Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Startropics, or "The one in which we explore how useful a yo-yo is as a weapon."

This is just a peaceful vacation to the south seas, right?A boy - armed with a yo-yo - sets off on an island-hopping adventure to save his uncle from aliens. As goofy as a premise it may sound, it makes for an interesting game.

Startropics was an adventure game released for he Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. It's one of the more memorable games of its time for both its good gameplay and its odd back story. It combines RPG elements with a core action-platforming game that sucks you in to the game.

You sure you don't have a sword stashed away there Chief?You play Mike, a teenager from Seattle. After receiving a letter from his Uncle Steve, an archaeologist studying some ancient ruins in his laboratory in the south Pacific. When Mike arrives at C-Island, he learns from the local chief that Dr. J, as they call Mike's uncle, had been kidnapped and that monsters had begun to infest the local islands. Mike, in a fit of either bravery or insanity, takes it upon himself to venture out into the islands to find his uncle. The chief, in turn, decides to arm you with among the least probably video game weapons of all time, a yo-yo. We're dealing with a responsible bunch here, aren't we?

C-Island.  A tropical paradise on the surface...The over-world map and town maps work a lot like the basic RPG of the era works. You can talk to people, wander around and so on. The game really begins when you head into various tunnels and dungeons and it turns into a top-down action platformer. At the end of the first area, you pick up a yellow mini-sub named Sub-C is your mode of transportation as you visit the rest of the game's islands.

The topic of combat brings us to one of the more famous aspects of the game - your primary weapon. The yo-yo. It's, well, a yo-yo. It's a short-range weapon, unlimited use weapon with which you hit your enemies As the game goes forward, you'll pick up a couple upgrades to your yo-yo, but that will be quite a while in the game. I'm not entirely sure how effective a child's toy would be against slugs or rats or snakes, but in Startropics, fights them off quite well.

...But possessing a cavern infested with all kinds of beasties.Aside from the yo-yo and its later upgrades, you'll be able to pick up various special weapons and items in each of the levels. Aside from the quest-relevant event items you'll pick up, there are two major categories of usable items. Support items, such as medicine, can be carried with you between levels, and weapons, which have a limited number of usages and vanish when you leave an area. Some of the temporary weapons are more useful than others and can kill enemies that would be difficult to yo-yo to death.

The levels are twisty, monster-filled tunnels. The ground is either open areas you can move around or tiles which can only be jumped on to. Tiles can contain switches that reveal paths that allow you to get items or continue to a previously blocked area.

It's a C-Serpent. Get it? This is C-Island and... Yeah, I know. It's about as subtle a pun as a punch in the face.At the end of most levels, you'll find a boss. Each one has its own gimmick. The bosses can be quite difficult to defeat and often it's not a matter of pummeling the boss into submission to overcome them. Many levels will have boss fights where you must do specific things to switches or other tiles in the room to win. Combined with the inability to attack in the air and the lack of diagonal movement, the the game can reach moments of controller-smashing frustration.

Overall, though, Startropics was a good game. It had a quirky aesthetic, a good sense of humor, and it was a fairly original plot for its time. In spite of its flaws, it's an enjoyable experience. The game is available on the Wii's Virtual Console and is worth a look if you haven't played the game before. Interestingly, Nintendo was forced to rename the yo-yo the "Island Star" for copyright reasons for the Virtual Console release. But we all know what Mike is really smacking those rats with, don't we?

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