"HELP! CAPTURED BY EVIL ALIENS. TELL MY NEPHEW TO USE CODE 1776."
— Message from Dr. J
StarTropics is an action-adventure video game released by Nintendo in 1990. the main character, Mike Jones, is an all-American teenager who visits the tropical C-Island to see his uncle. Mike finds out upon his arrival that his uncle is missing, so he sets out on a rescue mission, with his trusty yo-yo as his only weapon.After a short while, Mike discovers that his uncle was abducted by aliens. After a series of sidequests involving talking dolphins, witch doctors, a giant octopus, an obstinate parrot, and zombie pirates, Mike reunites with his uncle - who has been trying to save a bunch of good aliens from an evil alien overlord named Zoda. Mike climbs aboard the alien craft and defeats Zoda, rescuing an alien princess and a bunch of alien kids in the process.The sequel, Zoda's Revenge, was released in 1994. Mike, his uncle, and the aliens discover an alien code that lets Mike travel through time via a magic book. Mike travels through the stone age, ancient Egypt, 19th Century London, the Wild West, the Renaissance, 1800s Transylvania, and Camelot. Along the way, he defeats duplicates of Zoda and is helped by Merlin, who reincarnates himself into several forms. Mike returns to C-Island to rescue his friends, who were taken hostage by the last Zoda clone, and the plot coupons combine to reveal the king of the good aliens.The games are overhead-scrolling dungeon crawlers reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda with a few twists, such as the ability to jump. The first game features a distinctive control system where all player and enemy movements take place on a grid, limiting where you can stop or turn but making it easy to line up jumps and attacks. The sequel uses a more conventional system where you can stop or turn at any time. Opinions differ as to which scheme is better.
The All-American Boy: Mike's All-American-ness — contrasted with and found strange by the natives of the islands he's visiting — is a large part of the game's humor and tone.
Anachronism Stew: Cleopatra ordering a pizza. Hold the anchovies. Vaguely pizza-like foods such as focaccia did exist at the era, but the considerable differences aside they certainly weren't called pizza and the concept of ordering one for delivery was nearly 2000 years into the future.
Bag of Spilling: Because losing everything between games isn't annoying enough, you lose all of your medicine, special weapons, and bonus lives between levels. Your heart meter is 'restored' to three, the bare minimum, but anything above that remains empty. This is especially obnoxious at the start of Chapter 8, which begins with a boss fight and no way to heal before it.
Batter Up: The second special weapon Mike acquires. With this, you can swat at enemies surrounding you. "Horse Hides" (slang for baseballs) are useful only against one boss, Broken Joe.
Beauty Contest: You meet both Miss Coralcola and Miss Miracola. Mike can impress the latter by claiming she's more beautiful ("Smart and cute!").
Book Ends: The first scene of the first game and the final scene of both games are on C-Island.
Boss Arena Idiocy: The first boss of Chapter 3 in the first game, a creature made of fire that can't be harmed by conventional attacks. While the rest of that section of the cave was filled with lava, this guy decides to fill his room with water, with him on a small platform that dunks him in after finding and pressing two switches.
Boss Rush: second half of the last level in the sequel. Mercifully, there's a maze right before where you can get as much as 6 jars of medicine with some heavy jumping, although the correct path is Trial-and-Error Gameplay for that much (take the bottom path), and if you got past the C-Serpent without too much trouble (not terribly difficult if you know what to expect), you should still have the medicine from the first half of the level. Be sure to get all of this, especially in case the rematch with That One Boss gets really irksome.
Brick Joke: In the beginning of Chapter 8 of the first game you jam bananas in your ears so you can't hear Zoda's gloating. In the ending sequence of the second game a character mentions that you still have them in your ears.
That might be a Plot Hole, though, since he's seen taking them out at the end of the first game.
Bruce Lee Clone: The Spike Shoes temporarily transform Mike into a karate-kicking tornado of justice. In practice, the item acts as a weak Smart Bomb.
But Thou Must: Whenever Mike is asked if he'll do something, the game will not proceed until you give the answer the game is looking for. So literally that if you're given a yes/no question and you answer "no", the game will just repeat the question over and over and over and over until you say "yes". A few times, notably talking to King Arthur in the sequel, you can say no, but this just means you can't progress at all. You have to walk outside, come back in, and ask him again.
Cats Are Mean: Cleopatra's pet. It apparently starts chewing on people if left hungry.
Chekhov's Skill: Mike is referred to as an ace pitcher frequently, this skill is required to defeat a boss. It's also apparently why he's so good at using the yo-yo as a weapon.
Early Bird Boss (Yum-Yum in the sequel if you strike the boar right in front of him; if that doesn't happen before he eats the boar, hitting him the 30 times you need to hit him isn't terribly hard at all)
As well as the fact that the first game occasionally tricks you into jumping to the next screen...directly into a pool of water/lava.
Feather Flechettes: In the sequel, Zoda-Y's true form is a giant owl-beast that shoots out its feathers when it flaps its wings.
Feelies / Copy Protection: The game came with a letter that had to be dipped in water to obtain a code...and if you didn't have it, you're screwed... until now. 747. You're welcome.
Even if you had the letter, it could take a while for you to realize that when the in-game characters were talking about "the letter attached to the instructions" they weren't referring to some in-game item you had to find...
As game manuals are easy to lose and not included with rentals, this issue generated tons of calls to Nintendo's tips hotline and letters to Nintendo Power. The code was eventually published in Nintendo Power.
To get around this roadblock in the Virtual Console release, the letter is simulated inside of the gamee's operations guide.
Fission Mailed: At the end of the first game, Mike escapes from Zoda's exploding spaceship, only to end up in the middle of the ocean. Mike briefly swims towards the left of the screen, then struggles to keep afloat. His head goes under, and you hear the usual "you just lost a life" jingle. The screen fades out... and then you're suddenly back Where It All Began, courtesy of the dolphin from Chapter 2.
Guide Dang It: The part of Chapter 5 (first game) where you have to play the giant pipe organ. The game's hint tells you which notes to play - but in solfège. For players who don't know solfège, it's a guessing game.
It's made slightly more cryptic by the fact that the musical tune that must be played is "Do Mi Sol Fa Do Mi" which has been warped by generations of parrots playing the telephone game into the final "Do me so far, do me." Or possibly a translation error based on the translator not being familiar with solfège.
Before the Internet made walkthroughs widely available, you were screwed if you didn't have the physical letter from Dr. J that came with the game. And if you couldn't decipher the clue, you were screwed even if you did have it.
A partial example with the various square platforms that you have to jump onto, even if they're right next to each other. This is used against you at one point when you're put in a room with the floor consisting entirely of platforms and full of mummies you'd be able to easily outrun if you could just walk normally.
Invisible Monsters: Several ghosts, including the boss in the page picture, are invisible until exposed with a Magic Rod.
It's Up to You: When you finally meet Dr. J, he decides he prefers the comforts of his asteroid crater than setting foot in the UFO.
Katanas Are Just Better: This is the best weapon Mike can get in Zoda's Revenge, however if the life meter is full enough this weapon is overshadowed by his Psychic Shock Wave.
Leap of Faith: Required several times throughout the game to trigger invisible platforms and otherwise continue on through the dungeons.
Mercy Invincibility: The first game had only a little bit, but the "snap-to" motion of the controls mitigated how much damage you'd take a bit. In second game, on the other hand, the snap-to was done away with and there was no mercy invincibility at all. If you more than let an enemy brush against you, you were guaranteed to take at least 2-3 hits off it, adding a great deal of Fake Difficulty to the game.
Mission Control: Mica in the sequel. She can speak to Mike telepathically, and even from across time.
Nintendo Hard: Especially the last two chapters of the first game, full of aliens/robots/alien robots with rayguns and a small army of robotic minibosses, including one that looks (and walks) bizarrely like a giant chicken. Extra points for the fact that the only way to kill this boss is to push it back against the wall—not once, but twice. And did I mention that taking the wrong teleporter (which you have no way of telling apart) could put you in a room FULL of enemies?
Level 8 of the first game is an odd aversion. During the section where Mike has to destroy the spaceship engine, there's a secret (but easy to find) room Mike can fall into with an infinitely respawning super-vitamin that restores his entire lifebar, so if he messes up he can just fall into a hole, get the vitamin and try again. Then after the engine is destroyed, there are a few screens full of infinitely respawning Zoda-spawn that are very generous when it comes to dropping life refilling items.
Though the Zoda-spawn stop being as generous when you reach the final boss.
Nostalgia Level: The final level of the sequel is a recreation of the first level of the original game - including an undead version of the first game's first boss.
One-Hit Kill: Physical contact with any of the bosses in the first game is instant death.
Puzzle Boss: Magma the Fierce, first boss in Chapter 3. He's completely invulnerable to weapons, and has to be fought by finding and then hitting two buttons to break the platform he sits on.
Ray Gun: Only found in the spaceship levels. A more powerful version fires 3-way scattershots, but has shorter range.
Revenge of the Sequel: In this case, literally inverted. The second game in the series is Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics II
Ring Out Boss: The robotic alien that you fight at the end of Chapter 7. You have to shoot him relentlessly to push him far enough back so that you can trip a switch to make part of the floor disappear and then keep shooting him until he falls into the void. He can be killed from damage but it is far quicker to push him out.
Running Gag: Several NPCs comment on Mike's having bananas in his ears. This is also mentioned at the end of the sequel.
Sequel Difficulty Spike: Mostly due to the control scheme and combined with Damn You, Muscle Memory if you've played the first game. The raft-jumping sections are notable for their cruelty for the fact that you can walk right off the raft into the water / pit if you're not extremely careful when jumping.
Sue Donym: Mike eventually comes to "Michelle" when he does this.
Super Drowning Skills: Mike dies instantly when he falls in water... despite being very athletic and vacationing in the tropics.
Suspiciously Similar Substitute: With Dr. J busy studying glyphs in Seattle, King Hirocon replaces him as the "Missing Relative Who Leaves Behind Cryptic Clues'.
Swallowed Whole: Eventually, Mike is swallowed by a giant whale and reunites with Dr. J.'s assistant, Baboo. He confesses that he has withheld vital information from Mike, fearing the aliens who kidnapped Dr. J. would come after him. Baboo is relived to see Mike safe and sound, but dismayed they had to reunite in the belly of a whale, of all places. Together they work on escaping the huge beast by building a fire and promptly getting sneezed out.
Theme Naming: All the towns in the first game are named "(Blank)cola." Leading to the unappetizing town in chapter 4 called Tunacola.
When speaking to an NPC, the generic response Mike gets is, "You're from Americola?", or, "Spacecola....?"
Zoda is one letter away from Soda.
This Was His True Form: Zoda first appears as a cloaked figure with a horned helmet. When Mike first confronts him he turns into a giant floating head and a giant hand. After the beatdown, Zoda shifts back into the cloaked form, and then into the Xenomorph-esque final form.
In the second game, each of the three clones of Zoda has a different true form, but you only see the Zoda-X's true form as part of his death animation. (It's the same as the original Zoda's Xenomorph form). The other two you have to fight in both forms: Zoda-Y turns into an owl-like alien, while Zoda-Z transforms into a tall alien muscleman.
One of the more interesting ones is early in the first game. One room gives you a Medicine, a vital item, and opens a door to another room. This room also has a Medicine, and opens another door. In the next room... you jump straight into water, as the room has no floor. Only floating bones in the water.
A little later in the first game, you enter a room with two tile paths leading upward on either side of the room. After jumping from tile to tile for two rooms, you have to jump upwards at the top edge of the room. One path leads to safety, the other path leads to instant death, and there is no way to know this ahead of time. Hint: the right path is right.
In the Ghost Village dungeon in Chapter 3 of the first game, every single obvious path locks you into an exit out of the dungeon, forcing you to restart. In order to actually complete the dungeon, you have to ignore the obvious paths and instead find the hidden ones. Maliciously, the final fake path is only a few rooms away from the boss, meaning you can complete most of the dungeon and then have to restart it again.
Unique Enemy: Squidos appear on just one screen in the game, mostly so you can try out your new Smart Bomb attack.
Unstable Equilibrium: The power of your weapon is tied to the amount of hearts you have, and decreases as you take more damage. Zoda's Revenge averts this via the primary weapon, but plays it straight with respect to the Psychic Shockwave, which weakens as Mike takes more damage.
In light of "yo-yo" becoming a trademarked term, for the Virtual Console release of StarTropics, Nintendo changed the weapon's name to "Island Star."
Tetrads are known as 'Blocks' in the sequel's Virtual Console release. On a related note, the chief's middle name is no longer 'Tetris,' but 'Puzzle.'
You Shouldn't Know This Already: You have to jump on the tile ten times to create a bridge in Chapter 3, but it won't work until after you are told to do so in Shecola, supposedly because you have to shout a magic word to make it work.