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Monday, June 22, 2009

Review: The Legendary Starfy

Developer: TOSE
Publisher: Nintendo

Nintendo has more characters and mascots than you can shake an Ice Climber at.  There's Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Bowser, Captain Falcon, Pikachu, Olimar, and so on.  One of the mascots that's never seen a release in the States is Starfy, who launched during the Game Boy Advance era in Japan.  Nintendo's always felt that his games would be "too Japanese" to make it here.
Apparently, Nintendo has made an about-face and decided that they like money, lots of heaping gobs of money, preferably enough to gold-plate every item in their house including their wife, kids, and basset hound named Duke.  To that end, they've launched The Legendary Starfy in the US, hoping that he'll gain a foothold and they'll have another lucrative franchise to milk run into the ground diddle make games for.  So, is The Legendary Starfy truly legendary?  Does it have a shot to make it?

Starfy plays like most every side-scrolling platforming game you've played, with a twist. Starfy spends a large portion of its time underwater.  Normally, I hate underwater games, since your control is greatly limited and in some cases you have to worry about drowning. Here, however, the words of a wise crustacean ring true:

Darling it's better
Down where it's wetter
Take it from meeeee


Indeed it is, Sebastian.  Truer words were never spoken.  That's not to say that Starfy's a slouch above ground, but his move set is a touch more limited in the open air. His signature move, a spin move that you use with Y, is much more potent in water on land. He handles quicker underwater, too.

The Legendary Starfy looks great as well. The characters are drawn in very well-animated 2D, with the backgrounds in 3D. It's a shame that the 3D didn't get used more, as it looks really nice when they let it out to play a bit. Still, for a 2D game, Starfy animates excellently, and you barely notice that it's in 2D.

However, there are a couple of problems in The Legendary Starfy. First, Starfy was obviously made for kids. That's not bad in and of itself, but Starfy is so ridiculously easy that it's not even funny. The whole game I was trying to figure out whether I was too good for the game or it was really that easy. I think it's a combination of both, but if you're a seasoned gamer you might be put off by the excessive simplicity.

That simplicity also stretches through to the levels. In most games, the developer will try and put their best foot forward, right? You try and put your best levels in the beginning of the game, your most memorable encounters and most fun stuff. Well, TOSE didn't do that with The Legendary Starfy.  They put the best levels toward the very end of the game.  I was practically ready to slam my DS Lite through my skull in order just to feel something for this game until I got to those final, more interesting levels. Maybe Stockholm Syndrome kicked in, but that's when Starfy started clicking for me. They shouldn't have held their best stuff for last, but at least they had good stuff in there.

I also see why they thought it would be too Japanese to make it over here. Every couple of steps you're interrupted by more story and exposition. Look, TOSE, I'm going to give you a little bit of advice.  You're making a game about a starfish helping a space bunny. You really don't need that much story.  I skipped a large chunk and was still able to piece together what was going on. There was one funny moment where someone hides in Moe the Clam's shell and complains of the smell, but beyond that, it was mostly just annoying. A platformer doesn't need that much story. You just need to point in a vague direction and tell us how to kill whatever is in our way.

You're also able to collect treasures and pearls, which can be used to buy outfits for Starfy. This would be fantastic, except you can't use those outfits in-game. The only place you see those outfits is when you're in the pause menu, and then there's a 3D avatar of Starfy walking around on the upper screen with your chosen outfit. How does that make any sense? Why would you give us the opportunity to give Starfy an outfit and then not let him wear it in the game?

All that being said, The Legendary Starfy is a solid game, if uninspiring. It does everything a platformer should do. All the old standbys are there, like an ice world, a fire world, a jungle world, a sunken ship, and so on. The controls feel great. There's a lot to see and do. It's not a bad game, just a little dull, especially at first. It's also, once again, far too easy for core gamers. I would still recommend it for a minor diversion, and it also would work as an excellent introduction to platforming for someone who'd like to get a better understanding of the genre. So while Starfy may not be legendary, it might be worth a look if you need something to play and you can find it cheap.