StarTropics (NES)

Game Review

StarTropics Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Conor McMahon

Sun, sea, sand, and aliens

Winter is slowly creeping up on us, so it's as good a time as ever to explore warmer climates and take your mind off of the bad weather. For some NES-filtered beams of sunshine, why not step into the shoes of young Mike Jones, an American kid who's headed for an alphabetic island on the tropical adventure of a lifetime? Take that banana out of your ear before we continue, please.

Named after its geographical shape, C-Island plays host to the 1990 action RPG StarTropics - a surprisingly unsung title that was both developed and published by Nintendo itself. Originally, Mike's adventure was only ever intended for release outside of Japan, so the game is naturally loaded with references to baseball, soda, a hint of The Goonies, and alien invasions - everything a hip kid from Americola needs!

In terms of story things are kept fairly simple - but comfortably so. Upon arrival on the island Mike discovers that his archaeologist Uncle Steve has gone missing, leaving a sudden plague of monsters to take over in his absence. It's a little more than he bargained for, but the friendly natives and their chief Coralcola gift the heroic boy with a sacred star (a yo-yo to you and me) before sending him out on a quest of discovery.

Initially, StarTropics seems to build upon the top-down 2D world popularised by The Legend of Zelda, but actually bears more in common with its sequel Zelda II. This is mainly due to the fact that gameplay is broken up into two distinct parts - navigating the overworld and traversing dungeons. The former is key to progressing and plays like an old-school RPG, though there won't be any random encounters as you do so. Chatting with villagers, finding hidden paths and roaming around people's houses is all helped along by a goofy charm and lighthearted atmosphere, which carries through almost all of the writing.

Things change completely once you venture into one of the game's numerous dungeons, which generally take place underground and away from the tropical overworld. It's a drastic shift in both perspective and gameplay, as Mike gets a larger, more detailed sprite and can hop from place to place on a grid or walk in four directions. Movement is far from fluid as a result, occasionally making our hero feel sluggish and awkward to control. At worst, it can actually seem as though Mike is always one step behind your commands. The grid-based design also influences many of the puzzles Mike will come across, which require you to find the correct route around pitfalls or nimble enemies.

Each of the 8 chapters has a new environment to explore, at least one dungeon to complete, and revolves around a smaller, self-contained story. Whether it's saving a caged dolphin or dressing as a woman to infiltrate a female-only castle (yes really), things move along at a nice pace until an evil alien is eventually revealed as the cause of all this mischief. Half the fun of StarTropics is definitely seeing how a bizarre plot tangent will pan out and the constant allure of that next island on the horizon. It nails a strong sense of adventure, making the overworld sections a real highlight.

Dungeons, on the other hand, are a lot more generic. Essentially you'll progress by clearing enemies or finding hidden switches before facing a boss at the very end of each one. This will probably sound pretty familiar to most of you, but just imagine Zelda with 100% more hopping. Identical tiles are placed all over every dungeon, hiding buttons and mapping out the grid as you move along. Additional puzzle elements are manipulated by using magic items that last inside that dungeon only, such as a torch to light up darkened rooms or a way to identify invisible ghosts. Needless to say, these are a real breath of fresh air once they're introduced.

There are also a number of sub-weapons to be found, which come with limited ammo. It's important to use them while you can, since losing a life or leaving the dungeon means they're gone. The yo-yo on its own can be permanently upgraded during the course of the story, but nothing quite matches the swing of a baseball bat - one of the most satisfying weapons we've ever used in a game of this type! Ranged weapons such as the flame are also a safe bet, since enemies often move faster than Mike due to those shaky jump mechanics.

Because there isn't a "game-over" state as such, and plenty of chances to save, it would be a push to call this a particularly difficult game, especially once you're used to the controls. However, there are definitely a few cheap deaths and niggling design issues in store that could prove frustrating. Several paths lead towards an instant, unavoidable death for example, and certain buildings have entrances that are completely hidden away with no indication of where a door might be. It's a long game - weighing in at least 10 hours for the average playthrough - so we suggest taking your time in order to best enjoy your virtual vacation.

Ultimately, if there's one thing that StarTropics does right, it's the visual style and overall atmosphere. There's a ridiculous amount of variety to the people you meet and the places you visit, which are brought to life by bright graphics and a strong script. There are even moments that are presented from a first-person perspective, with detailed spritework to match. Piloting your submarine is all the more exciting with your robotic buddy by your side! Music has a playful, exotic feel to it as well, but the same few tracks are used a bit too often for our liking.


Taking influences from Zelda, the Mother series, and classic RPGs, StarTropics still stands out on its own as a totally worthwhile and unique experience by blending all those elements together. Clunky controls and repetitive dungeons do show their age slightly, but exploring the overworld is as entertaining as ever with some genuinely funny moments. It's vaguely remembered by many as "that game where you dip the letter in water", but a diverse range of environments and memorable aesthetic make this an island trip worth reliving for yourself.

From the web

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User Comments (39)



Spoony_Tech said:

I didn't even realize this was releasing. Its been so long since I've played this it would be like a while new experience for me!



ricklongo said:

This seems like a perfect Club Nintendo reward to get eventually, if those were still a thing. WIth as many games as I have on my plate right now, it becomes harder to justify purchasing it.



DarkJamD said:

How they handled that 3-digit part where you have to read password written with invincible ink to paper included in gamebox?



Tsurii said:

The review doesn't really help getting me interested in this tbh. I was hoping to get to know why so many people seem to love these games, but that didn't really come across imo. I'll most likely not get this, the gameplay sounds like it's kind of a hassle (and it definitely doesn't help that I'm not a fan of NES games and how they aged in general) and the "story" sounds about as silly as it gets, only judging from the review, and I don't really like these overly "dumb" plots in some games. It seems the game does have its moments but I don't think it's for me.
Obligatory "I'm probably just to young to really get into this"

I'm surprised about the actual score tho. I didn't expect an 8 from what the text said.



Hachiko said:

How exciting! This game was awesome. Played it recently. Might try it again with the load/restore points.



GLA said:

I bought both when they came out on the VC and have yet to dive in, but I disagree with the comment above and actually can't wait to start playing thanks to the review. I'd rather charm, oddities and humour were alluded to than spoiled, and this review gets it just right in terms of what I want to know (and not want to know too I guess).

I never had a NES (I loved my Master System), and have gotten more than carried away buying games here and there (currently playing Adventure Island in small doses in between my 'main gaming'). Those are some hard as heck games back in those days.



ryogo666 said:

This game is REALLY good! Much better than its sequel. The level design and the music are awesome. Only problem I had with the game is the difficulty level of the last chapter.
If you've never played this before I highly recommend it!



ULTRA-64 said:

Is it just me or is that image in the article with the topless man saying he's a good friend of your uncle rather seedy and scary out of context!?!



shonenjump86 said:

Didn't know this was on Wii U VC. I picked it up on the WIi VC some years ago, not a bad game.



Pod said:

This game embodies a lot of what I remember to be 80s ideas of what's cool, interesting, and aesthetically pleasing.



twistedbee said:

I loved this game when i was little. Any word on the NA release? And more importantly, is it coming out on 3ds?



mudmask said:

man, just looking at these screen shots takes me back to an old nintendo power magazine.



Ps4all said:

I will buy this on my wii u, but I would rather play it on my 3ds. The VC on 3ds has really dried up lately.



Dpishere said:

I received this game as a Club Nintendo reward and though I did not finish it I enjoyed what I played. May have to spend a buck to bring over to the Wii U since save states for a game like this sound pretty useful.



Tempestryke said:

I love StarTropics. I've spent many happy hours playing it. I've never made it past Capt. Bell's cave though. One day though. One day. I really wish Ninty would bring it back physically.



JLPick said:

This and it's sequel were one of my favorite NES games back in the days. Loved them both, and was always waiting for a third title to come into play. Hopefully, nintendo will one day do a new one.



HnD said:

So: another release for WiiU, and Jack Schnitzel for 3DS. Thanks, Big N.



River3636 said:

I'm not saying don't get, but I hated this game as a kid. It was hard and the controls did suck at times and get you injured or killed for no reason. The RPGs element adds to the game. It has a Zelda format when you get to those nasty dungeons but that's where the similarity end. This game has also aged badly, but this is an 80s game so get over it. It's a challenge and it's a frustrating one. I rate this relic a 6/10.



Luffymcduck said:

A frustrating game, still haven't beaten the last dungeon. I wish there were more overworld exploration, the dungeons got repetive and annoying fast. Clunky controls, stupid weapon system which makes your weapon weaker when you've taken enough damage... just not my game. Startropics 2 fixed some of the flawes but added new ones too.

An old Nintendo relic of which I don't want to see a revival, just make a new F-Zero game finally.



retro_player_22 said:

Wish Nintendo would remake this game for modern consoles. Man would a new Star Tropics in HD would be awesome plus let's get Mike Jones for Super Smash Bros. too.



MeloMan said:

I love this game to death. I really was hoping Nintendo would give Mike Jones some new love but it's ok. For anyone who's never played it before and you like Zelda, Adventure games, Earthbound, witty games, etc, this game is definitely for you. PLEASE do youself a favor and accidentally play it as I did myself back in 1990



Thulfram said:

This is one of my very favorites!!! The "hopping" in the dungeons made sense, in a way that very few NES games did (to me). This is more like Frogger than Zelda, or maybe a mix of Zelda and Frogger. Really good puzzles, silly story. Oh, please come to the US, please, please, please.

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