On first sight, StarTropics looks eerily like Zelda (in fact, when you start it up, there's the same name entry screen!). So you might be thinking, what's all the fuss about? StarTropics is about a typical American teenager, Mike Jones, who heads to the tropics to meet his archaeologist uncle after receiving a letter. When he reaches C-Island, the location of Dr. Jones's lab, he finds his uncle missing and sets out in the lab's submarine to search for him. Eventually he learns that alien invader, Zoda, is threatening to destroy the Earth and there is no one else to stop him!.
The overworld plays similar to many RPGs. There are no enemies to be fought or any random encounters, all you do is walk around and talk to people. As in Zelda, you occasionally find a heart container to increase your maximum life. When you enter a dungeon, though, it gets mixed up a bit. While at first sight this also looks similar to the original Zelda's gameplay, it's in fact quite a bit different. This is mostly because Mike's more agile than Link and is able to jump across gaps (but only gaps that are one space wide - don't try for more!) or to avoid enemies.
Mike's main weapon is a yo-yo, which extends two spaces in front of him. Later on, he can upgrade it to a flail and a supernova (a type of magic shot) which shoot further. However, if your health drops low enough, your weapon will downgrade until you restore life!
The dungeons all have a tropical look, unlike Zelda's bland dungeons which have the same colours in every room. To progress you must do similar things to Zelda - kill all enemies, find hidden switches, you know the drill. In this game switches are activated slightly differently - you must first jump on green tiles in a room. If there's a hidden switch, a button will appear nearby. Press that and something happens.
To beat the bad guys, Mike has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Dungeons contain special extra weapons, such as baseball bats and balls, torches, bolas, slingshots, ray guns and more. However, these have limited uses, so make every shot count! Mike can also find extra lives, medicine (restores 5 hearts), pills (restore full health), and a few other items.
The game is divided into eight chapters, each with at least one major dungeon and a boss. The dungeons can get really tough later, and beating them all is a huge accomplishment. The graphics are nothing special, but there are some cutscenes with fairly detailed characters talking to you. Everything does look like it belongs in the tropics, as it should.
StarTropics may come off as The Legend of Zelda: Island Edition, but that's far from the truth. It has a very cool style, and, if you may prefer it to Zelda. The only downside is Mike's controls - he can only walk in the four directions, with no diagonal movement, and has to stop to change direction. It's a small complaint as you'll get used to it fast.
The music has a very distinctive tropical style, and most people find it pretty good. The game got a sequel, although it was only released in the US, near the end of the NES's life. After it, the franchise sadly faded into obscurity. So, pitch in 500 Wii Points and buy this and the sequel - maybe Nintendo will take notice and revive the franchise!
One interesting tidbit - The original game came packaged with the actual invitation from Dr. Jones to come to the tropics. This letter is actually NEEDED later in the game, as you must dip it in water to reveal a secret code which you need in order to progress. Nintendo have gotten around this quirk by including the letter within the digital manual. You can click the letter, which dips it in a virtual bucket of water, giving you the code.