Retro or Reboot?: StarTropics

I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed doing the first Retro or Reboot article and really wanted to do another one as soon as possible. So what if I decided to cheat my own rule about leaving an entire month between articles in a particular series, technically I’ve written 2 more articles since the last one. That has to count for something, right? The only real issue was trying to think up a new topic that could get me just as excited as the last one.

Before we get started, let’s recap the purpose of these articles. I’ll be taking a look at various series (with at least two games) that have fallen on hard times, ones that haven’t received a new game since the PS2 era (I think IPs that originated after that still have a pretty decent chance for revival). Usually, I’ll favor franchises that saw all of their major iterations in the span of a single generation and older generations tend to be favored, just to make for a more radical difference between the two proposals for a new entry in the series: a retro-themed revival that effectively takes the original gameplay and updates it to fit modern game design sensibilities and a full-on reboot, which merely takes the setting of the old franchise and implements it onto an entirely new playstyle. Sort of like a clash between budgets, small versus big. Of course, to make this more of a positive experience, I’ll be optimistic with my proposals.

This article’s topic is StarTropics: a lesser-known Nintendo franchise, but one I’ve been begging to get resurrected for almost two generations now. Effectively the Ristar to Zelda’s Sonic, StarTropics was an adventure game that took the base mechanics of the original Legend of Zelda and took them in a slightly different direction, focusing more on rudimentary puzzle solving and taking a more linear route over Zelda’s open-world exploration. Players took control of Mike Jones, a teenager searching for his lost archeologist uncle, last seen studying the mysteries of C-Island. Armed with only a yo-yo at first, Mike sets off to find his uncle and to solve the mystery of the island. The game’s cult status can likely be attributed to two main factors: the original was only released in North America and Europe and the second game, Zoda’s Revenge, was released exclusively in North America on the NES in 1994, well-after the release of the Super Nintendo. There were rumors back in 2008 of Camelot working on a new iteration of the series on the Nintendo Wii, but nothing really came of it. Likewise, there was a similar rumor stating that Retro Studios was working on a new StarTropics game for Wii U, with similar results. As of right now, the original NES games can be bought on the Wii Virtual Console in North America and the Wii U’s Virtual Console in Europe.

Retro

What we’re looking at here is basically “Super StarTropics”: a game that does for StarTropics what A Link to the Past did for the original Legend of Zelda. Though at this point, it’s also the kind of thing Link’s Awakening, the Oracles games and A Link Between Worlds did for the original Zelda as well. Like with Streets of Rage 4 before it, Super StarTropics probably wouldn’t be the final name for a new game in the franchise, it just perfectly represents how this game should be developed.

Considering the fact that Nintendo R&D3, the developers of the first two games, has been disbanded and the fact that it was mostly popular in the West, I’ve got a specific developer in mind that I think would be perfect for it. You’re probably thinking Retro Studios, but you would be wrong. After all, I can still remember the backlash from when Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze was announced and how it kept Retro from developing Metroid Prime 4 their own original IPs. Besides, this is intended to be a smaller project in terms of scale. Frankly, I’d feel more comfortable with “Super StarTropics” being handled by Next Level Games. They did an amazing job on Punch-Out!! for the Wii and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and they have a close enough relationship with Nintendo that I’d consider them a “second-party” developer for the Big N.

I see this game being sort of a hybrid of A Link Between Worlds (due to the added emphasis on puzzle solving compared to ALttP) and the original StarTropics. The puzzles in the dungeons themselves would be more intricate than just the hidden switches in the original Startropics games (though it wouldn’t be StarTropics without them) and the puzzles on the overworld needed to progress through the game would also likely be made more complicated than those from the NES era. Aside from that, I’d also keep a more linear progression compared to the Zelda games, to better differentiate the two series. Keep the limited ammo on the sub-weapons, the awesome bosses and the control style from the original StarTropics. Mike Jones better be able to jump in any new StarTropics. Ditch the lives system from the old games though, maybe incorporate an item similar to Zelda’s fairy to replace it instead.

Now onto the boring part: graphical style. As usually, I’m pretty neutral on the whole thing. High-definition hand-drawn 2D graphics, 3D models incorporated into a 2.5D style (ala ALBW) or even retro-styled pixel sprites, it doesn’t matter to me. As long as it’s pleasing to the eye, I’m good.

Usually I wouldn’t really have anything else to say here, but I do have some other thoughts on the retro revamp this time around. Specifically, which platform I’d prefer it to be on. Oddly enough, I think this type of game would work better on 3DS (or whatever future handhelds Nintendo comes out with) than on a home console like the Wii U. Maybe it just has to do with the fact that it would be a smaller game and I couldn’t really see something like this being a big hit on a console, especially if it’s a download-only game. A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, performed fairly well and it was a handheld Zelda that managed to get major acclaim.

Reboot

I guess the best way to describe this one is “StarTropics: Ocarina of Time”. Again, as with “Super StarTropics”, this isn’t by any means a final title, just a summary of how this would play out. In fact, considering how poorly the story of Zoda’s Revenge was received, maybe we should just stay away from time travel entirely. Basically, what I’m proposing here is a game that brings StarTropics out of the early ‘90s and into the modern day, doing for the franchise exactly what Ocarina of Time did…back in 1998.

Earlier I said that I wouldn’t feel comfortable if Retro Studios developed a retro-themed throwback to the StarTropics games of yore, but if we’re talking a modernized big-budget release, I feel like they would be a perfect fit. People have been clamoring for a Retro-developed Zelda game, but Shigeru Miyamoto himself has gone on record stating that even if they are qualified to make a new game, the code base for Zelda resides in Japan while Retro is an American company. Nintendo has a tendency to be very watchful with their more important ideas, so the differences in both time zone and distance would make this project troublesome. On the other hand, StarTropics holds strikingly little importance among Nintendo’s intellectual properties, so Retro would likely require far less oversight on a project like that. Better still, since StarTropics has lied dormant since the NES era, Retro would likely be more able to put their own spin on things without Nintendo fearing fan backlash if they deviate too far from the original formula.

The gameplay style for this game is somewhat obvious: start with the basic action-adventure mold made popular by such games as Okami, Darksiders and every mainline console Zelda since Ocarina of Time. Then throw in some characteristics from StarTropics: mild platforming, puzzle solving and a greater emphasis on the overworld. Keep the basic characters, settings, items and storyline from the first game. Try to ignore the second game’s storyline, or if you have to, make fun of its silly time-travel plot (Bad dream? Fanfic?) Considering the biggest audience for this one is likely to be Westerners, so the gameplay should favor that audience overall. On that note, I’d keep things fairly light and comical in tone, we don’t need any more poorly thought-out gritty reboots.

Unlike the retro revamp, 3D is really the only viable choice for graphics in a big-budget title like this. So, instead, I’ll be talking about the game’s aesthetic. What I say here would also apply to the lower-budget revamp as well. I would like the artstyle of this new game to somewhat resemble the cutscene graphics from the old NES games, especially the old one. I wouldn’t mind seeing character designs take on a similar look to Punch-Out!! on the Wii: something cartoony, but strictly Western. Try to avoid anime aesthetic as much as possible.

There is one last thing I’d like to touch on, something that applies to both proposals. It would be really cool if any new StarTropics game utilized Nintendo’s vast array of sensors for various puzzles. See, back in the day, the original StarTropics came with a letter that revealed a secret message when submerged in water. Imagine decoding messages like that using the Wii U or 3DS’s touch screen. Imagine blowing the dust off of an ancient artifact using the built-in microphones. Imagine using the gyroscope or even the NFC to complete various puzzles in-game. I don’t know about those of you reading, but I think something like that, some interactivity more physical than just hitting buttons would be really cool.

Thus ends another entry in the Retro or Reboot series. What did you think of my ideas this time around? Would you like to see “Super StarTropics” or would you rather see Retro bring the series into the 21st century? Do you disagree with both of my ideas or even feel like StarTropics is not worth resurrecting? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments section.

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One thought on “Retro or Reboot?: StarTropics

  1. To preface, I played these games as a kid growing up, and they remain my favorite two “retro” games (despite Zelda being my overall favorite franchise), so this topic is very near and dear to my heart.

    As awesome and nostalgic as a “Super StarTropics” retro-remake would be, I don’t feel that it would do the original games enough justice. I would want the new iteration to breath completely new life into the series, so that it might stick around for a while (a la Kid Icarus after Pit was brought to Smash). Because of this, I would MUCH prefer a reboot. Story-wise, I think the first game was very strong, so sticking close to the original game would be perfect.

    I want to move on to gameplay though. I liked many of your ideas (better puzzles, and I LOVE the idea of throwing back to the “dip your manual in water” mechanic by adding in good sensor integration). But I think what is really important to consider is dungeon combat. The reboot would need to differentiate itself from Zelda, like you said, and I think a good way of doing this is to keep combat in the dungeons, and story-telling/investigation in the overworld, as in the original games. However, the combat is extremely important…

    The original game could viably be beaten by button-mashing your main all the way through. Hell, many of the original players probably did just that (I know I did). You never really NEEDED any auxiliary weapons to win (this doesn’t count healing items, the snowman, etc.). Many players actually probably found them less powerful than the primary weapons and only had them as low-health backups. However if you really dig into the game, there was much more potential for combat depth. First of all, you could actually lock enemies and rack up hits way faster than normal not by button mashing like a maniac, but by properly timing your attacks in a technique known as input buffering. This is a game-changer for anyone hoping to speedrun the games. Second, some of the secondary weapons actually could be very useful in some situation as well (added range in the early game, and the strongest weapon was actually one of the ray guns, not the Supernova primary). Thirdly, and most well known probably, is the “sliding” movement, where you could turn to the side after moving in a direction to prepare for your next move, or have a pseudo-strafe against enemies.

    Considering the abundance of opportunities to reward players who truly understood the game, the action MUST have good depth, and reward players who don’t button-mash, and rather learn to time and use their attacks properly. This game could be really cool with a combo-based combat system, but preferably not one with all these branching combos you never use, but a deep tree with few branches that rewards players for timing and utilizing combos well (Mike isn’t exactly a combat-expert after all, he should be a resourceful/athletic character that makes the best of any situation he is in). You mentioned keeping around secondary items with fixed ammo, which is great. Hell, I think all of the items from the original deserve to return since their weren’t THAT many, plus maybe some new ones (snowman DEFINITELY needs to come back). But a reboot would need to be careful about rewarding thought, timing, and reflexes. NOT button mashing (please no OP counters like Assassin’s Creed either; limited dodge capabilities would be great though). Rewarding intelligent utilization of space (luring enemies into ideal locations, finding space to plan your attacks, etc.) would also be great. All-in-all, I think the main theme here is to reward a player’s reflexes and intuition, and keeping the action a bit more fast-paced than Zelda.

    For everything else, I think you hit the nail on the head pretty well. Better overworld puzzles, true platforming, and a Western style would all fit a reboot very well.

    That’s my thoughts! If you can’t tell, they’ve been stuck in my head for a while, and this is the first time I’ve every tried, or had a good opportunity to, articulate them to others, haha.

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