So, let's talk again, you and I. This time we're going to talk about something I touched on last time; the "Twilight gem". (If you are reading this past February 1st, 2011, I said that when talking about Moon Crystal. See, I can account for things not being timely!) Let's take some time to talk about what those are again; a twilight gem is a really good video game released for a system that has already been obsoleted by its successor. The developers will have had years' worth of technical advances for said system to work with, and will more often than not create something that pushes the old hardware to limits that could only have been dreamt of when the system was first released. I'm talking things like the aforementioned Moon Crystal, or Kirby's Dream Land 3, or hell, Shantae for the Game Boy Color. Games that look incredible for the systems they're on, but more importantly play incredible. Let's stress something very important, though. Just because a game comes out near the end of a system's lifespan doesn't make it a twilight gem. Far from it, people. Would you call Frogger for SNES a twilight gem, just because it was released in 1998? The answer is no you would not, even if you were a big Frogger buff.
You know what else isn't very good? Disappointing sequels. More often than not, sequels will ruin everything that was good about the original and create a big void of code designed to suck up the money of people who recognize the brand. Hell, look at Actraiser 2. What a god damned shame. (More on that someday.). So what if we had a disappointing sequel masquerading as a twilight gem? We may have just that here for you today. The sequel to one of my favorite action/adventure games of all time, released for the NES in... 1994. Think about that. By 1994 the Genesis and Nintendo were full throttle in their console war, throwing Sonics and Marios at each other. Top-notch 16-bit gems were coming out on both sides. Then we get Nintendo shrinking the NES down to a very pretty toploader that nobody bought and everyone now WISHES they bought for 50 bucks in 1994. A redesigned NES meant some new games had to go out there. So, in 1994 we got the last gasp of the NES. Mega Man 6, Wario's Woods.. and Startropics 2. Where do we begin with this one?
The original Startropics was a classy Zelda clone with overworld elements created exclusively for the North American NES market in 1990. Startropics 2 is more of the same, but most of that same is handled a bit poorly. Let's start with the plot of the game.
At the end of the original Startropics, teen kid hero Mike Jones finished an adventure that involved saving dolphins, crossdressing, being eaten by a whale, sinking a antique ship, and topping it off by battling aliens and saving seven space children from time-frozen space cubes. Please note that I made absolutely none of that up and it all happens in Startropics. PLAY IT. How the hell could Startropics 2 top that level of manic ridiculousness? Oh, I'll tell you how. Time travel. Put aside any cool notions of a kid in a time machine a la Back To The Future, or Mike Jones and his scientist uncle travelling in a blue police box. The time travel MacGuffin in Startropics 2 is the "Oxford Wonder World," a magic book whose magical time travel powers are activated by... part of the lyrics to "Surfin' Bird" Oh how you wish I were joking. So now Mike is on an adventure through time and historical events.. but for what purpose? Brace yourselves for this one.. he's collecting.. magical Tetris pieces. The Virtual Console re-release might call them "Blocks", but they are god damned magical Tetris pieces and the original game even calls them Tetrads. Was this a clever dig at Tengen's expense after that series of legal battles in the early 90's, or just Nintendo thinking they were being hip? Either way, it is a little strange.. but forgivable. I mean, R.O.B was in the original as your submarine's navigational computer.
The thing that really makes me groan and roll my eyes, however, is the overworld sections. You're wandering around various time periods, talking to people to advance the plot and learn where to go. Sounds simple enough, right? The issue I have is with the dialogue. All of it is corny. Really corny and ridiculously anachronistic. The most obvious case is in the third chapter, ancient Egypt. Mike Jones goes to see Cleopatra, and she gives him a fetch quest. Go through a monster-infested cave to get an item. You'd think it would be like, treasure or some other valuable thing, right? No. Oh how I wish it were so. No, instead you are sent to get... Queen Cleopatra's late pizza delivery order. From CAESAR'S HUT, no less. It makes no sense, it isn't funny, and it's just there to make six year-olds giggle or something stupid like that. Later escapades involve Mike meeting up with Sherlock Holmes (not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but time travelling to meet SHERLOCK HOLMES), Leonardo Da Vinci, and King Arthur, among other silly caricatures across time. All of them are handled with about as much historical accuracy as you can expect from a game that just made you deliver pizza to Cleopatra in order to get a magical Tetris piece.
But hey, plot isn't all of it, how does she play? Strap in, because Startropics 2 actually does revamp the dungeon crawling sequences of the original. Does it do it for the better? ....ehhhhhh.
The major change is the way the game controls. The original Startropics played like it was on a grid, and you could only move in four directions and there was a little tiny delay for turning around. It was something to get used to, but once you did the game controlled like a dream. The grid is gone in Startropics 2, and you can move freely. Not only that, but you can move in eight directions now! AND control the trajectory of your jumps! Even more is that dungeons have "layers" now, with raised pillars and stuff that you can climb up onto with good jumping skills. It is pretty nifty, but they made it just a little TOO free. In the later areas, when crazy platforming is essential, you may find yourself misjudging jumps and screwing up.
As for the actual gameplay itself, well. This one has no invincibility time, or barely any at all. Not only that, but getting hit makes you flinch for half a second. This can easily mean you getting trapped on an enemy, tanking hits while you can't move. It can happen, and it's a gigantic pain in the ass. That, plus the weird jumping sometimes, plus certain platforms you can literally just WALK OFF into death water, makes for a sometimes frustrating experience.
Music is another thing that is.. well, it's improved but it's not. You now have more than one track for dungeons, but only one or two of them are really memorable. The music just isn't all that great, and there are far more mediocre tracks than stand out ones.
Is Startropics 2 a bad game? I don't really think so. It's a strange case, because it is at least attempting to improve on the sequel, but nearly every change they've made has come with an unfortunate side-effect that leads to frustration. Then you have that goofy as all hell plot which makes me cringe every time at how silly and dumb it is. Nevertheless, when it's good it's good, and in my book I give it a hesitant pass. It doesn't really live up to the original, though, and it's a shame that a series with good potential didn't get moved over to the SNES or something. It's not really a twilight gem, but it is somewhat of a disappointing sequel. What a shame, Mike Jones.