The Starfy series has enjoyed a great deal of success in Japan over the years, but Nintendo's release of The Legendary Starfy in North America marks the first time that many gamers outside of Japan have had the chance to experience the game's unique charm. The developers obviously didn't want to stray too far from the successful formula used in the previous releases when they developed this fifth iteration, but they were still able to include enough new elements to give the game a fresh feel, even to those who've played the previous titles. But does this long-time Japanese exclusive platformer ultimately have what it takes to capture the hearts and minds of gamers outside of Japan?
Your main goal in each stage is to reach the glowing pedestal at the end of each level, but of course there are other unique challenges as well, such as finding the hidden treasure chests in each level that unlock mini-games, provide Starfy with hints, and even net him special items and accessories that can be used in the game's Stuff mode. You begin the game with only a basic set of gameplay moves: Starfy can swim, jump, and perform a basic spin, but he'll have to play through the game's many levels in order to unlock some of his more useful and powerful moves. You'll also pick up special touchscreen abilities from other characters in the game along the way that can be used to do everything from offer up gameplay hints to sniffing out the hidden treasure chests in each level. It's many of these new gameplay twists that make this newest Starfy adventure stand out a bit from previous releases.
You'll also find hidden doors in certain levels that will unlock bonus levels for you to play through, and although these doors can be rather tricky to locate they do offer up a nice incentive to go back through and play levels again. There are also levels where you can call upon Starfy's sister Starly for help, and you'll see these levels marked with both Starfy and Starly icons on the main map screen indicating that a level allows for the use of Starly. To do this, you'll need another player with their own DS system; it doesn't matter if this second player has the game or not, although it will cut down on the time it takes to download the level to the other player's DS system. Once the level is loaded both players can then tackle the level in a cooperative fashion, and since Starly comes equipped with her own unique set of moves, you can reach certain areas previously unreachable using only Starfy.
While platforming plays a huge role in the game, it's the puzzle-solving elements that add the unique twist to the mix. Many times this can involve pressing various switches, pushing certain items around a level, or even learning new actions that will allow you to go back to previously visited levels to unlock areas that couldn't be reached before. You'll even get a chance to transform into one of several creatures, each of which has their own unique set of abilities that can prove to be quite useful during certain tricky spots in the game. As with any Starfy release the control is extremely responsive and intuitive, and you'll even be given a chance to get your feet wet whenever you learn a new in-game ability or locate a new creature to transform into.
You'll also get the opportunity to square off against a boss on the fourth level in each area. While the boss fights in this fifth release are visually the best the series has seen to date, they do lack some of the variety and challenging pattern-based attacks that have become such a staple of the series over the years. They're still quite enjoyable to take on, but they tend to be a bit easy and many can be defeated with little effort, even in later stages of the game where you'd expect a bit more challenge from them.
It wouldn't be a Starfy game without the patented mini-games the series has become famous for. While they're not made a part of the actual adventure itself as in previous releases, they're still quite fun to play, especially if you can round up a few extra players to take them on in competitive fashion. These mini games range from the Coin Slinger challenge that lets you use the stylus to pull back your slingshot and fire at multi-colored coins being tossed around the screen to a Sand Tracer challenge, in which you have to trace characters and items that have been drawn into the sand within a certain time limit. You can even have up to four players take part in these mini-game challenges at once by connecting using the DS wireless function, even if only one player has the game. As with the main adventure, the game will have to download the mini-game to the other DS systems, but it doesn't take long and the multiplayer element really makes playing these mini-games a lot more fun than taking them on solo.
There are also quite a few extra modes found outside of the main game that can be a nice diversion from the main adventure. The Big Bossdown mode allows you to tackle the bosses you've beaten in the game in a timed attack mode. There's also a Stuff mode in which you can dress up Starfy using all of the garments and accessories that you've earned throughout the game. You can even check out The Moe Show, where he'll interview random characters from the game as you sit back and watch. While most of these extra features are just for silly enjoyment, they're still worth a look once you've finished the game and a good chance to go back and see the game's many cartoon sequences again in case you missed or skipped them the first time through.
Visually, The Legendary Starfy even manages to outdo the first DS release in terms of visual flair and special effects. Not only are the flashy 3-D backdrops back this time around, but the foreground graphics are even better as well. The developers have even tossed in quite a few fancy transparency effects to give the game even more visual flash. It's also nice to see that each area has its own unique graphical style, which means that you'll never get tired of seeing the same scenery as you progress through the game. Even the bosses are much larger this time around, some spanning the entire screen in size. It's clear from the moment you begin playing the game that the developers have become quite familiar with the DS hardware and know how to get the most from the system's graphical capabilities.
The soundtracks have always been very light-hearted and upbeat throughout the series, and The Legendary Starfy is certainly no exception. There's an abundance of cute and catchy musical tracks throughout the game's many levels and even the sound effects have a sugary sweetness that couldn't mimic the silly theme of the game any better. The voiced effects you'll hear from the various characters can be a little overbearing at times, but much like every other piece of audio in the game, they fit right in with the zany theme the game employs. It's easy to see that the developers were trying to stick with a common audio/visual theme and they've managed to do so quite well.
Nintendo couldn't have found a better Starfy title to introduce the world outside of Japan to their cute yellow star's unique style of platforming. The Legendary Starfy is easy enough for gamers of all ages to enjoy, yet there's enough secret items and challenges to keep gamers of all skill levels coming back to the game long after they've beaten it. All of the trademark endearing charm of the series has been perfectly captured in this release and thankfully the developers had the sense not to try changing the game too much in adapting it for a non-Japanese gaming audience.
If you can appreciate a unique and silly platforming experience that doesn't take itself too seriously, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more endearing title than The Legendary Starfy. It features all of the playability and polish we've come to expect from Nintendo's top shelf titles and will hopefully only be the beginning of Starfy's platforming adventures outside of Japan.