By 1995, 16-bit gaming was in its descendancy. The PlayStation and Sega Saturn had been released, demonstrating the future potential for video gaming to the world. The 32-bit era had arrived!!! Technology had finally reached a stage where 3D polygonal graphics were actually beginning to look good, and gamers were demanding longer more complex challenges. However, there were still a few gem 16-bit games in the wings, waiting to make their appearance.
Ristar is a single-player platform game developed and published by Sega and released on the Mega Drive for 1995. You can also find this game on various Sega compilations on systems such as the PlayStation 3 and 4. For this review, played the version found on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection (2009).
In a far-off galaxy, a band of space pirates led by their tyrannical leader Greedy is brainwashing the leaders of a nearby solar system and forcing them to do his bidding. On the planet Flora, Ristar, son of a captured space hero has pledged to travel from planet to planet to rescue his father and free all the brainwashed leaders which will in turn loosen Greedy’s power.
There are seven worlds for you to save from Greedy:
Greedy’s Space City
Ristar’s unique way of attacking any foe he encounters is by extending his arms to grab them and bring them towards him in what can only be described as a headbutt. Since his hands can be made to extend in all directions, this can make for some incredibly acrobatic gameplay.
There are times in the game where you will come across a Star Handle. By grabbing this, Ristar proceeds to swing like a gymnast. By pressing a direction button you can pick up speed until tiny stars start to appear. This indicates that Ristar is now a shooting star and when he lets go of the bar, will fly at great speed and will be able to reach very high places as well as kill any enemy he comes into contact with. You will find Star Handles at the end of each level where the higher you exit the screen the more points your earn.
There are also hidden Star Handles that allow you access to bonus stages. Each bonus stage has a treasure that you must find within a time limit. I’m unsure if collecting all these treasures makes a difference to the ending of the game.
Along the way you will find power-ups to help you on your journey:
Little Star – Yellow and black gives you an extra life, and black and white helps you through traps.
Restore Star – The gold star adds one more hit to your Gold Star count and a silver star resets your Gold Star count to four hit points.
Yellow Jewel – Collect these to gain points.
This game is fun and very enjoyable to play. Oddly there is no run button, so Ristar will always run at the same speed (unless using the Star Handle, of course). The controls are easy to learn but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay as there are plenty of enemies and handholds to grab thorughout the levels allowing Ristar to show off his agility. The controls are tight and the physics of the game are easy to get used to. However, one annoying aspect to the gameplay is that when you kill and enemy, Ristar backflips. You have no control over this and it leaves him vulnerable if another enemy is nearby.
For the most part the game is easy enough, although, I found the boss at the end of Planet Freon difficult to get past and it took me several attempts to defeat it.
Unlike many platformers which keep to the same formula of simply running and jumping through the levels, there is a puzzle aspect to Planet Sonata. You must find metronomes and take them to weird singing bird creatures that block your way.
There is little argument about it. This is one of the most beautiful Mega Drive games you will see. The levels are incredibly detailed and colourful with multi-layered parallax scrolling, and the sprites look superb. on occasion when Ristar is sliding on ice, or jumping from springs, he rotates which allows the Mega Drive to show of its graphics capability.
During the swimming levels when Ristar swims deeper, the screen becomes darker as it would in the real world adding a touch of realism to the game. Although, it would make sense to keep a circle around him which is brighter since he is a star and he emanates light. Ristar swims very well and doesn’t need to breath underwater either…which is a relief to platformer fans everywhere no doubt.
When Ristar has been standing still for too long, he begins to amuse himself in different ways depending on the planet you are on. For example, on Planet Freon, he will begin to make a snowman.
I can understand how this game has been criticised for being a Sonic the Hedgehog clone. The animations that appear at the beginning of every level telling you the stage are almost identical to what you would see in Sonic. The music, whilst being upbeat and enjoyable to listen to also reminds me of the Sonic franchise. This doesn’t bother me though as good music is good music.
Did I complete the game?
Not yet, I couldn’t get past Planet Automation.
What the critics said:
Computer & Video Games: “At first glance it just doesn’t have any original features, which is the real lifeblood of a decent jumpy game like Ristar. However, despite the absence of any real gaming inspiration so far as the format goes, Risatr is actually a pretty darned playable title. Overall 83%“.
Electronic Gaming Monthly: “An excellent new character, Ristar requires more technique than the typical run-and jump action titles. The stages are very colourful, with good graphics and control. The sounds could be a bit pumped up. Overall 38/50“.
Next Generation: “Ristar borrows heavily from Sega’s other budding mascot, Dynamite Headdy, but it still contains enough original gameplay, solid action, and fun to escape the ‘copy-cat’ labl and be one of 1995’s more promising games. Overall 3/5“.
Games World: “Beautiful and enjoyable platform adventure in true Sega style. No attempt is made to hide the fact that Ristar takes most of its influence and style – no all of its influence and style from the Sonic games. The idea for his telescopic arms has been lifted from Dynamite Headdy, (although he didn’t use his arms mush of course). Very playable but maybe a little easy to finish. Overall 83%“.
Mean Machines Sega: “Likeable, if not exactly lovable, and pretty interpretation of the old platform chestnut. Now does anyone have some new ideas? Overall 84%“.
Sega Magazine: “A highly polished platform game. Not up there with Headdy or Earthworm Jim, but Ristar has its own charms. Worth giving a try. Overall 87%”.
Sega Power: “Far too close to Sonic to be judged on its own merits. It’s not as good as Sonic either – which doesn’t help. Overall 74%“.
Sega Pro: “A promising debut by RIstar, this guy will go far. Good stuff, but a touch more originality would have made it even better. Overall 90%“.
“I really enjoyed playing this game. It looks gorgeous, is fun to play, and has a good soundtrack. It shows how incredible 16-bit games can look.”
What are your memories of Ristar? I would love to hear your thoughts, and don’t for get to follow and subscribe so that you don’t miss my latest reviews! You can also find me on Instagram: @nicklovestogame.
 ‘CVG Review – Ristar’. Computer & Video Games. (February 1995). Issue 159:66-7.
 ‘Review Crew – Ristar’. Electronic Gaming Monthly. (February 1995). :36.
 ‘Rating Genesis – Ristar’. Next Generation. (March 1995). Issue 3:101.
 ‘Reviews – Ristar‘. Games World. (March 1995). Issue 9:12.
 ‘Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Mean Machines Sega. (February 1995). Issue 28:60-2.
 ‘Mega Drive Review – Ristar’. Sega Magazine. (January 1995). Issue 13:88–9.
 ‘Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Power. (March 1995). Issue 64:50-1.
 ‘Review Mega Drive – Ristar’. Sega Pro. (February 1995). Issue 41:40-1.