After seven years of being exclusive to Japan, TOSE's Starfy franchise finally arrives in North America with the fifth game in the series (and the second for Nintendo DS). Has Starfy's arrival been worth the wait, or should this series have stayed in Japan?
Being the first game in the series to not have a number in the Japanese title (it's known there as Densetsu no Starfy Taiketsu! Daiiru Kaizokudan) The Legendary Starfy thankfully doesn't require new players to series to know the entire back story of the character or the world he inhabits, though it wouldn't hurt to know.
The original Densetsu no Starfy (released in 2002 for the Game Boy Advance) dealt with Starfy falling from his home in the sky, Pufftop Palace, and landing in the ocean where he is assumed to be a starfish. So just wanting to clear that u for you, that despite the gameplay taking place underwater and revolving around sea creatures, Starfy himself is actually a star, not a starfish.
The Legendary Starfy opens up with the titular hero relaxing in his home in Pufftop, when all the the sudden a mysterious, rabbit-like creature falls from the sky and awakens Starfy; but the two find out they are not alone. After a quick scuffle, the creature escapes to the ocean and Starfy goes after him to see what's going on. You soon learn his name to be Bunston, but because of the fall his memory isn't all there, and it's up to Starfy to help Bunston recover his memory and stop an oncoming threat.
Being that the game centers around aquatic life, it should come as no surprise that 80% of the game will take place underwater. Thankfully, unlike most platformers, the time you spend in the water here is the most enjoyable aspect of the game. Unlike Mario or Kirby, the water is where Starfy belongs, and so it's here that he can move faster and more agile, have better attacks, and so forth. Out of the water, Starfy is reasonably slow, though if you hold the Y button his eyes will burst from his head and he'll scurry around at a faster pace. Otherwise, Starfy plays like the average platformer, you have nine unique worlds, each with 5 or so sub-levels and some unlockable secret levels and mini-games as well.
To aid Starfy, this time around at select parts of the game, you can combine with Bunston to play as four different creatures, each with their own unique abilities. They add a nice change to the gameplay, and each can be leveled up which adds to the replayablity to some levels where you could not obtain something prior. However, a couple of these combinations are obtained late in the game, and are only used a few times, making the inclusion of them feel pretty useless and only necessary for completists.
However there is more to the game than just platforming by yourself, as The Legendary Starfy introduces co-op to the series. At certain levels in the game, and more specifically, the boss battles, you will be asked if you would like to play with a friend. By selecting either single-card (DS Download Play) or multi-card play, a second player can join in the game as Starfy's sister, Starly, who plays similar to her brother, but has a few extra moves that will allow her to access extra points that Starfy won't be able to. Though, don't be scared, you will never be required to connect with another gamer in order to beat the game 100%.
Also included for you to play are five mini games, of which can be played alone or with single/multi cart play. They obviously aren't the focus of the game, but they're a nice distraction from the regular gameplay and are about the only time you'll ever need to use the touchscreen. The game also offers so extras like dress-up items for Starfy and Starly, journal entries from various characters to read, a video gallery of all the cutscenes you've seen, and more to be unlocked after you finish the game.
The first thing I noticed when playing The Legendary Starfy was just how eye-poppingly colorful it was; and with the larger, brighter screens on my Nintendo DSi it looks even better. To compare, I played the game on my old DS Phat, and it just doesn't even compare, this game deserves to be played on a DSi or DS lite.
As for the graphics themselves, the stages and character sprites are all 2D, however the stage backgrounds and occasional bosses will be 3D. Some later levels, which require you to raise and lower the water levels, benefit greatly from the added depth of the 3D backgrounds, and overall the game has a great sense of style. Aiding to the style is the usage of both screens, which typically will display one of four hint screens (you choose which to display); however, occasionally a part of a level will have a character on the lower screen that affects the gameplay on the top screen. I found the lower screen sprites the amuse me more so than intimidate me, and I only wish there was more of the dual-screen gameplay included.
Oddly enough, some of the best 3D modeling I've seen on the DS comes from the game's more or less, useless dress up mode. Hidden around the game are treasure chests that may contain clothing items to dress Starfy and Starly with, and you can then view them in a full 360º mode. The level of detail and smoothness was highly surprising, and I'd say the models are on a middle-grade PS2 level; but in the end, they don't do anything besides sit on the pause screen, so it's a lost cause sadly (albeit an amusing to look at one).
The last graphical aspect is something that really bothered me. While everything is colorful, clean, and sprite-based, the cutscenes are not. They look like they were initially made via sprites, but they are actually compressed videos, and sadly the compression on the videos stands out. I just feel it's unfortunate that such a pretty game has to have such ugly compression on otherwise delightful comic-style cutscenes.
The soundtrack to Starfy isn't the shining aspect of the game by any means, but there are wide array of fun and catchy tunes to be heard. If anything greatly improves from sound it's the character of Starfy himself; I don't think I can count how many times it put a smile on my face to hear his "WEEEEEEEE!" squeals during cutscenes and character chats, especially when paired with the game's overly cute art style. I think the sound alone brings more life to Starfy as a character more so than the fully 3D version of him from Super Smash Bros. Brawl ever will, even though his whole purpose in that game was to be beaten up... poor guy.
I think it's safe to say that I was more than ecstatic when Nintendo announced that Starfy was finally hit North American shores. After waiting seven years, and finally being able to play through one of the games, I can say that I am more than pleased; enough to say that I have a new favorite character to look for on Nintendo systems. Starfy's overall cuteness may not hit a note with hardcore gamers, but The Legendary Starfy is definitely a platformer that anyone can enjoy. Here's to hoping the previous four games make it here someday!
Overall Score: 9/10
For more on The Legendary Starfy, visit Starfy.com