Startropics was a delightful little game released way, way back in the days of the NES. It has a special place in my heart as one of the first games I ever beat, and, provided that you count it as an RPG (which I do), probably the first RPG I ever played from start to finish.* And I think it holds up pretty well against time, too--it's got a decent enough plot, there's a certain lighthearted personality to it that you still, to this day, don't find very often in an RPG, and, providing you're one of those people who count gameplay as an important part of an RPG, it's still fun to play--in a refreshing way, even, since few games in the past 2 decades have tried to copy its exact feel.
There are, for me, 2 really notable aspects of this game that I feel are worth recognizing here. The first I've already covered--the game's ending, which is strangely powerful for the little game, yet not so epic that it's over the top in such a title. The second, however, is a clever little gimmick.
I've mentioned in a previous rant that I really do like the idea of interesting swag that comes packaged with a game--stuff like a game's soundtrack, or that marvelous little Vault Boy bobblehead figure that came with Fallout 3. It's not always good, of course--FF12's metal case was pointless, and its little bonus disc on the history of the FF series was little more than a stupid advertisement--but it's generally an effort I appreciate. And I appreciated it even all the way back to when I was 7 or 8, when I opened up the Startropics 1 box and found that with my game came a neat little mock letter from Dr. J, a character from the game, to his nephew, the main character, which basically just set the premise for the game. "Neat!" I thought, and set it aside.
Well, as it turns out, that letter was actually a part of the game itself. See, it's like this. There's a part in the game where you need to put in a password to your little navigating robot to continue on with the quest. The game gives you no information on what it is, with its only hint being to put the letter Dr. J sent Mike (the hero) into water. The game, of course, has no letter item in its inventory, and I found myself wondering exactly how I was supposed to accomplish this in-game if Mike didn't still have the letter on him. I spent some time looking for the item, in case I had missed it, but couldn't find anything.
And then I remembered the letter that came with the game itself.*** Wondering if an idea this crazy could actually be the solution, I found it amongst the junk in my room, ran out to the kitchen, and held it under the faucet for a moment. A moment later, lo and behold, across its bottom appeared a secret message with the code.
If only I knew any proper swear words at that point. I could have properly conveyed my feelings: Holy shit that is so cool.
It's just an example of really neat, creative thinking going into the design of a game puzzle. Where so many RPGs are content with just pushing crates into the right place, or having the sheer genius to be able to press the "Search" button in front of something really suspicious in order to find a password or essential item, Startropics 1 included in its neat puzzles one that required sleuth work in the real world, making a plot-essential item an actual, real object. What a neat, creative thing to put in the game it was. Kudos to Nintendo for such a nifty idea!
* "Probably" because I'm not ENTIRELY sure about this--it MIGHT have been The Magic of Scheherazade. My memory's a little foggy on this; it WAS something like 20 years ago.**
** Jesus CHRIST how the hell did I get so old?
*** Yeah, yeah, I know it seems obvious enough to figure out from the start, but give me a break. I was in the second grade. At that point, my deductive reasoning with video games peaked at "Hey, that enemy has spikes on his head. Maybe I shouldn't jump on him."