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August 22, 2014

StarTropics (Part 1)

Vacation is almost over. For many students, school has begun, or is about to begin. How about I close August with the ultimate vacation adventure, courtesy of Nintendo?

Anyone remembers StarTropics? No? Well... On one hand, it IS one of Nintendo's most forgotten series. Created by Nintendo of America, the series is little known in Japan. And since most Nintendo games are made in Japan, let's say this small franchise doesn't get much attention. It was barely mentioned in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Chronicle mode and received no trophy whatsoever. Not even stickers! It's kind of sad for Mike Jokes, the hero of this story. And since I grew up with the game (it was in my collection of NES games, and it was one of my favorites), I told myself that I HAD to review it at some point. Give it a bit of the spotlight for once.

The game is fairly simple: Mike Jones walks around on the overworld screen, enters villages, speaks to people, solves puzzles. When he enters a dungeon, the perspective shifts; now we follow Mike one room after the other, as he battles enemies, finds switches to open doors, jumps on pads and avoids the dozens of hazards. On the way, he gains upgrades to his main weapon, and also finds all sorts of additional weapons and items in the dungeons, which help him fight the dangerous enemies and the creative bosses on his way.

How about we start now? This is StarTropics, everyone, a game that definitely deserves a better place in Nintendo's large library of games.



As soon as the game starts, we see Mike dropped off from a helicopter onto C-Island, where he was supposed to meet his uncle, Dr. Jones. ...who, by the way, looks nothing like Indiana Jones, not even the one from Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls. So Mike walks on C-Island, which really is C-shaped, and enters the village. There, he has to speak to absolutely everyone before he can speak to the Chief. Because you know, an American boy looking for his uncle sure will want to hear about everyone's little problems, right?

In fact, this is something that has bugged me ever since I bought the game, long ago, and it still bugs me. WHY do you need to speak to everyone in the village? On a technical standpoint, it makes little sense, as Mike was sure he could see his uncle. It's only once he enters the Chief's hut that he learns that his uncle has been kidnapped! Why on Earth would he need to speak to everyone before he even learns the news? Not like it makes a big difference...

Anyway, C-Island's chief (who bears a mustache that would make Mario proud) gives Mike the famous Island Yo-Yo- Oh wait, I meant the Island Star. Seriously, who's the dumbass who decided “Yo-Yo” was a trademark? Enterprises, always stopping us from having fun words. So, Mike, now armed with the Island Star (urk... My nostalgia feels betrayed), heads to the sorceress' hut, where he enters C-Island's cave, which has been inexplicably filled with monsters and traps shortly after Dr. J.'s disappearance. And as luck would have it (me and my bad luck...), it's the only way towards Jones' laboratory.

Get ready to destroy some slimes!

That's serpently a good first boss.
Mike enters the dungeon, defeats slimes and rats on the way (and later, snakes that can somehow speed up towards him). He also finds torches. He eventually reaches the boss, a dreaded giant snake called the C-Serpent, who can only be hurt when it opens its mouth. Huh. How convenient that it opens its mouth every few seconds. Mike defeats the beast and reaches his uncle's lab, where he meets a little robot, an assistant, who makes a submarine available to Mike and gets aboard with him. ...Wait. This submarine does not go underwater??? Who's the moron who thought that up?

Dolphin translator... what else do we
have in here? A toaster for bagels
only? shoes without laces?
...A poster of The Room??
Look, it doesn't matter. Mike and his robotic operating buddy get closer to an island, but they're halted by a dolphin. The robot... somehow translates its speech, and concludes that it is a mother dolphin who lost its child. Besides, the next island has the Submarine-C completely stuck, as it would have to go underwater to continue on its way. Guess it can't hurt to explore around a little. ...Still, dolphin translator? Really? Your submarine has this and it can't even go underwater? Next they'll have something that translates Pokémon sounds directly into the games and also decreases their level! ...Sorry, it's just, what the Hell were the developers thinking? Urgh, if this keeps up, soon we're gonna have aliens thrown in the mix.

Come over here, Octo! I want to examine you a little! Don't
be shy, I just want you to meet Mrs. Yo-Yo and Doctor Bat!
Mike ventures around the island and learns how to use secret passageways. He finds a bottle on a beach and reads the message... Gee, it's his lucky day! The bottle contains the code that lets the Submarine-C pass through holes in the risen land! Okay, it's limited to black patches of water, but it's already better. Mike keeps visiting the island, using the submarine's new feature to reach places he couldn't before. He finally sees a dungeon and enters. This place is already a little more dangerous than the previous one... On the way, Mike meets colorful creatures, and even gets his hands on a cool item, the Snowman! This one has the power to freeze everything on the screen for a few seconds! Uh, okay... I guess... By this point, I should just accept the lack of logic. So, Mike keeps going around the dungeon until he reaches a large room filled in water. And, oh noes! Mike can't swim! As if that wasn't enough, the boss is there, and it's a huge octopus called... Octo the Huge. Give me a second to facepalm. Still, the boss is often stupid enough to approach Mike, so the American boy can use the Snowman to freeze the creature and hit it repeatedly while it's nearby. Once that's done, Octo disappears and the young dolphin is saved. I guess Mike rode the dolphin back to the island? He could have practiced at SeaWorld, but the staff would have kicked him out. Mike retrieves the Sub-C and the dolphins open a way for him. Thanks, nice sea creatures! Um... can I count on you if I meet a shark on the way?

Jumping: Not very easy in this one. Then again,
it could have been worse. It Could have been Link. 
Okay, while I'm at it, I think I should explain how the game works. Mike begins with three hearts, which is something similar to Link in the Legend of Zelda series. As he progresses, more and more hearts get added, but whenever he dies, he comes back with only three hearts of health, which isn't so bad in the early levels, but it's a pain in the very difficult levels of the final chapters. Also, in the dungeons, each room is separated in squares, so Mike can only go up, left, down and right. No diagonals Also, he can only jump in place or jump one to two squares forward (one to get on a pressure pad – for some odd reason, all the dungeons are filled with those – and two if he has to jump over water). Plus, when he is on a pressure pad, he has to jump again to get off of it. his is kind of a weird way to make the game. It does offer a lot of possibilities, and the game makes sure to use many of them.

76 mirrors, 40 bolas... Wait. Couldn't he just use the same
mirror  every time? Or the game knows how many times
the mirror can be hit before it breaks?
Another detail, about the weapons and items. The only weapon Mike can use endlessly is the Island Star (Urgh...), which he has to use to kill enemies (since most of the time, the door to the next room won't open until one or all of the creatures in a room haven't been defeated). When he picks up a new weapon in a dungeon, it comes with a set amount of ammunition. If Mike picks up a baseball bat, he can use it only fifteen times. All the weapons are therefore limited in their use. And besides, speaking from personal experience, those are rarely better than the yo-yo. If they're good, you can be sure that's because the next sections of the dungeon are gonna require them in a way or another. Same goes for the special items, except their use is EVEN MORE LIMITED. The Snowman I described earlier? Two uses maximum. I hope you didn't waste it before reaching the boss! This ain't Legend of Zelda, kid! As a result, unless you absolutely HAVE to use one of those items to go beyond a room (as it will happen later), most of the time you will barely even use them! Except heart refill potions. Those are ultra-important. But, surprise! Between levels, you don't even get to keep the items and weapons you picked up! Whaaaaat? Yeah, for some reason, Mike drops everything except the yo-yo as soon as he has finished a dungeon. Dude, you've never heard of a Checkov's Gun before? Do you have any idea how useful the Snowman would be in later dungeons? Gosh, Mike, you sure are an idiot.

Now, Octo, let me take a picture. Say... Freeze!
Now, stay in place until you're dead.

Want another proof that Mike is an idiot? The next time we hear about him, he got caught in a storm and crashed the Sub-C. Luckily for him, he survived; he landed on a beach. The same cannot be said for the submarine, caught in a coral reef. If he wants his quest to continue, he has to find a way to repair it. So he starts walking on the island, completely forgetting about the robotic buddy still in the ship...

Mike walks through a small dungeon containing, among others, flamingos with skull heads. ...I wish I was making that up. Oh, and monkeys with wings. But who cares? This is a short dungeon! Mike finds a way out and reaches the village of Miracola, where he has to – once more – speak to freaking everyone if he wants to enter the Chief's hut. Again, why? Mike is in a hurry, he needs to find his uncle, he doesn't have time for little pointless island chatter! Anyway, Mike speaks to the chief of Miracola and learns that his daughter has been cursed with eternal sleep. And of course, he will not help Mike unless the American teenager finds the spell to wake her up.

Because obviously, a tourist should do all the dirty work. Me and my stupid tendency to question this game's logic...

I guess fiery tempers must be doused.
Water you gonna do?
So, Mike enters another dungeon, which starts off rather normal until it goes deep underground, to magma level, and then goes up again. The boss at the end of that dungeon? A giant fire monster that keeps shooting fireballs. It's located atop many tiles floating above the water, and stuck to solid ground only by two sphere-like tiles. This is NOT a boss that can be fought, so Mike has to find another way. And he does! He finds two secret switches and presses them, causing the sphere tiles to poof out of existence. The fire monster falls down into the water, gets all wet, and dies.

Okay, look, I know Mike has been sent on this quest and all, but seriously? The bosses are that stupid? C-Serpent keeps opening its mouth, sometimes for no reason; Octo approaches the player, not even trying to hurt him; and now this smartass fire monster who fully KNOWS it's standing just over water and that falling into it will instantly kill him? Gosh!

Still, as a result, Mike passes to the next location. He knows about a sage located on top of a mountain... but Mike has to get there, the path is closed, and there is no bridge! However, there's a castle nearby... and the queen of Shecola knows the formula to bring the bridge up. There's just one problem. Shecola is home to rabid amazons who do not let men enter the castle. Insert female homoerotic subtext here if you have a dirty mind. Mike walks around the castle and finds a fortune teller who promises to help him enter the castle... if Mike brings back her crystal ball, which has been lost in the Ghost Village, at the very top of the island. Great, more fetching!

Mike enters the Ghost Village, more of a graveyard around a lake than anything else really, and finds an odd tombstone that turns out to be an entrance to another dungeon! This one is really long and tedious and tricky, as there are many false exits that will force you to restart the whole dungeon from the freaking beginning. Yes, this is an unnerving level. But there's worse. Along the way, you pick up special scepters that will emit a flash in a room when you use them. This causes ghosts to become visible. Yes, there are ghosts in here! And you better not waste the scepters in ghost-less rooms, or you will be stuck. And there is no way to know if there's a ghost in the room until you use the scepter.

Mike continues walking through the dungeon and eventually meets wizards that appear and disappear; also, they shoot energy balls and can NOT be hurt by the yo-yo or other weapons... so Mike uses mirror shields to reflect the energy balls back at them. Apparently it works. Oh, did I mention that there are also HORDES OF MUMMIES in the level? Holy crap! Anyway, Mike also manages to reach the boss... Maxie, a giant ghost. This boss does show some intelligence, though: It stays far from the ground, floating over the water, and has hordes of small ghosts going towards Mike. Oh, and there's also cannons shooting fireballs. It also speeds up after it's been hit. Kudos, StarTropics: Your most logical boss so far is a ghost.

Still, after Mike destroys Maxie, he finds an empty room where he presses a button, causing all of the lake's water to go underground. Mike recovers the crystal ball, goes back to Shecola and gives it to the fortune teller.

No, really? Congrats, Mike, you almost
blew your cover!
As a result, the fortune teller helps Mike enter the castle... by disguising him as a girl. Gee, never thought about that... So, Mike-er, Michelle, enters the castle and speaks to the Queen, who gives him the spell to repair the bridge and continue on his way to the mountain hermit. Also, the Queen hands “Michelle” a brand new Yo-Yo, the Shooting Star, which is even more awesome than the Island Star! The only downside to it is that Mike cannot use it if he has less than six hearts of health, which means he needs to keep his health level high if he wants to use his stronger weapons.

How does he do if he runs out of food up there?
Does he teleport down there for grocery shopping?
Because I can't picture him going through this
whole dungeon with four grocery bags!
Michelle leaves the castle, drops the disguise, and Mike heads west to the broken bridge, which he repairs by shouting Abracadabra and stepping on a tile ten times. Mike progresses through the rest of the cave and reaches the other side, where he sees the great mountain. He enters, and here goes another dungeon! He keeps going forward, discovering more and more dangerous enemies, from the vengeful Gogglins to the almighty Big Bullies. He eventually finds a fountain and jumps on the flow of water, which sends him up to the mountain hermit's place. The hermit gives him the spell and Mike is inexplicably brought back to Miracola, where he uses the spell to wake the Chief's daughter. She makes sure to notice Mike's bananas.

Oh, I forgot to mention a running gag about Mike traveling around with bananas? My mistake! Oh yeah, I sure would get a lot of comedy out of that...

Anyway, the Sub-C is picked up from the reef and repaired by the Miracolans, and Mike leaves to his next destination.

Mike is still in his quest when he finds a little island shaped like a fish. He visits the village of Tunacola (yuck!), in which he hears that Dr. J.'s assistant, Bubba, is searching for him. Mike leaves again in the Sub-C, but the submarine gets eaten by a giant whale! Inside the whale, Mike finds Bubba, who was out at sea on a raft... Okay... and a lighter, but the lighter is far inside the giant whale. Bubba, also known as “an insulting caricature of island ethnics”, tasks Mike with the job of finding the lighter so they can set the raft on fire and cause the whale to sneeze. Mike ventures through the whale and finds the lighter, and then comes back. Mike and Bubba carry on with their plan, which indeed causes the whale to sneeze and spit them on a nearby tiny island. Talk about a lucky coincidence that there was an island around, huh? Mike can't swim, remember that!

By the way, congratulations to that whale for having innards
that look so much like a dungeon. Nature does things well.

Bubba tells Mike that finding Dr. Jones will be much easier if the Sub-C can locate him; only, the helping robot needs the code... which can be found only by dipping the letter in water. ...You know, the letter? The one that was packaged with the game? What? You don't remember that? You lost the letter? You're lucky the Internet is there! You had to dip the very real letter given to players with the game in water, and the code would appear: 747 (no need to thank me). You then input the code as the robot asks, and Mike is ready to leave, with a Sub-C upgraded both to go underwater (IT WAS ABOUT FREAKING TIME!) and to locate the scientist.

Boeing!

Sounds like a fun vacation so far, huh? See you this Monday for the next and final part!