A Few Comments on The Legendary Starfy

March 13th, 2013

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The Legendary Starfy is the first game in the TOSE-developed, Nintendo-published series of the same name to be published in the west. The games have been around in Japan since 2002, debuting on the GameBoy Advance. The game’s cuteness and the franchise’s former status as a Japan-only hole in Nintendo’s western offering captured my initial interest. After completing the game a few weeks ago, here are my thoughts:

Young Audience Appeal

Cute characters, colourful visuals, and easy gameplay, The Legend of Starfy seems like a great game for kids, with the customisation options and secret treasure (random praise) likely to appeal more specifically to young girls. The dialogue, however, is layered on thick and full of uber clique speak. There’s no way that a 7-year-old is going to understand much of what’s being said.

Mechanics

Starfy has three types of mechanics: traversal, jumps, and attacks. They’re all fairly balanced and unique. The game balances the mechanics so that the player can choose between: swimming and star spinning, gliding and falling, and walking and dashing, ie. two sets of game speeds. The mechanics have some dynamics and nuance, but not a lot. Examples include:

The transformations primarily allow Starfy to activate specific level elements: they don’t add any new wrinkles to the gameplay. They also lack the nuance and dynamics of Starfy’s regular move set.

In some levels, certain areas are only accessible when playing as Starly, using her exclusive abilities, but the only way the player can play as Starly is if they have a friend to link up with. Since these areas hold treasures, they only way to 100% complete the game is to have a friend who also has a DS and a copy of the game.

The choice of game speed via the mechanics, optional treasures spread throughout levels, and ability to rack up more stars by comboing up enemy attacks allows the player to scale the difficulty.

Level Design

Each world is based around a game idea. For example, changing water levels or swimming in the air through bubbles. The individual game ideas aren’t very interesting, there’s little variation to them, they’re stretched too thin, and are never combined to create deeper, more engaging gameplay concepts. In a Mario game, one of Starfy’s game ideas would be enough for a level. In the Legend of Starfy, they make up seven or eight. To continue this comparison, Starfy’s levels tend to dawdle back and forth between the world’s game idea and unrelated distractions, while Mario’s levels are unified around the one concept. Where each arrangement of level elements in a Mario game offers a newer, increasingly more elaborate take on the game idea (variation), in The Legendary Starfy, each level only offers one or two arrangements based around the game idea, and the variation between each is slight. As a result of all these factors, Starfy’s world lacks a cohesive narrative of gameplay.

Not only are the levels not optimised for gameplay, they’re also far too open. Most of the player’s time is spent holding a button as they wait for Starfy to swim from one point to another. The game is just brimming with excess waiting to be trimmed out, some of which includes whole levels. Take level 8-6 as an example. I can’t believe they didn’t cut this. A rock, paper, scissors boss battle near the end of the game is an equally disastrous example of padding.

I want to thank Chic Pixel for helping me gather my thoughts on this game.