canter as Legend of Zelda, Mike must find the final lair to defeat a boss to clear the dungeon.
Where it differs is that there are very little puzzles to solve. The main obstacle is just a slew of enemies that you have to battle through. It’s really about survival. Mike is granted three lives, but upon restarting a level, you only have three hearts. This is just too little to overcome, particularly in the later stages where everything can really kill you easily.
It is very difficult to enjoy it too much. Since there are no puzzles to solve, there really isn’t any sense of gratification of slowly learning how to clear a dungeon. Instead, you have to be skilled enough to dodge and destroy your way through every level. Slip ups are punished harshly.
The game also relies on very gimmicking things, too. There are quite a few hidden passageways that you can only find by pressing against the side of the walls. As much as a love to spend my time running up against dirt columns in hopes of finding the next room, I can think of better ways to spend my time.
While the dungeon format is way better than the open world “exploration” and village NPCs, it really ends up being a big time waster, too, when you frustratedly go online to only find you didn’t know about the hidden passage next to the snail.
Just play Zelda instead.
Other People’s Takes:
- Twentieth Century Gamer: “Despite what some have said, I don’t think it’s any kind of unsung classic or one of the best games on the system or anything like that. Not by a long shot.“
- Indie Gamer Chick: “So much busy work that I’m surprised California schools don’t make StarTropics part of their curriculum.”
- Hoz14NES: “This is a top 5 game on the system and should be experienced by anyone who has an interest in retro gaming.“
Another one that hit me on NES online. Never finished it, and I echo your sentiments. Possibly one might argue it had the makings of a cool game, but it was unable to follow through.
I would chunk this in the “remake it and it would probably be great” category.
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You know, you are right. There is some interesting stuff here and enough uniqueness to it (like how they make you solve jumping puzzles). But in its current form, it is too tough a pill to swallow.
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I loved this game as a kid. You compare it with Zelda, but it’s not trying to be a clone. The original Zelda is far more cryptic than Startropics. For me, interactions on the overworld were lighthearted and fun. I enjoyed exploring the expansive maps. Dungeons were definitely challenging, but as a major fan of The Goonies, I felt like I was actually adventuring into a trap-infested cave and it was up to me to find my way out. I also applauded the game’s ability to think outside the box with having to use the included physical letter in order to move forward in the quest. The sequel fixes some of the problems you had with the game. I’d love to someday see a third game!
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