RetroSpective – Ristar
Just as the 16-bit generation was coming to a close, SEGA and Sonic Team were preparing one last platforming adventure for the Mega Drive / Genesis, one starring a brand new character. That character was Ristar The Shooting Star, and the adventure would take players across the entire galaxy. Sadly though, many had already moved over to the next generation of consoles, meaning that Ristar’s planet hopping adventure was missed by a great deal of gamers. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that the game should be left forgotten. In fact, there’s more than one reason to return to this title and experience what it has to offer.
With the ideas for Ristar originally coming about as a part of the development process for Sonic the Hedgehog, there are many similarities between the two titles. These come not only from the feel that the game has, but also from its gameplay. This much is obvious when taking a glance at the game, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find quite a unique and rewarding platforming experience that is part Sonic the Hedgehog, part something very different.
Where Sonic’s gameplay is focused upon speed and throwing yourself head first into everything, Ristar takes an opposite approach. One that slows down the pace, and allows you to attack enemies from afar. This is done by using Ristar’s extendable arms to grab not only enemies, but just about everything you can see. This gameplay element really differentiates it from its development brother, and gives it a unique style of play.
Ristar’s ability to grab enemies and attack from afar really does alter the feel of the game, and the way you’ll approach it. Due to Ristar’s uncommon strength, developer Sonic Team did remove one of the staples of platform gaming, namely the ability to defeat enemies by jumping on them. This really takes some getting used to and forces you to slow down. As you can’t beat the game at the speed of light, it’s simply too dangerous.
Another added gameplay mechanic comes in the form of what I will refer to as ‘Shooting Star’ mode. Dotted around the various levels players will find swinging poles. Using these poles to swing in circles repeatedly will see Ristar fly though the air as a shooting star for a limited amount of time, bouncing off anything and everything. This further grants Ristar temporary invincibility, and allows players to both reach new areas, and get past difficult sections. This becomes vital later on, and brings with it even more variety to the gameplay.
Difficulty is again different, and is something that many may struggle with. It’s not that the game is difficult by design, it’s more that turning everything that you know about platformers on its head, causes you to make a lot of mistakes. These mistakes may become too much for many, and are compounded by the lacks a save feature. However, once you learn how to play Ristar, it offers a difficulty level that whilst being a challenge, is not frustratingly hard. The challenge and difficulty really feel suitable to the tone of the game.
The game also offers a variety of different routes through each level, allowing you to alter your approach to each level just as in the Sonic games. Moreover, thanks to the excellent design and appearance of not only each world, but the levels within, exploring the Valdi System a joy. The level design also sees Ristar’s arms come into play again, as grabbing and flying are critical to discovering new areas. This has the effect of putting the emphasis back onto the unique gameplay mechanics, and is something that should be commended from a design perspective.
What’s more, the variety within the levels is excellent, and really deserves praise. Featuring entire underwater sections, traversing pits of spikes by grabbing moving ledges, and even puzzle elements to name a few. In fact there is some especially good platforming action in game’s latter stages involving using Ristar’s arm grab to vertically climb a space structure.
Not only are the worlds rich with personality and life, but so are the characters, especially the planet leaders who act as the bosses. These bosses are all filled with as much personality as Ristar, especially the Space Pirate Greedy sitting on his thrown, and the ice monster Itamor. Much in the way that Mega Man’s bosses embody the feel of the world they inhabit, the same is true here.
Additionally, whilst the charming and endearing story is a simple affair, a standard for platforming titles at the time, it really does set the stage for Ristar’s planet hopping adventure, both the Japanese and Western versions of it. This adventure, and the worlds Ristar visits are extremely well presented, with major differences seen in the appearance between levels in the same world. In fact they present entirely different areas of the world you are exploring. This gives the game the feel that not only are you travelling the galaxy, but also the worlds within. There’s also a great range, from the trademark, ice, water and forest levels, to even an especially cool mechanical world that houses a mechanised Egyptian tomb.
All of this is complimented by the musical score, which once again is very reminiscent of Sonic the Hedgehog, especially the title screen which screams of the Angel Island theme. This soundtrack starts off very upbeat, but soon becomes edgy as Ristar gets closer and closer to Greedy’s throne. This all sets up a great final boss fight, one that is not only complimented by the music, but also by the design. Additionally, not only do the background tracks showcase the full range of sounds, but so do the sound effects.
All in all this is a game you should really stick with, as it definitely grows on you. Whilst possibly appearing to be frustrating and just another platformer at first, give it some time and you’ll really start to see all of its new features, and learn its unique and different style of platforming. Moreover, the design of the worlds and characters, will really draw you in. This is especially true of Ristar who is charming and endearing, and a character that really deserves another shot in the limelight from SEGA. In fact, the game is so well designed and presented, that whilst its different and unique gameplay style may not be for everyone, it really deserves for people to return to it and experience this largely missed game.