4: Startropics

Genre: Action Adventure

Developer: Nintendo; Locomotive
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1990

Basic Idea: Save dolphins, pirate ships, and just maybe the entire human race.

Review:  I’m not even quite sure how to describe this game.  You’re this dude named Mike, who’s going between tropical islands trying to save them from monsters, and you’re using a yo-yo to do it.  It plays a bit like Zelda games in that you have an overworld where you can talk to townspeople and find heart containers, but it’s significantly more linear and the only enemies are in dungeons. Conceptually it’s silly, and the plot never has much intrigue or sense.  The dialogue is often laughable, though there is some cute tongue-in-cheek (or banana-in-ear) humor along with colorful locations.  For example, one entire stage takes place inside a whale.

With throwaway plot and characters, why do I love this game so damn much?  The caves and dungeons are amazingly fun.  Almost every room is its own puzzle, as there is often triggers, platforms, or patterns you have to follow to open up doors or treasures.  There are just a few rooms like this in The Legend of Zelda.  If you were annoyed by them there, you’re going to hate Startropics.  But I adore them, as it makes the game more than just killing enemies.  My favorite involves a parrot and a huge piano.  Even the bosses generally require more than simple dodge-and-attack.  However, the enemies are still a blast and are some of the most creative on the system.  One of my favorites is an insanely large bowling ball that tries to run you down.

Movement is awkward at first, because Mike can never move diagonally.  However, the enemies never move diagonally either, so it’s fairly simply to get used to.  Attacking with your yo-yo or other items (like bolas) is pretty intuitive.  The game’s learning curve is progressive and fair.  The last couple of stages become difficult without ever feeling unfair, and require much more planning and focus than earlier stages.  And I adore the final stage for its atmosphere and a final boss that rivals Wart as the best on the system.  Winning this game is incredibly satisfying.

I considered ranking Startropics as high as #2 on my list.  One royally annoying decision they made drops it down a couple of spots.  There is a fucking copyright protection puzzle. At one point in the game, you have to enter a three-digit code.  Now, you can spend days trying every three-digit number, or take a piece of paper that came in the game box and dip it in water to reveal the answer.  Now, we owned the game, and it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had solving a copyright protection puzzle. But if you ever wanted to play the game again, you had to memorize the code or not lose the paper. And if you rented the game or bought the cartridge used?  Unless you had a friend who knew the code, you wouldn’t be able to finish it.

If you’ve never played this game, it might be difficult to get into today, especially with the funky control.  But with some patience you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.  I’ve won it at least four times, one of those times being on a day I was home from school sick with strep throat.  If I could only play one NES adventure game the rest of my life, it would be Startropics.

2 thoughts on “4: Startropics”

  1. Did you seriously just list a game I never got around to playing as #4?! Beau, this is unacceptable.

    I remember the commercials, and I may even have a memory of this if I check out a video.

    It’s Friday, isn’t it?! Do I have to wait until Tuesday for the top three? This annoys me. Just send me the rest and I’ll spoil it for everyone on my own site.

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