About the Game:
I’d never heard of Ristar before, which makes sense given that it didn’t release until very end of the Genesis’ life cycle. In 1995 I was well over the Sega console, sinking hours upon hours into my newly acquired love of JRPG’s on the SNES. It seems I was missing out.
Back when Sega was busy creating the mascot we’d come to know as Sonic the Hedgehog, another idea was left on the cutting room floor: a rabbit who’d grab enemies with its ears. Years late, that concept would be turned into Ristar, a bipedal star person keen on grabbing hold of enemies and smashing his face into them. Lacking the speed and jumping ability of Sonic, the entire game revolves around Ristar’s grappling ability, and what a game it is!
As stated, Ristar can’t jump high or run fast or curl into a spinning blue death ball, but he can use his arms to grab hold of things from a distance. You grab on to walls and ladders, hand bars, switches, beams and anything else that looks grab-able, including the game’s many enemies and bosses. You primary, and only, means of attack is to grab hold of an enemy and smash your face into them. This starts out pretty easy, until the little monsters start developing defensive mechanisms like spikes and flamethrowers that must be avoided and attacked around.
Bosses all mostly follow the same pattern as well. Avoid their attacks until you see an opening to grab and smash. What I was not expecting was the level of difficulty the game would ramp up to. While stages were manageable (not easy, but manageable) the bosses were typically in a whole other league. Almost all of the game’s eight or so bosses took me multiple attempts before I finally got the pattern figured out AND got fast enough to handle it while still getting attacks in. Stress is mitigated by ample lives and continues, but death came for me often.
That’s not to say I’m complaining about the difficulty, I actually think it’s pretty perfect. The game will keep you on your toes from start to finish, but never feels insurmountable. Add to that the several minibosses and how each stage has a unique feel and playstyle to it, tight controls and many secrets that are actually fun to find, and you have a recipe for an extremely solid platformer.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
From the outset it’s obvious that Ristar looks pretty amazing. Colors are bright, animations are smooth and sprites are detailed and lively. It also has that very distinct “Genesis” style shared with games like Sonic 3. In fact, as far as style goes it looks a lot like Sonic 3, at least at first. It did take a couple stages before I felt like Ristar really found its own identity and no longer came off as “that other platformer from Sega” That’s not to say the early stages were slacking though!
Stages were unique and beautiful, and it was exciting to see what was coming next. In fact, that last time I remember feeling really excited to see what theme and mechanics would be waiting for me in the next stage was with a Sonic game! I keep drawing comparisons to Sonic, and that’s not stopping when I mention the sounds and music. The music itself is actually pretty fantastic, though i couldn’t shake how “Genesis” it felt. I definitely prefer what the SNES is capable of in the sound department over the Genesis, but what they did put together was very enjoyable all the way through.
Sounds are a mixed bag. Some of the more unique sound effects or digitized voices are heavily muted. Everything else seems like it was literally pulled straight from the Sonic games. Like, if you were just listening to someone play this game without seeing the screen, you’d think they were playing Sonic. This wasn’t bad per se, but it was very noticeably.
Fun & Relevance:
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a bit skeptical going into this game. I’m not really a huge fan of Sega’s brand of platforming games, as they just don’t feel as refined as my preferred Mario’s and Mega Man’s. Still, Ristar’s gameplay, variety and charm managed to win me over with little difficulty. I found myself loving this game from title screen to end credits, even if the final boss did nearly cost me a controller!
It’s a real shame that this game launched when it did, as could have really solidified itself as a classic rather than this semi-obscure gem. Even still, Ristar holds its own as easily being one of the best, maybe even the best platformer on the console.