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Ristar – Genesis

Ristar – Genesis

RistarPlatform:  Sega Genesis

Release Date (NA):  February 16th, 1995

Developer:  Sega

Publisher:  Sega

Genre:  Platformer

Nerd Rating:  8 out of 10

Ristar is an entertaining little gem released late in the life of the Genesis, just three short months before the arrival of the Saturn.  If you’re even the least bit familiar with early Sonic the Hedgehog games, you’ll immediately be taken aback by Ristar’s strikingly similar visual style. Ristar doesn’t look kind of like Sonic, or take influence from Sonic; the stages could be taken directly from Sonic.  The difference is that minute.  It might be tempting to cry “rip off!”, especially as you make your way through the first planet and think of Sonic’s grassland-type levels, but there is actually a great explanation behind it all.

Ristar itself evolved separately from the prototype that would later become Sonic.  The Blue Blur started life as a bunny who grabbed things with his ears, but the developers also wanted to incorporate speed into the game, so the design morphed into all the loops and springs that we know so well today.  Eventually though, some of the guys came back to the “bunny who grabs stuff” concept, changed the lead to an anthropomorphic star, and Ristar was born!

Ristar

Even the menu design is fairly similar (Sonic inset).

So yeah, the environments look a lot like Sonic, but is that really such a bad thing?  Genesis-era Sonic games possess some of the best graphics and artwork present on the console, maybe even some of the best of the whole 16-bit generation.  Gameplay, however, is anything but similar. Whereas Sonic games are full of constant motion (seriously, I still remember how blown away I was with the sheer speed of Sonic 2 after a life of only Mario at the time), Ristar is a much slower paced game.  In fact, it’s probably a little slower than most platformers gamers are used to and relies much more on strategy and experimentation than straightforward action and jumping.

Ristar

Ristar

He’s a grabbin’

As mentioned, Ristar himself is an anthropomorphic star.  Well, actually, he’s a black ball with arms, legs, white gloves, and a giant star for a face, but you should get the idea from the box art.  Ristar moves through several planets.  Each planet has 2 stages and a final boss, with a sub-boss thrown in at the end of the first stage.  Instead of the usual running and jumping, our “star” sticks mostly to his grabbing move.  In addition to grabbing and swinging off objects in the environment, he also uses the move to grab an enemy and then propel himself face first into the foe, thereby dispatching the villain (or at least doing a significant bit of damage).  Ristar can carry items, open treasure chests, and do a strange clandestine sort of wall climb (not sure if this was really intended, but it does work in a janky sort of way) with his grab attack as well. Grabbing is so damn integral to Ristar’s success that the only other thing he’s able to do is jump!

Ok, so the mechanics might sound a little mundane here in black and white (or green as it were), but trust me, Ristar is well planned and well designed, and it’s a nice twist on the typical “attack” function.  In most platformers, jumping serves an equally important role to that of attacking, if not more important.  Not so in Ristar.  Ristar isn’t much of a jumper at all; he doesn’t go very high nor does he leap very far, which really forces the player to get clever with all of his grabbing and swinging acrobatics.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve near the beginning.  It’s not always obvious what is and isn’t possible with his grabbing abilities, but gradually the possibilities become clearer.

Ristar

Still grabbin’
(With some of my favorite music in the game.)

Like most platformers, the goal is to move from the beginning to the end in a mostly linear fashion while avoiding environmental pitfalls and enemies alike.  Unlike most platformers, you’re not racing the clock, which gives you plenty of time to explore the world at hand and figure out the safest way through.  I wouldn’t call Ristar a puzzler by any means, but it does include some tricky portions which must be thought out and somewhat planned for.  In one level, Ristar must transport what look to be metronomes to birds blocking certain pathways.  Since he’s got to use his arms to climb and fight, he must transport the metronomes through the level using novel environmental features.  It takes a keen eye to spot what needs to be done sometimes, ultimately making for a refreshing old school platforming experience.

Ristar

More grabbin’, near the end!

Lots of secrets are scattered throughout Ristar for the curious gamer.  Most are presented as treasure chests in exceedingly hard to reach places.  The designers have done a fantastic job keeping these areas visible while cleverly hiding any obvious routes.  But there’s a greater reward beyond a few treasures – the entrances to the “secret stages.”  Vaguely reminiscent of the special Chaos Emerald special stages from Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the player has a finite amount of time to bounce around in an especially harsh area in order to get to yet another treasure chest.  With lots of obvious pathways to explore and even more not-so-obvious spaces to actually find, Ristar should keep you coming back more than most platformers.

It’s not easy to paint a complete picture of what Ristar is about.  The approach is inventive and creative, and while it may not be what you’re used to, it’s definitely rewarding.  Boss battles are imaginative as well, requiring more thoughtful maneuvers than simply waiting for an opening.  Sub-bosses usually go down pretty easily, but the major ones can be troublesome if one isn’t paying careful attention.  For example, on Planet Freon, you’ve got to wait for a penguin pizza guy to show up periodically, grab the pizza, throw it into the monster’s mouth (which requires impeccable timing), all while avoiding a barrage of endless attacks of all different types.

The moderately atypical nature of Ristar can prove difficult at times.  There’s been some mild criticism thrown Ristar’s way for being “too easy,” but apart from the first couple of levels and the occasional moronic sub-boss, the game’s innovation keeps the player always guessing and constantly experimenting with what works and what doesn’t.  Besides each level having its own thematic aesthetic, they also include different design elements and physical features that affect gameplay.  Ristar is always swinging around poles and avoiding spikes, but some levels have bouncing drums, others contain ice that’s impossible to walk on, swimming constitutes a major part of the second planet, and so on and so forth.  The experience is always fresh and one is forced to continually adapt to all sorts of different challenges.

Ristar

We’ve already established that the graphical style is more or less “borrowed” from Sonic, and they look every bit as good as would be expected. Tons of bright colors and a great deal of variety firmly plant Ristar into the pantheon of games that remind us why the oldies are so much fun to look at.  Additionally, the music is an outright outstanding achievement in the realm of chiptunes.  I wasn’t giving it too much thought at first, but as it began to sink in, I realized that some real talent went into these simple MIDI tracks.  The entire game is filled with whimsical, light-hearted melodies punctuated by quirky synth bass lines.  Besides being merely inoffensive (as so much video game music is), the music of Ristar is catchy and deftly composed, enough so that I think it would work if translated to other instruments or arrangements.  In some areas, particularly Planet Sonata, the compositions take a playful form with strange sound effects and erratic but ingenious beats and rhythms.  Ristar’s “soundtrack” is right up there among the best chiptunes I’ve ever heard.

“On Parade”

“Ebony Force”

RistarUnfortunately, this somewhat short game is the sole legacy of our buddy Ristar aside from a few virtual releases and inclusions on various Sega compilations for newer systems.  (Well, there’s a “port” of the game also available for the Game Gear that apparently redesigns the levels and changes the gameplay mechanics…).  Ristar’s protracted existence probably boils down to nothing more than the general decline of 2D sidescrollers at the time and an awkward release date near the end of the Genesis’ commercial life.  The endearing, almost cute little star with arms and legs certainly had major “star” power and potential with his comical and instantly recognizable design.  He at least lives on in the minds of serious Genesis fans, and anyone owning Sega’s magnum opus ought to give Ristar a chance.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist


Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

Email me anytime, about anything: thecubist@nerdbacon.com

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3 Comments

  1. InfiniteKnife
    InfiniteKnife says:

    This one was definitely a sleeper. Not too much was publicized about it when it came out but it was a blast.

    I thought it was clever that when you die, the last star representing your health comes down and bonks you on the head.

     
  2. Dude this game was one of my alltime favorites as a kid! I never owned it, but my buddy got it and we used to play it quite a bit until the 5th generation really started to ramp up in 1996. I remember the incredible colors and fun music most of all.

     
    • It really is cool, and one of a small number of truly unique platformers with it’s LACK of reliance on jumping. Really forces you to get creative with the grabbing.

      I’ve read that the Game Gear version is QUITE different from the Genesis: same kinda look and feel but different level design and different gameplay mechanics…sounds like a different game altogether. But I ordered it, it’s on its way, will get reviewed!

       

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