Game Of The Month: February 2016
Ristar - Sega Megadrive / Genesis
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes it's possible to re-invent the wheel. Obviously not being a website about circular objects designed to revolutionise an entire species development what we are talking about in this respect is how to take something already perfect and simply do it all over again... Then add even more awesome!
It’s often said that the reason Sonic and Mario remain so utterly endearing to gamers is because they managed to get everything exactly right first time out then build a franchise around that original idea that endured. Thing is they shouldn’t have been alone in that, I’m sure many others have numerous examples of mascot characters who should also be up on that winners podium however very few of them contain both a superbly thought out and executed lead character that perfectly suited everything in a videogame that essentially moved the already high platform bar a few notches higher. Put as simple as I can make it, Ristar is perfect!
Originally a concept idea that would one day go on to actually become Sonic the Hedgehog, Ristar was originally supposed to be a Rabbit with large ears that would interact with objects and other enemies in the game world. As the various thoughts built and speed was chosen as a main concept idea alongside the ability to curl into a ball to protect itself, the Rabbit was moved to one side and replaced by a hedgehog with special shoes! From that moment on this other character remained in the shadows until Sonic Team returned to the drawing board and instead of a bunny it was decided that this new character should be something everyone could identify with that would only ever trigger positive emotions upon seeing, a Shooting Star was born!
Released in February 1995 in all territories Ristar - The Shooting Star as it’s known in Japan and just Ristar everywhere else, yet another absolute masterpiece from Sonic Team and Sega was unleashed onto the public. Of course just like previous games from the same developer there would be different versions of the games actual story, Japan got theirs and everyone else got another… We miss those days, we really do! Both versions take place in the Valdi System, where an evil space pirate, Kaiser Greedy, has used mind control to make the planets' leaders obey him.
In the Japanese version, the inhabitants of Planet Neer pray for a hero before Greedy's mind control minion, Rhio, snatches the planet elder. The desperate prayers reach the nebula of the Star Goddess, Oruto. She awakens one of her children, Ristar, with the sole purpose of granting the wishes of the innocent people. He must stop Greedy and the brainwashed leaders of each world in the galaxy to restore peace to the galaxy. In the English version, Oruto is omitted altogether. Instead, Ristar has a father figure, the Legendary Hero, who is a shooting star that protects the Valdi System. Rather than Oruto awakening Ristar, the Legendary Hero was kidnapped by Greedy, and it is up to Ristar to rescue his father as well. Both endings are also different but to write about that would spoil things so go play it yourself and find out, or watch a video, that’s how the modern generation do things now right?
Gameplay is made up of mostly the standard things you would see in a plat former with running, jumping, flying, swimming etc however thanks to the utter genius of the characters design it’s how you make your way through the levels which makes this title just stunningly brilliant. Ristar is no ordinary shooting star, he has limbs! Now these are not just normal limbs because his arms are able to stretch out in 8 different directions allowing you to make your way through levels in a seriously unique and cool way. Instead of going into a lift, you simply enter a basket and use the rope to pull yourself upwards, it sounds boring but believe us when we say it’s breathtaking the first time you experience it, even more so if you were there in 1995 seeing it in it’s true glory. Taking inspiration from characters such as Kirby and Klonoa you also pull your enemies to you in order to dispatch them, once again using those extending arms. Upon grabbing a foe you bring them in fast and essentially headbutt them.
Enemies are many and superbly varied with some gloriously detailed and brilliantly animated bosses to fight and all of this takes place in levels that make World Of Illusion look like a pencil sketch by a 4 year old. The colours in each area are astounding and everything looks like a cartoon. Graphically you will have to go a long way to find a game better looking than this on the system. The music is also top notch with your Sega Genesis / Megadrive caressing your ears like a lover. With 6 areas or worlds, each with two sub levels including a mini boss at the end of the first and a proper boss after completion of the second stage this is a game that certainly will give you a ton of time grinning from ear to ear, it’s impossible to play this and not just be in love with life, great games do this. Ristar is a great game!
Unfortunately being released just as Sega were moving from the Megadrive to the Sega Saturn absolutely crushed any chance of this ever getting the success it deserved. With modest sales in all territories it was seen as a bit of a failure at the time, however with minimal advertising budget and being so late to the Megadrive / Genesis party it just never stood a chance. Whilst people in Europe were playing this other gamers in Japan were playing Playstation. Had Ristar been kept back as a Saturn launch title with 32-Bit graphics and sound this is a character we may just be still playing new games with today. It’s soul crushing when something so utterly perfect never reaches it’s rightful place and Ristar is one of the very best examples of this out there. It was robbed!
The good news is that Sega fans, the real ones (you know who you are) have kept him alive through various fan tributes and still to this day petition Sega for a new game. One such fan once set the internet buzzing with a mock up of a sequel for the Nintendo DS which caught everyone by surprise as its one of the best fake’s ever produced, the picture is below these words so go see for yourself! Ultimately a game doesn’t have to sell to be a classic, it doesn’t even have to get huge scores (although Ristar did across the board) in games magazines. The essential component of a classic is something that changed our way of thinking, of playing that somehow as everything evolved, matured and changed around it managed to stay as fresh and magnificent as the day it was born.
Ristar, like fine wine, gets better with age, the absolute design pinnacle of platforming from a character interaction point of view that just so happens to be a game that makes your heart sing. Next time you are out at night and you look up and see something flash through the sky, take the time to stand and marvel at the sight and let the magic of it all wash over you. Sonic Team did that once and the result was really something quite beautiful.