As it was previously mentioned, there is a striking resemblance between StarTropics and The Legend of Zelda. The game is played from a top-down perspective with the camera placed fairly far away as you make your way from island to island via your Uncle's submarine, Sub-C. Once you hit dry land, the camera remains quite distant, but you are now traveling on foot in search of villages where you can question the locals. The overworlds look very similar to your typical NES RPGs (the mountains and trees are no bigger than you are), as do the towns. Once you make your way into one of the local settlements, you are forced to talk to just about every member of the community before you are granted access to the path you must follow in order to proceed to the next dungeon.
Once inside a dungeon, the camera is moved much closer than it was in the overworld segments, revealing Mike as a much larger sprite than he was before. Mike also gains the ability to attack inside of dungeons with the yo-yo that was given to him by the chief of Coralcola—the name of every town ends with "cola" for some odd reason. The yo-yo is upgraded twice during your quest allowing you to shoot projectiles from it at a greater distance as long as you have enough health—much like Link's ability to shoot his sword whenever his health meter is completely filled. These projectiles also do more damage than the regular yo-yo. Mike is also given a multitude of power-ups throughout the game's many dungeons including baseballs, baseball bats, shurikens, lazer guns, and more. Most of these additional weapons prove to be the most useful during the boss battles at the end of each dungeon. There are a few additional items for Mike to collect that have more particular purposes. For example, the Rod of Sight allows Mike to see ghosts where they would normally be invisible and the winged anklet allows Mike to jump one space further than normal.
StarTropics is one of the few top-down games that grants you the ability to jump and it is a very crucial element of the game's design. In some circumstances, Mike is only able to jump in place in order to avoid enemy attacks. However, on numerous occasions, Mike is presented with a series of blocks that he is able to jump on top of, allowing him to activate switches and progress through flooded regions of the dungeon. Some of these blocks will sink as soon as you touch them and others will even be submerged underwater until you take a leap of faith in their direction—if you watch your enemies closely, you'll occasionally see them land on the transparent blocks. Hopping around from block to block is a vital skill that you have to master if you want to conquer this game.
Although it is not visible, the game utilizes a grid that restricts Mike's movements to the four cardinal directions. This can be a bit frustrating at times as Mike seems to slide around on the grid causing his movements on the screen to occur slightly after you perform them on the D-pad. Luckily, there aren't too many sections that require you to make quick, precise movements, so this is only a minor concern that doesn't take too much away from your overall enjoyment of the game.
We'll start with the bad news first; the visuals. The graphics are extremely bland, especially in the overworld areas. Most of the colors are flat and there is too much repetition in the environments. It isn't until you board Zoda's spaceship in the 8th and final chapter that you are presented with an entirely unfamiliar location. On top of that, there are a number of times that Mike is meant to travel through a hole in the wall of a dungeon which can only be located by spotting a small shadow on the ground in front of it. These shadows are sometimes borderline-impossible to see and, regrettably, had me looking up youtube videos to figure out where I was supposed to go. While the graphics do exude a little bit of the charm found in games like Earthbound, it's simply not enough to offset the fairly uninspired and repetitive landscapes.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is chock-full of stand out tunes that you'll be whistling for days to come after you've defeated the evil alien Zoda. Each of the tracks fits it's environment to a tee. While traversing through the overworld, you are treated to a perky, upbeat track that will have you exploring every inch of the island before you make your way down into the dungeon. Upon entering a dungeon, the music shifts to a slightly darker tone, helping to build up the intensity leading up to your encounter with the boss. There are maybe a dozen-or-so different songs in the game and not one of them disappoints.
While there are a couple of hinderances that keep StarTropics from being a top-tier NES title, this is still a must-own for any fan of action RPGs. The slippery controls in the dungeons are a little bothersome at first, but they will be virtually unnoticeable by the end of the second chapter, allowing you to fully enjoy the majority of the game. You may need to look at a walkthrough once or twice—especially in the final three chapters—if you get stuck, but it still doesn't take anything away from the sense of accomplishment you'll feel after beating the game. It's not overly difficult, but it provides a rewarding challenge for gamers of all ages. You owe it to yourself to play through StarTropics.
Overall Score: 8.0/10 (A great addition of any NES collection and a must-own for any fan of the action-RPG genre.)
Here's some footage of the first 10 minutes of the game...enjoy!