Monday, January 25, 2021

Ristar (GEN) Retro Review

Fresh off the heels of this afternoon's published trailer for Wonder Boy: Ashe in Monster World, why don't we continue the SEGA Genesis themed fun with a look at another platformer from that bygone era? We're looking this evening to the sky, where somewhere Ristar awaits his chance to shine once more. Well, that day has arrived, Ristar--at least on SPC! Here's my retro review of this then-overlooked, but now-rather appreciated SEGA Genesis platformer.

 In search of an unsung, old school platforming hero? Look for the star.

During the 16-bit era, SEGA was a juggernaut in the console space, and a part of what made the console manufacturer and publisher so strong was its grand collection of characters and franchises that helped put the Genesis toe-to-toe with the Super Nintendo. However, for every Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage that turned into a lucrative series, there were multiple games that never quite enjoyed success, much more a sequel. Ristar is one of these. While SEGA's blue hedgehog still sees games to this day, the galactic hero Ristar was left in the 16-bit era, save for appearances in various Genesis greatest hits game collections and as the starter of each race in Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, of course.

Ristar arrived on the SEGA Genesis late in the console's life. In actuality, most gamers of the era were eager to move beyond the 16-bit landscape and towards the fresh tech that Nintendo and SEGA, as well as then-newcomer Sony were set to release. Thus, it's no wonder that Ristar never really got a fair shot at success as a series.

The story of Ristar has Kaiser Greedy, an intergalactic tyrant, using mind control to force each elder of the galaxy's planets to abide by his command. In the process--and if that wasn't enough--the star hero of legend, has been captured by Greedy. Young starling Ristar has an adventure ahead of him, but not just to rescue the elders, but his father--the legendary hero--as well! 

Ristar can climb...

Being a late-gen title on the SEGA Genesis, Ristar is one of the system's most impressive looking games. The pallet is rich and vibrant, overflowing with delightful colors. This is rather astonishing, considering how limited the Genesis hardware was at displaying lots of colors at once, so you can bet I appreciate the hardware voodoo that Sonic Team voo-did. Furthermore, the amount of little, noticeable details and effects in the myriad multilayered environments are truly amazing to look upon, whether they be scrolling clouds in the background or the way the water splashes and bubbles as Ristar enters and exits its surface. Ristar is just a gorgeous game, and fortunately, it plays just as well as it looks.

Whereas Sonic bounces on--in typical platforming fashion--and rolls into enemies to defeat them, Ristar utilizes his arms, able to stretch out in eight different directions a short distance, grab enemies, and then slam into them with the whole of his body to defeat them. Of course, to keep the challenge up, not all enemies easily just stand there waiting to be body-slammed into. Most scurry and scamper about, and many are only vulnerable in specific locations. Additionally, some will simply greet Ristar with a painful star-full of spikes when an errant and careless attempt at a grab occurs. Ristar can also catch and throw certain objects and projectiles as well.

Ristar can grab on to and then catapult into enemies...

Ristar's arms aren't just for offense. No, they're also used to get around the levels--rather ingeniously, if I might add. Stretching his upper extremities to pull himself past poles--from one side to the other, to hang onto monkey bars, latch onto ledges, and to swing upon special "Star Handles" to blast off and reach new heights are just some of the tricks in Ristar's repertoire. Early levels and worlds grant you leniency in missing grabs to pull yourself to safety over perilous spike-filled gaps and chasms, but later levels demand an almost perfect amount of precision as you chain grabs together to make progress. One midgame level has you in a maze of bouncing drums that propel our protagonist high into the air. Some of these drums bounce Ristar directly into a ceiling full of spikes--that is, unless you as the player successfully grab your way to safety via grabbing a pole, before meeting a painful fate.

Ristar can run...

Speaking of painful, Ristar is no certainly cakewalk. While the game can be short, it stars--excuse me--stars out breezy enough, but not too long into the game the difficulty picks up considerably. The aforementioned need to be on top of chaining grabs together is there, but so are the different enemies and bosses to learn patterns from, evading the tricks, traps and hazards that litter each level, and making your way to the goal "Star Handle" are but some of the trials needing to be overcome. Speaking of those specific handles, in each of the platforming-based levels, there is a secret "Star Handle" that leads to a bonus area. Complete the bonus area to acquire a special item. Back at release, and obviously before the Internet (but us olden gamers still had Tips & Tricks Magazine!), these special items would reveal three passwords at the end of the game, revealing everything from a level select, to a boss rush, to an even higher difficulty.

Ristar can... sit on his butt and enjoy the scenery?
(Okay, I don't blame you. The environments ARE really nice!)

Also, unlike Sonic Team's namesake, Ristar is a much slower paced adventure than what the blue blur's original offers delivered. It's a more methodical game, focusing less on skillful twitch running, jumping and speed, and more on careful precision platforming, particularly with Ristar's stretchable arms. 

There are six planets that our protagonist explores on his way to Castle Greedy, where our mind-bending boss awaits. Each planet is set with a different theme and is composed of two platforming levels and boss fight. The opening world, Planet Flora is full of lush vegetation, fauna and flora, perfect for a pleasant welcome into the mechanics of the game. Meanwhile, worlds like Planet Scorch offer less than welcoming fires, deadly walls of flames, and traps awaiting Ristar to unknowingly get caught and subsequently burned inside. Then, the music-themed Planet Sonata features birds that block Ristar's progress, but delivering metronomes to these feathered friends through carrying the time-keeping devices to them will allow them to fly away unfettered. By Planet Freon, the frozen planet, Ristar will be slipping and sliding around, needing to time his grabs or else slide into hazards that will no doubt deliver a star-ache. 

The boss fights are yet another great part to the whole that is Ristar.

What doesn't deliver a star-ache, or a headache for us humans, is Ristar as an overall game. Sonic Team may have left poor Ristar in the blue blur's dust, but there's no denying that the game successfully differentiates itself from the developer's other, more popular Genesis works. The fact that Ristar still plays as well today as it did over 25 years ago is a testament to Sonic Team for making one of the better, more innovative and creative platformers of the 16-bit era. It may be a short game, but it's also certainly a sweet one. With a wonderfully clever grab mechanic that pours over into all facets of the game from offense to traversal, Ristar remains a very worthy play that any platformer fan out there.

[SPC Says: B+]

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