“Yes, you’re armed with a yo-yo...”
November 24, 2017 8:08 PM   Subscribe

The Quirky Voyage of StarTropics [Kotaku] “StarTropics released towards the end of the life of the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990, it was developed by Nintendo R&D3, a team that focused on Nintendo’s hardware and peripherals, but also developed Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. You play as young ace pitcher, Mike Jones. Mike’s uncle has been abducted under mysterious circumstances so he has to search the islands to find him. He does this using a submarine controlled by the NAV-COM, a robot with an uncanny resemblance to the Nintendo peripheral, ROB. There are many visual similarities the game has to the Zelda series. Mike has heart containers representing his life bar, needs to make his way through multiple caves, and eventually has to find three mystical items (cubes instead of triangular triforces). But the grid based battle system quickly diverges from Zelda with tricky boss battles, interesting characters, and jumping puzzles that take him to the stars.” [YouTube][1991 Original NES Star Tropics Commercial]

• Why I love: StarTropics' strange archipelago [Games Radar+]
“Nintendo’s pantheon of big-eyed, bright-colored cartoon stars spawned out of pools of liquid weirdness. Kid Icarus dodged one-eyed eggplant monsters, Kirby swallowed eggs and not bombs, Mario put on a bear suit and turned to stone; that’s just how it was in Nintendo games. StarTropics, Nintendo’s largely forgotten action RPG made for and only released in the west, is deceptively tame by comparison. Mike is the hero, a non-descript baseball playing milquetoast straight out of a 1990 Nickelodeon after school special. He explores an equatorial island chain looking for his lost scientist uncle and zany adventures ensue. His uncle built a two-man submarine complete with a robot helper for Mike to navigate with. On the surface, StarTropics is barely putting in the effort to distinguish itself as era-appropriate Goonies or Explorers clone. As Mike explores further into the island chain, though, his trip gets stranger and stranger until its unpredictability becomes the only guarantee.”
• StarTropics, the Zelda-like that Kinda Hates You [US Gamer]
“Mikey moves across normal turf as Link does in the first Legend of Zelda, but his movement across tiles locks him down so he can only jump one or two spaces in any cardinal direction from his current position. It's a smart solution in theory, but switching between these two types of control on the fly makes for a somewhat awkward experience, especially when you're immediately thrown into split-second, sink-or-swim decisions. Above all, StarTropics has a penchant for drowning the living hell out of Mikey, who clearly should have taken some swimming lessons before his trip to C-Island. In StarTropics' dungeons, instant death is literally around every corner, and the game takes great glee in setting up some unfair situations: One of the first levels clearly signals Takeda's sadism by dumping you into a room filled with water if you choose the "wrong" door—without even providing the slightest warning. This punishing atmosphere paired with StarTropics' use of Zelda II's lives system often makes Mikey's adventure a soul-crushing affair, as one misstep could send you all the way back to the beginning of a dungeon.”
• The submerged letter [Destructoid]
“Inside the whale you meet up with Baboo, Dr. Jones’s assistant, a character you interacted with earlier in your quest. With the assistant’s help, you eventually figure out a way to make the whale sneeze (using your uncle’s missing lighter, of course), resulting in you, your sub, and Baboo being spit out onto a tiny, deserted island. With your submarine unable to function without a secret code, and, well, no secret codes to be found anywhere, all hope seems lost. Suddenly, Baboo randomly channels your missing uncle and spurts out: “Evil aliens from a distant planet ... tell my nephew to use Code 1776. Tell Mike to dip my letter in water.” Um, okay? This is where the game takes a very strange twist. Instead of looking at an in-game letter in your inventory, you have to reach into the box you bought the game in and find an actual, physical letter that was packaged with the game. [...] Obviously this letter trick was embedded into the game to prevent people from borrowing, stealing, or copying StarTropics without actually buying it. But, unfortunately, more times than not, what could have been the most innovative fight against videogame piracy ever turns into a frustrating, anger-induced mess. You see, first of all, the letter is not as waterproof as you might think.”
• StarTropics for the NES had broken music, hear what it was supposed to sound like [YouTube]
“StarTropics is one of the few arguable classics from the NES era without any modern updates, but it's a game many of us fondly remember. This video points out the flaws in the game's music, and the story of why the music is broken is an interesting look at the technology behind the NES. The second song was hurt due to a bug, and of course there was no way to "patch" NES cartridges.” [via: Polygon]
posted by Fizz (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Funny to think that Final Fantasy 4 was released in 1991. Of course Gargoyle's Quest 2 was released in 1992 for the NES (as the sequel to a Game Boy game), likely due to the market share of the NES.
posted by ersatz at 4:01 AM on November 25, 2017

In an alternate timeline, this is the game that took off instead of Zelda. And I sometimes wonder about that universe and an open world yo-yo attack game on the Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild style that might exist.
posted by Fizz at 5:25 AM on November 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh man, StarTropics... somehow two copies of Nintendo Power washed up on my North-Atlantic shore and they had features on StarTropics and Ultima IV respectively. I deeply longed for both games, which seemed amazing, but neither ever made it to Iceland. A long time later I came across Ultima VII and got my Ultima fix, but never found StarTropics. I can remember some of its maps by heart from reading that magazine so many times.
posted by Kattullus at 7:43 AM on November 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Woohoo, StarTropics. When emulators became a thing, that was my "I Will Finally Beat This Game" game. I got there, but man, thank you Nintendo Power.
posted by BeeDo at 8:09 AM on November 25, 2017

For some reason I feel like I played this originally on my childhood best friend's Commodore 64 but that doesn't feel right, I don't think it was ever ported into that kind of a system. And yet I still associate the game with that system more than NES.

And the one linked article is right about jumping in this game. It was very fussy and I drowned a lot trying to hop over water tiles. But the little submarine and the music, man what a great game, lots of memories.
posted by Fizz at 8:49 AM on November 25, 2017

I first played StarTropics on my first time ever in the actual tropics... equatorial, but still different enough that 12 year old wimp me was overjoyed to find a Nintendo and this cool seeming game I had never played...

In hindsight of course I should have gone on the day trip with everyone else, swum in a waterfall and picked leeches afterwards, but sitting in the B&B and playing Startropics seemed a way more attractive option
posted by anthill at 9:06 AM on November 25, 2017

Some things about StarTropics:

Although it was such a late release, it still got a sequel on NES, released in 1994. Both games were made by Japanese staff living in the US. Neither game got released in Japan.

I love it when games make weird decisions like deathtrap doors, things that are beyond the pale of game design dogma. Not every deathtrap in StarTropics is heralded, but some of them are hinted at by skulls in the water. And since the game uses a lives system, and one that resets every dungeon, such a bad choice is not necessarily game-ending.
posted by JHarris at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2017

(I should mention, I love it as a designer, because it's an interesting choice. As a player, it might be less welcome.)
posted by JHarris at 9:48 AM on November 25, 2017

Also, it had a special frequency/coordinates that you needed the letter from the game box. I think you had to soak it in water and it unlocked the last area. Nowadays you can just look it up on the internet, but I think it was the last time I remember that particular kind of DRM. Though it was much more common on the PC.
posted by lkc at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2017

True story: I rented the game, but didn't get any such code and thus was stuck. Flummoxed, I called Nintendo's Game Councilor number and asked what was up. The nice person on the other end of the phone said that he couldn't tell me the number, but said something like "it's the number of an airplane, like a passenger jet." I was able to piece it together from there that the number was 7-4-7. I assume he had been given a directive from on high not to reveal the code, which could also have been to thwart game *renting* which was a big thing then but took it upon himself to help kids out by skirting the rules. Thank you, anonymous councilor, wherever you are.
posted by JHarris at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

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