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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 16, 1995 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Hey, heyyyy, I wanna be a Ristar...

To put it bluntly, Ristar is not the kind of game that wants us to like it. Ohhh, there may have been good intentions at first, but by the end, all I could think was, "You never really wanted me to finish you, didja?" And Ristar just smiled that innocent starry smile, that cosmic smirk that fooled many a young person in 1995 into thinking there would be a wondrous journey ahead. Yes, there was a journey ahead, but it was not so much wondrous as it was bewildering.

At first glance, Ristar appears very much like a Sonic the Hedgehog rip-off. This isn't too surprising: it was actually conceived by some of the same team as the Sonic games. You play as Ristar, who is a... alright, first thing's first: what IS Ristar exactly? He's a black orb creature with wiggly arms and legs that wears white gloves and seems to have a starfish glued to his face. If that's what Sega believed would be the next smash hit in video gaming, they must have been dipping into the vino a little too early in the morning. So now we have two mascots with the same hairstyle, just a different colour... and species...

Where Ristar and Sonic differ is in how the game is played. Sonic's angle was about speed, about "blast processing" that sent you at a hundred miles per hour through loop-de-loops while likely burning holes in his shoes. Ristar's not quite like that. The focus here is more tactical, as in finding the best way to get through a level without taking much damage while finding all the nifty treasures hidden throughout. (There isn't even a timer, so there's no pressure to finish a stage as quickly as possible.)

Ristar's key gimmick is that he can stretch his arms out in eight different directions. This ability serves multiple purposes. He can use his arms to grab enemies and boot them off screen, for one thing, and his arms also help grab onto things such as hooks or walls. On occasion, Ristar even picks up objects for carrying. Making the best use of your elasticity is the clear path to success. It's novel but not perfect. One notable issue comes with Ristar and the poles. There's at least one in every level, and by grabbing it, you can spin around and, upon button release, fly off with a burst of speed. Only problem is, you're spinning so quickly, it's a crap shoot as to which direction you'll actually go.

The game has a point system, too... if that's still interesting...

There are six planets to visit, each with its own theme. Planet Flora, for example, is a lush area filled with forests and flourishing tree life. Planet Undertow, on the other hand, will take Ristar underwater, with much better swimming abilities than most of his contemporaries, including Mario, Sonic, and... well, pretty much anyone who swam in any video game ever. Each planet boasts two stages and a boss battle. Once that is taken care of, it's off to Castle Greedy where Ristar will face off against Kaiser Greedy, the being responsible for all of Ristar's troubles and for the negative effects happening on all the planets of the galaxy.

Now this all sounds well and good, but some of the level design borders on sadism. Take for example the second level on Planet Sonata, entitled "Dance Dance!" Playing through this did NOT make me want to shuffle at all; I'd rather have torn my hair out and knitted a rug. Right from the get-go, you know something is up: you have to hop on a zipline to travel to the next part of the level. No big deal, until you get to the other end and immediately land on spikes with zero time to react. How was I supposed to know I needed to hop off EARLIER? Taking away 1/4 of my life bar right away is not how I like to start a level. The rest of the stage's spike and enemy placement ignited my ire fire as well. In a strange twist, it's funny how the underwater levels are actually some of the most enjoyable. That NEVER happens! They must have done something right.

Ristar... RIIIII-star the Hedgeho—oh, dang, I keep getting those two mixed up.

All in all, the game IS rather balanced in terms of difficulty, in that beyond the first couple of worlds, it gets a bit more tough as nails, requiring top-notch reflexes and dexterity. Bosses offer as much frustration as the platforming elements, so it's never a good idea to let your guard down. Ristar's completion truly is a testament of skill, especially when you reach Kaiser Greedy at the end (now there's a battle that could take days to finally win).

Ristar showcases some of the Genesis' most colourful graphics. It easily could be proclaimed to be one of the best-looking games on the system, with every planet bursting with its own unique aura of vibrancy. I don't think a colour in the console's palette was left behind! The detail paid to every environment is impressive, and this definitely pushes Ristar forward as a major player in the Genesis library. Sometimes it's beautiful, other times it's both charming and goofy — note the conductor bird mini-boss, complete with sunglasses and a baton, as he conducts his orchestra of three giant robot birds that try to peck you... with sunglasses in check! Character design is a whole new ball game, though. Bosses are large and ornate, ranging from a floating wizard to an icy melting monster (defeated with hot dishes), and even a singing bird whose off-key notes sour a crowd (who toss vegetables in protest, though that does you more harm than good). Basic enemies are lacking, though. I think many of them were stolen straight from the Puyo Puyo series — you know, the Puyos! Those blobs with the googly eyes that we used to stack and make disappear!

The audio is bizarre in Ristar. The first planet alone has a soundtrack that sounds as though the game is suffering from a constant spasm of earthquake proportions. It's as if there's some sort of static happening behind it, and I can't figure it out. Other songs don't have as much of this problem, but you can tell the sound engineers were really trying to push the Genesis' sound hardware to the limits. On another not, Sega clearly hadn't realized by this point that no matter how they try to pass them off, digitized voices sound like gravel-laden farts on their console. Unless all the speaking characters (usually just Ristar) have emphysema, they should have left out voice acting altogether. Luckily, it's just Ristar saying "Hi". Or at least, I THINK that's what he's saying. It's hard to tell when it sounds so gritty.

Ristar was largely forgotten, buried beneath the oncoming excitement brought forth by the upcoming release of the new Sega console, the Sega Saturn, just a few months later (alongside news of new consoles by Sony and Nintendo), along with the natural sluggish uphill momentum of the Genesis in its golden years. Yet Ristar is a decent game all told and should not be ignored by Genesis and platformer enthusiasts alike. Be prepared, however, for some significant challenges ahead, as Ristar takes a little bit of pleasure in seeing you suffer. Just look at that smirk...

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