Here is my ranking of the StarTropics video games, with #1 being the best:
1) StarTropics (NES)
2) StarTropics II: Zoda’s Revenge
So, why this order?
StarTropics, the original, is my all-time favorite video game. Cry “bias” all you’d like, but you’d be missing the point of an informal list anyway.
StarTropics is certainly a sentimental choice, though, both in the sense that I got to enjoy it as an impressionable youth and in the sense that I am aware of its faults but see through them anyway.
As I discuss in detail near the end of a podcast I recently guested on, StarTropics is one of those classic titles that best exemplifies the wonder of old-school video games. The case in point is the inclusion of a “letter” in the complete box set, which you literally, physically, actually-in-the-real-world had to dip into water to obtain a certain code to continue in the game. This was a mind-blowing, unique experience, and truly set off my imagination as to what games were capable of and just how immersive they could be.
And it was just cool.
Both StarTropics games share many similar traits: These are first-party efforts from Nintendo. They are topdown adventure games, with overworld exploration interspersed with dungeon sections. There is a rich sense of heart and humor throughout, and many quirks that set the franchise apart from any other.
If you’re looking for a quest in a contemporary setting that stars a baseball-bat-swinging, yo-yo-slinging young man who also happens to be a psychic who gets involves with aliens in a plot that sees him traveling through time, why, it turns out that Earthbound is not your only option.
The sequel, Zoda’s Revenge, is more accessible. You can actually move diagonally (!), and this, along with being able to change midair direction during jumps, really does make the game a bit easier. Puzzles based on precision tile-hopping lose their luster when you no longer have the constant threat of one wrong move instantly killing you. Well, at least, not in the same rigorous sense as the original C-Island fare.
The sequel is very linear, with a much less engrossing plot, almost generic in its execution. It is still a really fun game. And being released in March of 1994 (!!), rather near to the end of the NES’s console-supported life cycle, big N sure knew how to squeeze every last drop out of the machine’s capabilities.
… or did they?
I mean, sure, the graphics are great and the animations are smooth and the blah blah blah but, y’know what? The original StarTropics has more memorable music. It has more original characters. Being a more challenging game, it just feels like a meatier, more satisfying experience overall. The ending is more rewarding. The whole trip is more worthwhile, honestly.
So it makes it difficult when someone asks which I would recommend they play first, if they have not played either. StarTropics is not for everyone. The sequel probably has more mass appeal.
But for my personal choice, I have to hand it to Mike’s first outing as would-be world-saver, island-conqueror, dolphin-rescuer and ear-fruiter.
Now I just wonder what the heck I’ll have left to say about the darn game when I review it.