For a severely ailing console, getting ANY new game released on it is considered a godsend. Such was the case for the NES back in 1994. Easily overshadowed by its big brother, the SNES, and Sega's rivaling Genesis, the NES was, at the time, reaching the end of its commercial life cycle. Luckily, the folks at Nintendo still had faith in the ol' gray box and released a few more games as a means of life support. One of those was Zoda's Revenge, the sequel to StarTropics, a game released nearly four years prior.
Both StarTropics and its sequel were developed in-house by Nintendo in Japan, but the company had no intention of ever releasing these games in their home country. Designed solely for the overseas market (usually by injecting more "American" references and slang into conversations), the StarTropics series focuses on Mike Jones, a teenager from Seattle whose archaeologist uncle spends all of his free time researching and deciphering codes from other (or, sometimes, otherWORLDLY) cultures. One way or another, Mike always gets himself caught up in excessive cave exploration and whatnot in an effort to fend off the onslaught of the evil alien leader, Zoda.
Without majorly delving into the backstory of the first game any further, we start Zoda's Revenge just a few months after the events of the first StarTropics game. We follow Mike back to Seattle where he is contacted by Mica, Princess of Argonia, advising him of a way to decipher a mysterious code Dr. Jones had found in the previous game (not that Dr. Jones knows that he is in a game... or does he?). However, something goes haywire and, using the trusty Oxford Wonder World tome, Mike inadvertently shouts an incantation and is sent to another time period. He must then travel though a series of coincidentally relevant time periods in order to find his way home, though in the process, he discovers that Zoda has been causing major trouble throughout history!
Over the course of nine chapters, Mike's adventures pretty much follow a definite pattern, with few exceptions. Generally, Mike first arrives in a new time period and meets up with a notable person from that era. For example, when he is transported to Ancient Egypt, he has a meeting with Cleopatra, who is both a "knockout" (as indicated by one of her groupies) and an avid pizza enthusiast. In Italy, he rescues Leonardo da Vinci from being trapped within a giant sculpture. And in more chivalrous times, he meets both King Arthur and Sir Lancelot, the latter of which seems to have a full schedule those days. The game doesn't take these eras very seriously, inserting humorous dialogue whenever possible. Of course, if a stranger in a denim jacket simply popped up throughout history, could anyone take that seriously? The best instance of the game's weird humour occurs in the Old West when Mike is searching for gold nuggets but doesn't find exactly what he seeks:
I don't care how expensive the game may be in your township. That line alone is worth the potentially steep price. But wait! There's more than just silly speak! After spending some time wandering around and listening to silly banter from townsfolk or other loyal subjects, Mike must delve into the underground and seek out any troubles to be found below. Initially, Mike acts as a hero, trying to defend Neanderthals from having the nasty creature, Yum-Yum, consume their children. But later on, his quest through the labyrinthine caverns in each era takes on a greater meaning: he must collect the seven powerful Tetrads scattered throughout time before Zoda can get his wart-laden claws upon them. What are the Tetrads used for? That can only be determined in the game's ending, which I will not spoil here!
When Mike goes into a dungeon, he is automatically equipped with the latest offensive tools; the game makes sure of it. Mike's typical arsenal would consist of a primary weapon, be it an axe, dagger, or katana, as well as the ability to hone his mental powers for the purposes of the Psychic Shock Wave, an upgradable projectile weapon made possible courtesy of the mind. How much health Mike has at any given moment will determine its strength, depending on how many upgrades you have attained. (Again, these upgrades are automatically given to Mike as he progresses through the story.) Additional weapons may be picked up over time, but they cannot be carried over to future dungeons and are usually projectiles in limited quantities. Make use of them Mike may also pick up additional sub-items, such as potions (which he will DEFINITELY need) and other items relevant to that dungeon. These, too, cannot be transferred beyond the current dungeon, which is a shame, because I could sure use those extra unused potions in the future!
But then we move on to the controls, and this is where the game falters somewhat. During dungeon quests, Mike feels like he's made of cardboard. His movements are often very stiff, and he suffers from a seemingly delayed reaction after button presses. Slight though it may be, this can easily affect the outcome of a frantic situation. When surrounded by enemies, I would hope that lightning-quick reflexes and game response time would help me survive. But when the response is delayed, you almost have to know what you're going to do BEFORE you need to do it! I can't have THAT task laid upon my lap. I suppose this is where the game's difficulty actually comes from, because overall, although there are difficult points closer to the end of the game, Zoda's Revenge is actually not that rough, if you exclude deaths due to poor response time. It remains, however, an improvement over the dungeon controls of the original StarTropics. You can now move in 8 different directions, as opposed to playing the entire game feeling like a rook in a chess match. Likewise, you can also shoot in those 8 directions, making battles slightly easier to strategize. As well, tiled floors can be simply walked across; the original StarTropics required you to jump across each individual tile, making for longer treks than necessary.
Mike Jones: Defender of Justice and Devourer of Rare Roast.
Sadly, the graphics have not improved significantly since the first StarTropics game. The overworld areas still suffer from tepid blandness with very little detail. The underground sections also look similar, though less grainy. Enemies have some greater detail, so we can be thankful for that. Mike retains his old lanky sprite, complete with corny denim jacket and black pants (and let's not forget his unique hairdo with the cowlick). The best parts are indeed the large-scale portraits of the notable characters you meet, such as Cleopatra, Sherlock Holmes, and Leonardo Da Vinci. Meanwhile, the music is definitely catchy and memorable; in fact, it's one of the easiest things to remember about the game.
I definitely enjoyed Zoda's Revenge over the first StarTropics. It has more humour, more freedom in movement, and is most assuredly the easier of the two. Though it is far from a perfect game, it has just enough oomph in it to be a solid game. Unfortunately, many NES owners had moved on to more powerful consoles and did not get the chance to experience this entry in the NES library. However, it IS available for the Wii's Virtual Console, essentially giving it a second life. It's worth checking out and, at only 500 Wii Points, is a bonafide steal.
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Wait for it...
Are you waiting for it?
WAIIIIT FOR IIIIIT...
If you're not waiting for it, you stink!
Almost there... ahhhh...
...Oh, what the heck. Let's do the CACTUS DANCE!!!