Ristar
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Sonic Team
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • US 02/16/1995
    • JP 02/17/1995
    • UK 02/18/1995
Score: 85%

This review was published on 07/21/2013.

Ristar is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game developed by Sonic Team and originally released for the Sega Genesis in 1995. There's also a version of the game on the Game Gear, but I'll be focusing on the Genesis version for the purposes of this review. Ristar is another unique creation by Sega, which is interesting, because they already had the massively more successful Sonic the Hedgehog series going for them. In fact, at first glance, Ristar will look like just another Sonic the Hedgehog clone, something that was quite common during that era. Sonic the Hedgehog was hugely popular, after all. There's no reason for Sega to clone their own franchises, and they didn't. Ristar is actually very different from Sonic the Hedgehog, as it's a much slower paced game. It's also a very good game, though not exactly on the level of Sonic the Hedgehog. Unfortunately, while Ristar was very well received among reviewers back then, it was nowhere near the success of Sonic. The game now has a cult following online, and it's regarded as a classic. That's because it is.

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The game takes place in the Valdi System, a fictional planetary system that doesn't really exist. Or maybe it does exist somewhere in the vast reaches of outer space. An evil space pirate by the name of Kaiser Greedy is using the mystical powers of mind control to make the leaders of various planets in the Valdi System to obey his orders. That's a lot of power for a mere space pirate. The legendary hero was captured, too, and that only adds to the chaos. The denizens of one of the conquered planets make a desperate plea for help, in hopes that someone will be able to bust them out of this jam. Jam is only good when requested, you know. Ristar, the son of the legendary hero, hears the plea and is awakened from his starry slumber. The young shooting star then sets out on a noble quest to rescue his father and save all the planets of the Valdi System. I'm not a huge fan of mind control as a plot device, but I kind of like the world Ristar takes place in. It's got a slight sci-fi edge to it with the interplanetary travel, and many of the locations you visit are pretty cool. The premise and world of Ristar both have limitless potential, as they allow for basically any type of story or environment to be possible. Anything that promotes creativity is good in my book.

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Ristar is the main character of the game, but what is he, exactly? Well, Ristar is a star, except he won't burn your face off, and he can talk. Ristar can walk and jump around, but his defining skill is his ability to grab various things. You can make Ristar stretch his long arms in eight directions, and they will grab whatever they touch. Pretty much everything is up for grabs in this game; enemies, items, and even the walls. Grabbing different objects will result in different things happening, but generally, Ristar will smash his face into most things he grabs. That's the main method of attacking enemies. If you do the same thing to a wall, you can sort of climb up the wall by repeatedly bouncing off it and grabbing it again. I bet that hurts. Ristar can also outstretch his arms to grab things like poles and bars, allowing him to swing and climb around in a variety of ways. It's a very simple mechanic, but it has an incredible amount of depth to it. There is no shortage of things to interact with in this game. A fun thing you can do is grabbing onto a floating object, like a flying enemy, and hold onto it as it flies through the air. Touching is good. Generally the challenges in the game are more about the grabbing mechanic than actual jumping, even though Ristar is indeed a platform game. As a result of this, you usually have to think about a situation before jumping into it, figuratively speaking. Ristar is more about careful contemplation than quick reflexes, a stark contrast from Sonic. The novelty of Ristar's main grabbing mechanic never really gets old, so it's a good thing that the game is based on such a solid concept.

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There are many cool places to see in Ristar. Ristar is mostly a linear platform game, in which you go from point A to point B in order to reach the next level. While the levels are linear, they do hide plenty of secrets to find. Most of these secrets are things that help you complete the game, like extra lives and health restoring items. Each stage is set on a separate planet in the Valdi System, and they all have their own environments. You've got a green planet with forests and jungles, a blue planet with water, a fiery red planet, and even some less conventional themes, like a planet themed around music. The stages are divided into two parts, much like the Sonic the Hedgehog series. What I like is how the two parts of the same stage will typically look different thematically, and even have different music. Not even Sonic would go that far. Speaking of, the music and graphics in this game are mind blowing. The Genesis is a 16-bit system, but Ristar's graphics could easily pass for something on a 32-bit console. Anyway, what's great about the stages is that each stage usually introduces multiple cool gimmicks, meaning there is more than different graphics and music to look forward to when going to a new stage. For instance, the first part of the fire stage has these traps that are triggered if you walk onto a pressure plate of sorts, but you can outsmart the traps by placing statues on the plates. It's pretty neat. In addition to cool gimmicks, there are hidden bonus stages to find, and these require Ristar to grab onto a rod and spin around to launch into the air in an attempt to get a prize. I don't think the bonus stages offer any rewards other than points, though, so they're only there for fun. Ristar is very well designed and presents a fresh take on the platform game genre.

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Stages generally have one mid-boss and one main boss. All the bosses are fun to fight and unique in nature, though the first few bosses are a little on the simple side. Because Ristar's main ability is to grab things, pretty much every boss can be thwarted by grabbing something or other. The first main boss is a wizard with mystical powers, and in order to defeat him, you need to grab this strange thing on his back. This wizard is actually a good guy, but he's being controlled by the strange creature latching onto his back, so that's why it's your job to destroy it. Wizards tend to use powers of levitation, though, and this one is no different. In that case, you'll have to grab onto the wizard himself and pummel him with your face until the creature on his back falls off, allowing you to get a hit in on it. The second boss of the game is a hammerhead shark boss. You fight this boss in an underwater arena that has several corks plugging holes in the ground. The objective is to drain all the water by destroying the corks, but you can't attack the corks directly. In order to destroy the corks, you need to knock the shark itself into each cork, eventually draining all of the water and defeating the boss as a result. Those are only the first two bosses of the game, but there are many others, and they're all cool. Sometimes the mid-bosses aren't actually bosses, and are instead special segments that you have to get through. For instance, in the fire level, there is a mid-boss that basically amounts to a memory mini-game, in which you must memorize the order enemies appear and then beat them up in that order. This kind of stuff adds a nice bit of variety to the game, because you never know what to expect. Ristar is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get. And that's why it's awesome.

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This game showed that Sega, specifically Sonic Team, was capable of more than just Sonic the Hedgehog. It's got some of the most amazing graphics on the system, a fantastic soundtrack, and solid game play. Even though it might not beat Sonic, Ristar does have more complex game mechanics going for it. There are plenty of levels, lots of neat bosses, and the game has a charming personality. It's a shame Ristar never spawned his own series, because his game showed a lot of potential. Ristar just wasn't star material, I suppose. Either way, if you haven't already tried it, then you should give Ristar a go.

Word Count: 1,515

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