Review: Dr J-us! Dr J-us! Oh Dr J-us! I can help you Dr J-us!
Quick, name a first party title on the NES. I bet most people just thought of a game in the Super Mario Bros. series. Maybe a few others went for Zelda and a very small number probably picked Metroid. But for some reason StarTropics, a spiritual sequel to the original Legend of Zelda is completely forgotten by most of the retrogaming populace. Thankfully, Nintendo has remembered their island-hopping adventure and brought Startropics to the Virtual Console.
StarTropics uses the same engine as the original Legend of Zelda to tell the more modern story of Mike Jones, a teenager from Seattle. Mike is visiting his uncle, a scientist who lives in the tropics, when strang things start to happen. His uncle has disappeared and monsters have begun to appear in the caves below C-Island. Using a yo-yo as his main weapon (dubbed an Island Star by the chief), Mike ventures into the caves in search of his uncle.
Right away, the similarities to Zelda are obvious. The game takes place in an overhead view with most of the action divided into rooms that can only be opened by tripping a switch, killing all of the enemies or finding a secret passageway. Mike's health is even displayed in hearts (and finding Heart Containers add to this life force).
But there are a few noticeable differences as well. For one, Mike can jump. For another, the game is designed using an invisible "grid." Each room is divided into "squares" and pressing one of the directional buttons will move Mike one square at a time. This grid becomes very visible with the tiles scattered around every room. Some doors can only be opened by switches and some switches can only be found by jumping on these tiles. "Island-hopping" from tile to tile quickly becomes a way of life in StarTropics.
The grid-based controls can feel a little confining to gamers accustomed to more freeform movements, but it quickly becomes second nature and learning how to exploit it (like by figuring out what kind of reach each weapon has) is the key to victory.
StarTropics' quirky humor also establishes the game as the anti-Zelda. The use of a yo-yo as a weapon (and later baseball bats, cleats and slingshots) mirrors the ?real world? weaponry found in another forgotten Nintendo classic, Earthbound. Strange islanders, talking dolphins, an adventure in the belly of a whale and a submarine piloted by ROB just add to the weirdness. StarTropics is also remembered for the special letter that was included with the original NES cartridge. Once the player reaches a certain point in the game, the letter has to be dipped in water to reveal a secret code to proceed. Thankfully, Nintendo created a virtual letter and virtual water to dip it in for this VC release.
The game features plenty of interesting enemies and some cool boss designs that make it more than ?that game that looks kinda like Zelda.? It also has some catchy music and a great underworld theme. Although it should be noted that when the player is exploring the overworld, the screen will flicker if the game is being played on an HDTV. It's hard to fault Nintendo for that, but it's annoying nonetheless.