Sonic Team's forgotten gem
Published by SegaSlayer33
In 1995, Sega was preparing to launch the Saturn, a video game console that Sega had been placing all of its time, effort and resources into for the last 2 years. The Genesis, once proud king of the console market in North America, was now playing second fiddle to the Super Nintendo, who had gone from being the market minority to market dominance, thanks in no small part to Sega's own incompetence when it came to business decisions. The 16-bit wars were over, but Sega hadn't finished with the system that had established them as market competitors.
During the design phase of Ristar's older brother, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Team had devised for a game to be made where the main protagonist, a bunny, would fling itself at enemies using its giant ears.
Sega Concept art for new mascot, 1990. After months of design, the 3 finalists were decided. These were a rabbit (shown above), an armadillo, and a hedgehog. The hedgehog won, and eventually became Sonic the Hedgehog
4 years later, the rabbit design was developed on separately from Sonic. They developed a prototype game, but decided that instead of a rabbit who uses his ears to fling himself at enemies, a star who used his large arms would be a better fit. The game was titled Ristar, and was released in Japan, America and Europe in 1995.
However, Ristar was too little, too late. Most gamers had already moved on to better things with the PlayStation and the Saturn. So Ristar, who was supposed to be the next Sonic, never became what it could of been. Now it is time to learn about one of Sega's forgotten gems.
Similar to most, if not all, 2D platformers at the time, you control Ristar (whose main power is his ability to charge enemies with his body by flinging himself at them with his extendable arms) through the seven planets of the Valdi System, defeating bad guys with your core gameplay mechanic: felling them up and going in for the kiss. Much like my Aunt after she has had too much to drink. But I digress. Kaiser Greedy, a space pirate, has brainwashed the leaders of all seven planets and it is up to Ristar to defeat them. If you think traveling across 7 different world to restore peace then confronting your arch nemesis sounds familiar...
Arguably the best platformer of all time
Then you are not alone.
Ristar also uses his arms to interact with the environment around him in many ways. He can use his arms to attach onto vines, break down trees, grab onto objects, scale cliff faces and launch himself through the air. It's all very original for its time, most due to the fact there are no "labeled" square or blocks where it is apparent that something must be done.
Ristar's interaction with the environment around him is very natural, and is a big step up from Sonic the Hedgehog, whose limited interaction with environments around him was to a far lesser, less original extent. Ristar feels like a different experience, and while Sonic does too and Mario is the "traditional" experience in perfection, Ristar is original enough to feel different in its own right.
The graphics are, to say the least, absolutely stunning. Arguably some of the best on the Genesis, Ristar shows how Sega could tap the potential of the Genesis, even if its technology was aged and obsolete at the time.
Genesis does what Nintendon't. Except for Super Mario World 2.
It took them 6 years, but Ristar certainly matches most Super Nintendo games in the visuals department. I give Graphics a solid 9.
Ristar has a very simple storyline that at its core has been used since Mario's time. But it's all the little things that makes Ristar sizzle. The bosses are all colorful and unique, and the games hums with unexpected, sometimes humorous events.
It won't win any awards, but Ristar's simple storyline with all the trimmings nets it an 8 for Story.
Overall, the controls are very tight and very responsive. The learning curve is very good, with a good ease in to the more difficult levels. Ristar feels original and refined: two things that are very hard to put together in one sentence. The gameplay is well above par, but the limited ways to defeat enemies and obstacles can become somewhat grinding as the game goes on.
Some of the best of the 16-bit era. Although it is no longer a perfect 10 material game, Ristar has aged with only minor difficulties. I give it a 8.5 for Controls/Gameplay.
Let's be honest: The Genesis was never renowned for its sound. In fact, most people will remember the Genesis as being constantly attacked for its inferior sound when Nintendo fanboys who had just watched the "blast processing" ad. But Ristar again shows how Sega were learning to tap the aging technology. Ristar's track is top notch for a 16-bit game, and could of easily been a reference point for any Sega Fanboy with hurt feelings over the mangling of music that was sometimes rampant in arcade and PC ports.
Very good, probably some of the best on the system. I give it a 9 for Sound.
A truly stellar game. One can only wonder what might of happened if Ristar had come out earlier. If it had become an established franchise beside Sonic. Or instead of Sonic. While history may have been unkind to Ristar, one cannot deny that Ristar is a top-quality game. Now if only Sega realized that they were putting their eggs in the wrong basket when they made this:
Seriously though, they should of been making Ristar games all these years. It would probably be a SMG clone (just not as good) if they made one today, but a 2D adventure released annually on WiiWare and XBLA? You know you want it.