A star is born
HIGH Finding new nooks and crannies to explore.
LOW Bubble-hopping in Sogwood Forest. Man, that's hard.
WTF Rainbows are for swimming in, apparently.
In The Legendary Starfy, Tose's smiling ocean-exploring star finally washes up on North American shores. This Nintendo DS iteration is actually the fifth entry in the Densetsu no Sutafi series, which has graced the Game Boy Advance and the DS in Japan since 2002. As near as I can figure out, the title character is a star who lives in the sky. One day, he accidentally falls into the ocean and, while trying to get back home, meets lots of nice creatures there. They become his friends, and he likes to help them out. Which is why he spends a lot of time in the ocean, I guess.
The present game's story: Starfy, the child-prince of the sky kingdom of Pufftop, is napping when a rabbit in a spacesuit crashes through his ceiling. The visitor doesn't remember who he is or what he's doing there; he's being chased by three not-very-nice goons. What would such people want with a spacebunny? Starfy has no idea, but he's determined to help his new friend in any way he can. Starfy's older friend, a clam named Moe, thinks it's foolish to try to save somebody they don't even know. But, since Starfy is young and cute and good-heartedly impetuous, Moe tags along.
Despite being a star who lives in a sky-kingdom, Starfy spends most of his adventure underwater. He swims, attacks enemies by spinning into them (careful—if he spins too much, he gets dizzy) and shoots out of water like a five-armed dolphin. For this reason, the Densetsu no Sutafi games are known as "marine platformers." The ocean is so ubiquitous that what seems on the surface like garden-variety platforming really does feel like a different kind of play. Yes, Starfy jumps; he also swims with and against currents, pops bubbles, hunts for sunken treasure and body-surfs in rainbows. He also gets help from crabs, lobsters, and a Valley girl mermaid who saves his progress and replaces lost health.
As Starfy travels through the worlds defeating bosses (everything from a giant squid to an enormous penguin with a very sore-looking bellybutton), he finds crystal shards that help his spacebunny friend piece together his memories. The intergalactic visitor—whose name is Bunston—is as princely as Starfy and has the power to transform Starfy into various things: a fire-breathing dragon (Monstar), or a seal, or even a chicken (Roostar) that can stun enemies to use as platforms. Bunston doesn't start out knowing all these forms, of course; players must find large, glowing spheres to unlock his shape-shifting powers, or to upgrade them.
These upgradeable powers come in handy for beating down enemies, but they are an essential component of my favorite thing about The Legendary Starfy: exploring the ocean depths. In his ghost form, for instance, our hero can float through deadly spikes without being harmed. Beyond these spikes, he just might find a treasure chest or a secret door. It's not Metroid and doesn't try to be, but breaking through cracks in a wall I hadn't noticed before to find a new outfit for Starfy or a life-increasing Heart Gem still fills me with the joy of discovery.
After wracking my brain to think of something about The Legendary Starfy that I didn't like or was bored with, I can't really think of anything that's a flaw in the game rather than a result of my personal taste. In Sogwood Forest, there are floating bubbles in the air for Starfy to swim in; he gets higher and higher by spin-jumping between the bubbles. It's a very interesting game mechanic, but I had some trouble with it for reasons that had nothing to do with the developers and everything to do with me. Everything else about Starfy I like: the way his eyes bug out when he runs, how he says "Eee!" when he's happy and "Whee…" when he's not, the comic book-style cut-scenes, the Squirts' horrible jokes. Perhaps this game appeals less to adolescent and adult males than most games do: Starfy is more Kirby than Mario. But it does what it does very well, and I hope that this title is merely the beginning of Starfy's legend in North America.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the DS. Approximately 20 hours were spent in single-player mode, and the game was completed 1 time. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: mild cartoon violence. I can't imagine any problems with the content in The Legendary Starfy at all. A happy little star spins into enemies—totally harmless stuff. Even reading isn't all that important: there's text, but young kids can probably play without reading it, since how to use Starfy's abilities is demonstrated non-verbally as well.
Deaf and hard of hearing: There should be no problems. I played a lot of The Legendary Starfy without sound; all dialogue and mission information is in text, and there are no significant auditory cues.