The Legendary Starfy was responsible for more than a few furrowed brows when it came into the NZGamer.com office. The franchise has been wildly popular in Japan, but virtually unheard of in the West. Although, there is a certain contingent haunting teh interwebz that have been campaigning for an English release for some time. Now their prayers have been answered, as the starfish of legend appears on the DS in the fifth outing in his own right, and the first for NZGamer.com.
Starfy's adventure starts when a strange creature falls through the roof of Pufftop Palace - Starfy's home in the clouds where he lives with his sister, Starly, and buddy Moe (a clam - and why not?). Before Starfy has time to offer his guest so much as a nice piece of toast spread with iSnack 2.0, the little dude is dragged away by three shadowy figures. Starfy doesn't like injustice any more than your average 2D platform hero, and he ropes his main cat Moe into chasing down the creature and his captors. When Starfy catches up with him - the space bunny known as Bunston - the baddies are gone and Bunston has been left with some major gaps in his memory. Starfy and Moe present Bunston with a crystal shard left behind at Pufftop, and they soon work out that there's more shards to find. Hoping to piece together the puzzle, they hook off to find answers, and maybe catch those bad guys.
The action happens in the tropical world below Pufftop, where there's plenty of sea, sand and sun. Starfy is controlled with the D-pad, with his abilities attached to A, B, et al. Touch screen functionality has been limited to selecting Starfy's destinations on the world map, and using gadgets that become available as you progress. In the map screen, the touch screen is also home to Moe's Case, in which Starfy has access to a shop, minigames, his journal, and 'Stuff'. There are a number of unlockables in Moe's Case also, and these appear as certain requirements are met. All of this carry on is sort of separate to the main game - while there are in-game events that result in treats appearing in Moe's Case, the kind of activities you'll do in there don't have any real effect on your adventure. In the Stuff screen, for example, you can dress Starfy up with various accessories, but their use is limited to a fashion-show style romp around: he doesn't actually wear them when you return to the game.
So apart from looking like an ad for Southern Cross Travel Insurance (Starfy's resemblance to the company's suitcase toting mascot is uncanny), how does the game actually play? Extras are one thing (and there are plenty, even if they're a little shallow) but is there any value in the main adventure? You'll have seen from the story above that this game is imbued with a kind of standard zaniness. Yeah, it's an oxymoron, but it seems that games of this type are wacky almost by formula. Despite its eccentricities, the story is pretty A to Z in its execution; goody sees baddies doing baddy things and heads off to exert some goody smack down. Here, that format works just fine. The gameplay itself is a little stilted, though.
Starfy's abilities are fairly limited, and the enemies are extremely tame. As a result, his Star Spin, as basic as it is, works just as well as a full set of wild and wonderful attacks. As the game goes on, you'll find that Starfy can team up with others to get new abilities. Avoiding too many spoilers, the first one you unlock is Monstar, which Bunston is able to help Starfy transform into. This fire-breathing beast looks more or less like Charmander, and is useful for torching inconvenient weeds. Monstar also allows Starfy to move much faster over land. While the starfish is amphibious - the game employing some rather creative biology - he's really much better in the water.
The underwater environments in The Legendary Starfy are complex, with many nooks, crannies and secrets. From one area into the next, there are usually a number of gateways. As Starfy swims around looking ecstatically happy, he'll collect pearls that can be used as currency and come across enemies that need vanquishing. There are currents in some areas that hinder or help progress, and on the whole the design of these areas is very good. However, because of the largely passive way the low-level enemies act, the first part of the game is just way too easy for any experienced gamer to enjoy very much. Even boss battles don't present much of a challenge.
We get that this game is made with a very particular audience in mind, and for that target demographic it should certainly succeed. That said, a warning has to go out to that large group that likes the odd happy platformer to break up all the blood and guts: Starfy is easy, and easy can be tedious. It doesn't take long before the novelty of swimming and spinning starts to wear off. The story, while quirky and fun, won't hold anyone enraptured, except for that very young market (who you might argue don't care about a nice meaty narrative anyway).
The Legendary Starfy has an instantly recognisable Japanese animation style, with backgrounds and characters that don't demand much of the DS. But no one ever plays a game like this looking for slick visuals. The sound and music have been crafted with an ear tuned to exactly what a platformer needs, and as a result The Legendary Starfy presents a pleasant enough gaming experience to both ear and eye. Should you close the DS mid-game, listen out for Moe's protest (I think it's Moe, anyway).
Packed with extra activities, secret areas and a decent if not overwhelming adventure, The Legendary Starfy will no doubt have satisfied all those eager gamers waiting for it to appear in a language they could understand. Certainly fans of any of the Mario Bros titles, or Kirby games, and anyone looking for a nostalgic hit reminiscent of the SEGA or Nintendo platformers of yore ought to find something they like in Starfy. Occasionally it's nice to play a game that doesn't make too many demands.
Hey, maybe this would be a good game for all those casual gamers people keep talking about.