When you hear the word Nintendo, you think Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Donkey Kong. For Sega, you think Sonic the Hedgehog. Xbox, Halo. The same idea applies to gaming genres as well. When you hear the phrase First-Person Shooter, you think Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, Counter-Strike, etc. These are games many of us grew up playing or games we heard about from friends and family. But the thing is, there are FAR more games that exist in the world that match or even surpass the games we know and love. This is what I hope to talk about with these specific articles. I wish to talk about the games I grew up playing, the games not many have heard or even played. Not only that, but I also wish to talk about the games that were great in their own way, but just couldn’t quite gain the popularity and were never appreciated by the gaming community. This, my fellow readers, is the start of my life-long (or close to it) project. This is to honor the:
Ristar: The Shooting Star (Sega Genesis)
In hopes of competing with Nintendo, Sega wanted to create a new gaming mascot to join Sonic and Alex Kidd in hopes of advertising the company better. Created by the Sonic Team during their prime, Ristar was made using the Sonic 1 game engine and in some sense was VERY similar to the Sonic games from the Genesis (minus the speed). So how does something made by a very popular development team at the time fall under the veil of obscurity? The answer to that lies on the day the game was released. Ristar was first released in Japan on February 17, 1995, then the US the next day, and Europe the day after. For those who forgot about gamer’s history, this was literally two months AFTER the launch of Sony’s first gaming console, the Playstation. Now you begin to see why so many people never heard of this game. It’s such a shame too, because I too almost never heard about this game until I happened to stumble upon this game while I was growing up back in S. Korea with my cousin. To help you guys understand why I truly loved this game, I will break this game down into four sections: Story/gameplay, difficulty, music, and graphics.
(Note: Story is based off the Japanese version, but don’t worry, this is one of those games where story REALLY doesn’t matter.)
The game takes place in the Valdi System, which consists of seven planets. A pirate, known as Greedy, wants to take over all seven planets by controlling the minds of the inhabitants. During this plight, the inhabitants of Planet Neer (Flora for the US version) start praying in front of an altar in hopes of salvation. Their prayers are heard by the Star Goddess Oruto, who sends Ristar to help save the Valdi System.
While the story is simple as it can be, that’s not the only thing that makes the game good. Another key factor is the gameplay. The game is your classic, go right towards a goal, platformer game… yea, that’s it, simple as that…. What? Too vague? Fine, let me go a little more in-depth into it. Ristar only has two functions: Use the A or C button to jump, or use the B button to stretch Ristar’s arms to grab. Two things to keep in mind are that unlike characters like Sonic or Mario, Ristar has the lowest jump height compared to most game characters, but compensates by having a longer hang time. Also, his “attack” button is more like grabbing enemies and ramming into them head first. His arm stretch is also used to grab poles, objects, walls, etc. to help you traverse the world. Speaking of which, each level is broken into six worlds that have two levels, a sub-boss at the end of every first stage, and a boss stage. Along with that, there’s a seventh, final boss world. Each world has its own theme and gimmick, be it from the fire planet and the unholy amount of lava and volcanoes, or the ice planet with its slip ‘n’ slide ice paths and a snowball fight. While these things sound minute, it’s the little things like these that make the game feel fun to play every time.
The difficulty in this game is surprisingly balanced…to a certain extent. This game starts off at a slow pace, and then by the 50% mark, the difficulty starts to rapidly curve upwards. By the end, this game can get unforgiving. This is how games should be: Easy to the point that people can get the feel for it so that by the end of the game, the game can throw the player a curveball when they’ve gotten used to the game. A game that’s hard right from the get-go doesn’t make it a bad game, no. What it does instead is put the player in a position where they are uninterested in finishing the game. One good example would be Blaster Master for the NES. While I’ll admit the game was incredibly fun, that game’s difficulty made it so that I NEVER finished that bloody game (and now, I regret it). At the same time, a game that’s on the opposite end of the spectrum isn’t bad either; I mean, look at Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii: You CANNOT die in that game whatsoever, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not enjoyable. While I’ll admit the game looks fun, I honestly feel that I can get bored with it very easily and end up stopping much sooner than I would with other games (Could just be my small attention span, haha).
The graphics for the game are, for the lack of the better term, stunning. The colors are vivid, almost every enemy design is unique, and the design is very detailed from the foreground to the background. As I stated earlier, each world has its own theme and the details the game creates shows those themes VERY well. From the snow covered planet to the volcano erupting in the background of the fire planet, you can see just how much devotion these developers put into this game and showed just how capable the 16-bit graphics were even a year after the Sony Playstation was released.
First off, let me say this real quick, I judge whether a game is good on three criteria: gameplay, story, and sound. If a game is immersive and easy to control, has a solid/deep story, and has a memorable soundtrack to follow it, that’s all I need to enjoy a game. That being said, let’s talk about the game’s soundtrack. I have to say as short as this game was, EVERY song in this game is memorable and it is something you will involuntarily hum to at any given moment. Each tune fits the world so perfectly and it seems the capture the mood and the essence of the theme almost PERFECTLY (to me at least, lol). The songs in this game are upbeat to the point that you can’t help but to smile every time you play this game, and if you don’t believe me, here’s a sample of one of the game’s songs, the first stage of the fifth world, Planet Elykiki (Freon for the US):
Notice at the beginning of song it starts off with a small chime and from there works
While I’ll admit the song listed above is one that I appreciate very much, there’s another song that I absolutely love. It’s from the fourth world, Planet Neros (Sonata). I’m going to admit, I LOVE this world’s first stage music, it’s upbeat, catchy, harmonious, and I will guarantee you that this will be the one song you will remember. What’s unique about the song in this level is that right from the very beginning, all you hear is this basic simplistic, yet soothing beat. From there, you go through the level picking up metronomes for birds who then add additional rhythms on top of the song so that by the end, you get this wonderfully crafted song that you just can’t help snapping your fingers to. Now if what I just said didn’t make any sense, this is what I mean:
I hope by now, you can grasp the beauty of the music that this game has to offer because out of EVERY criteria, I believe that I may have rambled on that more that I should have, hahaha.
Alright, this has gotten longer than it should have so I’ll try to wrap this up as soon as possible. Ristar: The Shooting Star was a one of a kind game of its time that was tragically outshined by the release of Sony’s Playstation, and it’s probably because of this reason that the game slipped into obscurity. However, as time passed Sega made the decision to excavate this buried diamond and rerelease it back to the public by various anthology collections. Of course out of all of them the only one that came to the United States was the Sega Genesis Collection for the PS2. Thankfully today, there are two ways you can still play the game, from the Wii Virtual Console for 800 points and on Steam for $2.99. If you have the money to spend I HIGHLY recommend this game, it’s an all around fun platformer that anyone will enjoy.
Well, this is the first of what I hope will be many articles to come. Just know that I don’t have any sort of schedule planned out for this and so another article could come up in the same month, next month, or even half a year. Even though this took an ungodly amount of time writing it, I had a fun time talking about one of my favorite, yet obscure game and I truly hope I will get the free time to write more of these. Until then, this is 13th_Arcana and we’ll meet again on the next obscure/under-appreciated game!