By Jonathan Higgins / November 3rd, 2012
Developer: Sonic Team
Console: Sega Genesis, Wii Virtual Console
Release Date: February 16, 1995, December 4, 2006
Rating: ESRB E 10+
We’re far enough away from the 16-bit era, in terms of time lapsed. Sega, Nintendo, and other publishers/developers are beginning to journey back to the mid-nineties (presumably in a time machine like the Epoch) in order to handpick franchises to revive in high-definition, whether that be through a remake…or a sequel after XX years that boasts a “return to form” (but ultimately winds up failing—alas, poor Rocket Knight Adventures, poor Vectorman). Among the discarded corpses of Alex Kidd, Chuck Rock and other unfortunate intellectual properties from that day, there is but one example I can think of regarding a game that truly shines across time as one of Sonic Team’s greatest.
Have you heard of him? I know one of the admins at Oprainfall didn’t get a chance to play this game until fairly recently. That got me wondering how many others have yet to give Ristar a try. If you haven’t played the game, fortunately there are a myriad of ways it can be experienced, thanks to the luxury of God-knows-how-many Sonic/Sega compilations existing, the various online services (WiiWare was one of the first to feature the game) out there, and even a few ways to play the game on PC (legally, I might add).
Ristar tells a fairly simple story. An evil force overruns a galaxy filled with all sorts of fascinating worlds and creatures. Even “the hero” cannot defeat such terrifying power. A desperate populace wishes upon a star, and their call for help is answered by the hero’s own son! …. Sounds somewhat underwhelming, even for its time, right? Like many platformers from the nineties, the story of Ristar exists to simply give this character a vague sense of purpose to explore the game’s vast galaxy. As I made my way through the game, what was happening became inconsequential, as I was smitten with the game’s lush environments.
Graphically, Ristar is superior to its contemporaries. This game is absolutely beautiful, and the visuals age exceptionally well. The artistry is truly something to write home about—each enemy is unique, and the levels they inhabit give off the impression that yes, the populace does indeed belong in each world, but each and every foe Ristar defeats is just a victim possessed by an evil force. Ah, well. If you’re going to be possessed by an evil force, at least it has the decency to keep you in the comforts of home!
There’s a few good examples of the game’s many worlds, as well as what populates them. (You can see more in the gameplay video featured at the end of this review!) Bosses are often just examples of the most threatening aspects of each world—like the water world’s boss being a hammer-head shark, for example.
The music, unfortunately, isn’t as impressive or memorable as the graphics. Don’t get me wrong, some of the themes are quite catchy, but considering the strong impressions offered by the graphics and gameplay, I honestly expected more from the soundtrack. This music isn’t nearly as timeless as other aspects of the game. While you’ll likely enjoy what you hear, there are far better things to take from the overall experience.
The gameplay is where the game shines brightest. Fans of Rayman will surely appreciate this game’s approach. Ristar uses his long arms to pull foes towards him and promptly clobber them. Those arms of his can reach high places, control various things, and even operate a device that can hurl him in whatever direction is necessary after he spins on it at ungodly speeds. This device (seen above) is found throughout the game’s stages, most notably at the end where your highest altitude nets the highest score. The game controls easily enough: move Ristar with the directional-pad, jump, and press the corresponding button plus whichever direction you wish to propel your arms, and…it shall be done. I had a little trouble operating the spinning-device while using the Wii Remote and no Classic Controller, but it wasn’t too cumbersome (and I could operate said device with ease using numerous other controller options across multiple platforms).
The game operates as any other platformer should, get hit X number of times (usually four, but there are items that can replenish your life meter [they’re stars; who could have guessed?!]), lose a life, get a game over and continue. The one major drawback of the game is that it offers no in-game save file, so once you’re all out of continues—that’s it; you have to start all over. Thankfully, the game has plenty of treasures, and finding these treasures increases your score, which increases lives and continues appropriately.
If you do get a game over and are left lamenting fro your progress, this can be remedied if you use the game’s passwords. While technically unlocked after you beat the game, various websites like GameFAQs shall offer all the cheats you could ever ask for, including one that unlocks a level select, which makes resuming the game from where you last left it…admittedly easier. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can always unlock the game’s Super Hard Mode for a truly unforgiving experience.
Ahh, Ristar. You’ve been featured in a handful of games since your debut, but… there’s no sequel or “HD revival” in sight. Could it be that some games are destined to stay in the past? This star shines brightly from an era long-forgotten that’s only dryly manufactured in Nintendo and Sega’s numerous attempts to recapture the 16bit era one revival at a time.
Forgotten IPsGame GearGenesisRistarSegaSonic Team