The NES has a vast amount of titles in its history. The most memorable titles are the ones made by Nintendo themselves; Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Duck Hunt, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Excitebike, Kirby’s Adventure, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, the list goes on and on. But how about a game series that was near obscure for a while before becoming a cult classic. It’s a series I’ve promised myself that I would play, so it’s a Sunday afternoon, it’s time for Mike Jones to shine.
StarTropics, developed and published by Nintendo, it was released in 1990 in the US and in 1992 in Europe. Oddly, despite being made in Japan, it was never released in that country, was never intended to be released in that country and to this day, still hasn’t been released in that country to this day. I’m guessing that Nintendo forgot about it and even when it was re-released for the Virtual Console, no Japanese person cried for it and translating it would be too difficult for Nintendo…considering that the internet can translate stuff in their sleep if they wanted to.
In the South Seas lays C-Island, home of the laboratory of Dr. Steven Jones in the tropical village of Coralcola. His nephew, Mike Jones, arrives at Coralcola, only to find out that his uncle is missing. Dr. Jones’ assistant gets Mike to find his uncle by giving him a yo-yo and a submarine, called Sub-C. So it’s up to Mike to sail all around the South Seas to find his uncle and for some reason, aliens are responsible for his disappearance…well that escalated quickly.
The game is a 2D top-down adventure game…so basically, it’s The Legend of Zelda to an extent, without the RPG elements. You’ll explore the seas, then find an island, you try and figure out what to do, maybe solve a puzzle or help someone in need which gives you an incentive of what you need to do in the next dungeon, then gain access to a dungeon or two, finish it and the next chapter begins. There are eight chapters of doing this but if you know what you’re doing, it’ll take a few hours to beat the game.
The designs of the dungeon are…unique? You see, most of the platforms you can walk in four directions, but there are platforms that are squares that you need to hop on and off from. You use a Yo-Yo as your primary weapon, but you’ll get other weapons of limited use. There will be challenges in most of the dungeons you must go through in order to progress, from tough enemies to finding hidden areas. You’ll even sometimes battle a boss in the end of most of the dungeons. And after you beat each dungeon, you’ll get points…I don’t know why you’d need points, it’s pointless.
I found the game overall to be…OK, the first half of the game is pretty good, odd game design choice in terms of block jumping and the challenge is all good. However, by the time the second half of the game beings, the dungeons get tougher but they come across as frustrating and I stopped having fun with the overall experience.
Oh, how about that code? Some of you may know about this, but when the game was first released, it came with a manual (of course), and a letter, it had nothing on it. In the game, you need to access a code to progress through the game. So you take the letter, put it in water and the code would appear on the paper. This led to a few issues. If you bought this game on its own and no box, or didn’t want to mess with the inside of the box to preserve it, you’re left with a game that is unbeatable without the code and Nintendo Power had to show the code in their next magazines. A noble effort on Nintendo’s part, but wasn’t thought through well. The reason I’m not harping on it is because we have the internet, so you can find it anywhere. Oh, and the code is “747”.
The graphics are OK, but I expected a little bit better for 1990. The level design looks absolutely boring, but at least it looks memorable. The music is also OK but it can get repetitive since it can get used again and again.
So why is it considered a cult classic? Well, you’re a kid back in the day and you’re playing a game where you explore many-a islands and the main protagonist is a kid, with these two aspects in mind, you get invested in the adventure overall. But I’m an adult, and those aspects fizzle a bit, and I just see a game similar to The Legend of Zelda with gameplay I feel indifferent to.
It seems it did well, because it eventually got a much more forgotten sequel. Zoda’s Revenge: StarTropics II, released in 1994 in the US only.
Mike Jones receives a telepathic message from Mica, the princess of the Argonians, who tells Mike of how to decipher something that was found on an Argonians’ space pod. Mike, along with Dr. Jones, Mike’s uncle, reads out the solved message, but this causes Mike to be flung back in time. Mike must collect Tetrads from different time periods.
So the game is quite similar to the original, but the story progression is much faster and there’s much more interesting things to do before going to a dungeon. Since the game is about time travel, you will of course go to different time periods and meet all sorts of famous figures like Cleopatra, Merlin, Sherlock Holmes (OK, he’s fictional, but this is a video game), Leonardo da Vinci and King Arthur, with each one helping Mike find a piece of a Tetrad. Nearly all the NPCs are more interesting since they don’t feel…how do I put this? Dull. Every era you go to feels different compared to the similar islands that got boring to look at eventually.
The dungeons are so much better for one reason: 8-directional movement. This makes the game so much better and the combat is a lot more fun if a bit challenging, but it wasn’t as annoying as what we got in the first game. Jumping is OK, but it feels floaty to the point where I sometimes try to jump on a platform that is reachable but I still miss it, it’s annoying because I know it’s not my fault. Also, why did they get rid of my invincibility after getting hit, because you instantly lose health if you don’t move out of an enemy’s attack.
Overall, the StarTropics games aren’t perfect, although the sequel is a much better game, at least I wasn’t entirely bored with that game after a while. Some say the games have charm, some say the games are really good. I say that they are just…OK, not good, not bad, just OK. In terms of recommendation, I’d recommend the sequel, I don’t see much people enjoying the first game.
You can get these games on the NES and Wii U Virtual Console.
And to those who wanted Mike Jones to be in Super Smash Bros.…he did, he’s called Ness.