Review: The Legendary Starfy (Nintendo DS)

The Legendary Starfy
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: TOSE
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 06/08/2009

Densetsu no Starfy was one of Nintendo’s most successful series on the GBA. For some reason, NOA never brought the series outside the little island nation of Japan. All three GBA Starfy’s made to #1 on the sales charts across the pacific and the Nintendo DS version released in 2006 managed to do the same thing. Last year, TOSE and Nintendo released Densetsu no Starfy: Taiketsu! Dire Kaizokudan and guess what? Another best seller. At some point between July of 2008 and June of 2009 Nintendo of America decided to localize the fifth Starfy game, without giving any hint whatsoever that this was part of a massively successful series. Oddly enough the game does refer to the fact that this is not Starfy and Moe’s first adventure which is sure to confuse young or unaware gamers.

Then you have me. I hate platformers. I loathe them. I hate stupid jumping exercises. I hate going back to worlds for a second or third time just to get a measly item so I can 100% the level. I hate the monotony and the generally poor level design mixed without any creativity. 3-D platformers are even worse as they tend to have bad camera angles and retarded characters with “attitude” whose one-liners are meant to cover up for a lack of any depth or real story development. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of platformers I have enjoyed in my day. Super Mario Bros. 3. Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The Haunted Mansion. Psychonauts. Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero?. Knowing this, you’d be surprised that I chose to volunteer The Legendary Starfy. Why? To be honest I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to see what the hype was about. That and the characters on the cover looked oh so cute and I knew that I had three OH SO SERIOUS RPG’s coming up after this and so I wanted to have something amusing and light hearted as a break from the usual “ANGST AND DOOM SELLS” attitude that populates most games these days.

So, was The Legendary Starfy able to make me crack a smile, or were my lips pursed only to let loose a string of wanton profanity due to being yet another awful game in an awful genre?

Let’s Review

1. Story

The Legendary Starfy harkens back to the days of classic 2-D platformers. There are eight worlds with seven levels each (and two bonus worlds you can access after the game). There is no death in the game or any real violence save for in boss fights and even then Starfy and the crew tend to help their defeated opponents after words, with bandages and morphine. Okay, not the morphine.

Starfy and his friend Moe are hanging out at his house one day when a all of a sudden something bursts through their ceiling. It’s a strange little bunny rabbit in a space suit. This rabbit, named Bunson, has amnesia and can’t remember who he is or where he came from. He does know that he’s in some sort of trouble though. Starfy and Moe, being heroes to the extreme, decide to help Bunson figure out who he is – a task aided by the collection of seven crystals that make up a strange shape, and also restore bits of Bunson’s memory when he touches them to boot! With this knowledge, Starfy, Moe, and Bunson set out for exciting adventures, making new friends, and defeating strange enemies along the way.

I have to say that The Legendary Starfy is utterly charming. All of the good aligned characters are so adorable, you just melt from the cuteness. Even the bad guys manage to be cute even while trying their best to look menancing. Sure people who want boobs and gore in their game will be turned off by the “kiddie” nature of the tale and visuals, but it’s their loss for being so closed minded.

I was quite happy with the amount of story in TLF. There are a lot of expository scenes, and there is more character development in this game than I have ever seen in a Nintendo platformer. Oddly enough Starfy has the least personality out of all the characters, but that’s mainly because he’s the classic silent protagonist of 8 and 16-Bit RPG’s. Everyone else though, including the villains are given a lot of depth, both through those cut scenes and journal entries you can collect in hidden treasure chests throughout the levels. Nice touch. The games takes the usual good over evil story and throws in a lot of comedic touches and also some realistic twists like the bad guys realizing they are, in fact, BAD GUYS, and how this revelations affects them.

I found myself really growing attached to these characters and quite disappointed Nintendo never brought over the GBA games (or the first Starfy DS title for that matter). The Legendary Starfy is a well told tale that all ages can not only appreciate but fall in love with for both its simpleness and its depth.

Story Rating: Great

2. Graphics

Is it really a surprise that a first party Nintendo game looks amazing on a Nintendo handheld? This is easily the prettiest game I’ve seen on the DS this year besides Pokemon Platinum.

All of the backgrounds fit the theme and story of the game perfectly. Pufftop is a charming little underwater kingdom with levels ranging from ring of fire type waters to arctic waters. There’s a ghost ship, a sunken mine and so much more to explore. The backgrounds are usually static art, although some levels do display 3-D effects such as one particular boss or anytime you press a button to raise the water of a level. All of the backgrounds are brightly coloured, well defined and show off the power of the Nintendo DS.

Character designs, as mentioned are adorable. Pufftop characters are all aquatic lifeforms while the bad guys are based off of rocks, paper, and scissors. I’m still impressed with how adorable and animated TOSE was able to make a starfish appear. Every character is extremely toyetic, which is another reason I’m shocked NOA hasn’t cashed in on the Starfy franchise before now. In a truly interesting bit, you can collecting clothing items for Starfy by buying them with pearls or finding the pieces in levels across the game. Then in the menu options, you can dress him. If you match the right outfit with the accessory, you get a “Special” which either a scene or an entirely new costume for your sweet little starfish. These specials run the gambit from “It is not humanely possible to keep from going ‘Awwwwww.'” With Starfy’s Reindeer outfit to “HOLY HELL AM I HAVING NIGHTMARES TONIGHT BECAUSE THAT IS SO CREEPY!” like the Mermaid outfit. You have been warned with this last one. It’s interesting to note that the outfit scenes are all done with 3-D graphics and are later PSX to early PS2 in quality, which is VERY impressive for the DS.

Besides the 2-D sprite graphics for the actual gameplay and the 3-D Starfy dress-up bits, there are the cut scenes. These are done in an interesting cross between cell-shading, comic book panel layouts and Japanese anime. It’s all very colourful and it’s quite a unique way to let the story unfold.

This really is one of the prettiest games I’ve ever seen on the DS. It’s amazing to see how much detail, life and colour can still go into a 2-D game these days. I’d rather look at the visuals in this than a lot of the “Next gen” 3-D games with nothing but hues of greys and browns coupled with poorly done human models. Starfy is a visual feast for the eyes. Let yourself feel like a kid again.

Graphics Rating: Classic

3. Sound

Okay, there’s actually voice acting in this. Not much mind, you, but what’s here is again, so cute it hurts. Starfy’s noises, while gobblygook, are cute little squeals, Bunson’s seal form sounds just like the Pokemon Togepi, and the mermaid’s “Hi!” is infectious and so sweet you will have a mouth full of cavities after hearing it.

The musical score is about what you would expect. It’s full of quaint little tunes that are neither fast nor frantic, yet not too slow to lull the gamer to sleep. They’re catchy, but nothing you’d want on a CD for your car or home stereo. Everything here is cute for what it is, and it really helps to set the tone of the game. You can separate the game from the music, but the music doesn’t hold up if you listen to it apart from the game.

As a whole, the aural aspects of TLS hold up pretty well and really help to enhance the overall package.

Sound Rating: Good

4. Control and Gameplay

One of the things that made me love Starfy was the gameplay. There was little to no jumping puzzle. You know what I’m talking about. The ones where if you are a pixel off, your character plummets to their death. It also lacked the overused and dull cliche of “The protagonist can swim and dies instantly upon contact with water.” The whole game takes place underwater! It’s missing all the things I hate about platformers while managed to offer some pretty fun gameplay.

There are eight worlds (and two bonus ones after you beat the game). Each one has some unique piece to it. Maybe you’re trapped in a giant snowball and you have to navigate a series of jumps. Maybe you and your friends are in a mine cart and you’ve got to stay on the tracks while dodging boulders and exchanging shots with your enemies in a cart of their own. There are always three hidden mini-games amongst the main four levels of a world, beating each of which unlocks one of three secret levels in the world full of treasure and danger. These are all totally optional to do, but the level designs and the fact that only one mini-game really repeats itself (Sumo wrestling) makes each one a joy to find and play through, even if you suck at them, like I did at juggling.

You start the game with a few basic powers like swimming, jumping and a star spin which takes out your enemies. As you progress, Moe will “remind” you of other powers that you possess like an extra powerful spin, the ability to jump great distances when in shallow water and you’ll even learn things like a double jump from a friend. You’ll also be able to get help from your friends. Bunston can merge with Starfy to become one of four new monsters ranging from a Dragon to a giant chicken with two eggs that follow him around. If you have a friend with a DS nearby, they can join in and play as Starfy’s sister Starly on select worlds. They don’t even need a copy of the game to help you out – just a DS and wi-fi. NICE!

Controls are all button based with the touch screen and stylus combination only coming into play with extras like costumes for Starly or controlling one of three options for the bottom screen. These options are either Moe acting as a hidden item alert, a lobster showing you your score, or the mermaid giving you an utterly useless tip. Stick with Moe.

The controls were excellent and there was only one complaint I had during the whole game. Y is used to do the Star Spin. Y and a direction is used to run. You can’t just run though, you have to do a star spin and then run. To do a running jump you have to hit B while holding down Y. I don’t have large hands, but it was sometimes difficult to pull this combo off without fingers smacking into each other and so I imagine it would be even harder for those with larger, thicker hands. Other than that, everything worked perfectly and I never had to worry about the usual pratfalls that befall platformers.

One of the things I really liked was the fact that there were some side-scrolling dodge and jump levels that reminded me of Battletoads. Originally I had written “Battletoads for a younger audience, but really, I was 13 when that game came out so this is still in the same age category. It wasn’t as fast-paced or unforgiving at BT, but it reminded me of it, and that’s good enough for me.

The Legendary Starfy is one of those rare Platformers that I not only enjoyed, but I LOVED. I want Nintendo to bring over the GBA games in some sort of collection for the DS, and if they don’t, I’m seriously thinking of importing them. I mean, this is the fifth game in the series, so the originals HAVE to be even better, right?

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

5. Replayability

About halfway through the game, I was thinking there wasn’t much replay value with Starfy I mean, almost all the chests could be found the first time you go through the level, and even then it’s just journal entries or costume pieces, but there are other things to do. First of all, there are levels that open up more when you have two players taking part. There are the unlockable mini games in each world that you can play. There are a series of mini-games you can play with up to four friends, whether or not they have the Starfy cartridge. I can’t tell you how awesome that is. More developers need to take advantage of that. Instead of denying gamers content because a friend hasn’t purchased the game, you give them a taste of a well done title and this bit of free mini-gaming convinces them to buy the title themselves!

You can also buy clothes, look for chests with heart pieces to give Starfy more life, a talk show for Moe, a boss rush mode (after you beat the game), those two extra levels I mentioned earlier, the ability to watch any of the cutscenes you have unlocked, a jukebox and finally, a random trophy dispenser. You put in pearls and get a random figurine. It’s like the trophies in the Super Smash Bros. series.

Although the main game is pretty much a once through and you’re done, you do have the option to go back to any level and replay it for fun or to get the last few chests or secret levels you might have missed the first time. With all the extras and options built into The Legendary Starfy, you’ll be able to put in at least 2 dozen hours before you’ve finished everything there is to experience. That’s quite good for a platformer.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

The Legendary Starfy has the perfect learning curve . You start with a limited amount of abilities and then as you gain new ones, the game has you use it right away so that you can master it. There’s also a little handbook of all your moves that you can access at any time which means even if you put the game down for some time and then come back to it, you’ll be able to pick up right where you left off.

Each world is slightly harder than the last but it’s never too hard that you will feel frustrated or annoyed by slowdown or collision detection issues. It’s just explore the world, collect what you want to collect and move on once you’ve found the exit. Of course boss fights are a pretty big jump in difficulty. Here is where you may die once or twice, but only in figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing in order to injure your opponent. The game can be somewhat challenging here but you’ll figure each boss out quickly enough and get a nice sense of satisfaction once you’ve cleaned its clock.

The Legendary Starfy is nicely balanced so that you gamers of all skills and ages can feel like they’ve accomplished something once they’ve beaten this. The bonus options once you’ve beat the game do raise the bar quite a bit, but that’s half the fun of getting the new content.

Balance Rating: Unparalleled

7. Originality

This is the only real flaw in TLS. After all it’s the fifth game in the series, and from my research, they’re all very similar, from the powers to the general flow of the games. The only real thing added to the franchise is the limited touch screen usage.

HOWEVER, this is the first Starfy game to hit North America and as such, it really does feel like a breath of fresh air mixed in with all the things we loved about 8 and 16-bit platformers. When you look at the game with a critical eye unfettered with emotion though, you do note that it’s very similar to a score of other platformers out there. It’s just that this one is high quality across the board. Yes it’s world after world of jumping, running, collecting and bad guy stomping, but it’s done with a level of precision and detail it feels far more innovative than it truly is. With a score of platformers for the DS and half a dozen Starfy games out there already, the only thing that really separates this from the pack is the quality and the fact it’s the only one stateside.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

I beat The Legendary Starfy in 48 hours. This is unheard of for me. Even with other platformers I’ve enjoyed, I’ve never been able to play them for long stretches of time. With Starfy though, it was just so bloody charming that I’d play for two worlds, put it down and come back a few hours later and beat another two worlds. The gameplay was easy to learn and incredibly fun. The hidden mini games were always a blast as they were so different from the main game. I really looked forward to the boss battles. I LOVED the lack of the usual issues that plague the average platformer. I also really enjoyed the story. The cast and characters were a welcome change of pace from my usual “Angst ridden main character with hair that not even Robert Smith could get to stay up like that” dealings.

This year only three games have gripped me from beginning to end. Phantasy Star Portable, Onechanbara for the Wii and now The Legendary Starfy. All three also sported a decent amount of challenge, ramped up difficulty for bosses and then a crazy powerful last boss of bosses. Interesting that they all followed that pattern.

TLS is a game that is so easy to get into, you’ll swear you had spent only minutes on the game when really, you logged in hours. The world are so distinct and the characters are so charming, you’ll be more excited than you want to admit when you see beating the game gets you bonus levels.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

We all have genre preferences. I prefer SRPG’s, 2-D Fighters, and Shoot ‘Em Up’s. I generally despise platformers, FPS’ and 3-D action games with awful camera angles. The Legendary Starfy is one of those games that transcends its genre. Honestly, this is easily in the ten best games I’ve played this year and it’s in a genre I generally don’t like. Man, first Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero? and now this! It’s a good year for platformers it appears.

The entire game oozes charm, from level design to character art. It’s hard not to love Starfy and his pals. In fact, the only people I can think of who won’t embrace this game after a few levels of it are the faux hardcore gamers that are insecure about their own opinions and choices and so stick to the gritty T and M rated games that everyone else on their message board talks about enjoying simply because god forbid they willingly remember a time when there was no such thing as a game being labeled “only for kids” or that gameplay is far more important than how a game looks. You want pretty, get a National Geographic film for your Blu-Ray player.

Seriously, if you have a Nintendo DS, there is no reason not to experience this gamer. Regardless of your genre preferences, graphical preferences, 2-D Vs. 3-D preferences, or any other nitpicks you have, you’ll find something to love about The Legendary Starfy. Take a chance and go outside your preferences for once. I did, and I found a real gem of a game. Not like that godforsaken Steal Princess. Ick.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

10. Miscellaneous

The Legendary Starfy packs in an amazing amount of options. It took me over a dozen hours just to beat the main game and I still had the two bonus levels, the secret stages in the eighth world and 12 chests to go. That’s pretty impressive for a platformer. All the bonus content is just added icing to this delicious cake. Or is it?

See, TLS costs $34.99 which has become a first party Nintendo trademark. I have a problem with this, as always, as the only two companies that really push that $34.99 tag over a $29.99 one are Nintendo and Atlus. To be honest, if I had seen this in the story, I would have passed it up at that cost. Generally when something goes over the $29.99 price tag, I want something amazing or a lot of extras. There are no bonus materials with the retail copy, but at least the game is really good. Do I feel Starfy is worth the price tag? Well as it is the best platformer I have played in half a decade, I’m going to say yes. Five dollars more for one of the best games I’ve played this year is more than an acceptable cost increase for me. Still, it worries me that other companies will follow suit and begins to charge the $34.99 price tag for sub-par games, at Atlus has been doing for a while now. I’m lucky that i get review copies sent to me. You the consumers don’t have that luxury and so it’s always important to be extra cautious with the titles that go above and beyond the average MSRP for a system. Starfy is one of those games that is, thankfully, worth the price increase. Just remember that more often than not, this isn’t the case.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Classic
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Good
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Classic
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
The Starfy series finally makes its way to North America with The Legendary Starfy and I’m happy it’s well been worth the wait. There is absolutely nothing that this game does wrong. It’s charming, boasts an wonderful cast of characters, it’s visually stunning and the gameplay is easily the best I’ve seen in a 2-D platformer since the 16-bit era. I generally hate platformers and yet this is a frontrunner for one of my “Top Ten of 2009” list – THAT’S how good this thing is. If you have a DS, you owe it to yourself to get this. Who knows, if TLS does well enough, maybe Nintendo will consider bringing over the other four games in the series. Cross your fingers!

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