Ristar is a cute and colourful scrolling 2D platform game developed and published by Sega in 1995. It first came out for the Megadrive/Genesis and was later ported to the Game Gear, but it was only ever initially released on Sega console hardware.
Ristar, as a character, is defined by his grabbing arms. He can shoot his hands out to grab enemies and headbutt them to take them out. He can grab and climb ladders and overhead bars, and he can also grab and swing from pole to pole, grab floating seeds (and even swing side to side and jump from them), pull himself up or down down a level, spin on levers (used to propel him into the air), prise open chests (which contain goodies), knock down vertical poles to make bridges, and more, so he’s quite a versatile character as far as movement goes. He can also jump, but only slightly.
Health-wise, Ristar begins the game with four stars and will lose one whenever he makes contact with a hostile character, or touches dangerous obstacles. He can replenish them by finding stars inside chests, and he loses a life if his on-screen stars reduce down to zero. Ristar starts off with five lives and can increase them by collecting gems from chests or by completing levels quickly.
The basic aim of the game is to survive and to make it to the end of a level, and to eventually make it to the end of the game. Occasionally there will be a boss battle, where you have to figure out how to use Ristar‘s grabbing powers to beat them and continue on. One interesting mechanic is that you can gain a height bonus when jumping out of the end screen on most a levels. This usually involves hanging on to a spinning ‘star handle’ and letting go at the right time. It’s similar in some ways to Mario jumping at the flag poles in Super Mario Bros., so it isn’t what I would call ‘original’, but is at least another layer of challenge to the game.
Each level also has a hidden star handle that propels Ristar to a special “time attack” bonus round. The idea in these is to collect all the treasure chests before the time runs out. There’s also a hidden ‘boss rush’ mode where you have to fight all the bosses in order, with only five lives. Use the passwords “DOFEEL” and “MUSEUM” respectively to see them.
Ristar does have some differences between the Japanese and English language versions. In particular, the boss of the ice-themed world being an ice robot instead of a cat robot, and the game’s story being slightly different. Also: Ristar‘s animation has been changed slightly and also some non-interactive cut scenes have been added to the Western version to help with the story’s continuity.
While Ristar doesn’t have the detail and depth of something like Super Mario World it is an enjoyable game to play has and stood the test of time well. Getting used to Ristar‘s grab-based movement can be a little frustrating at first, but eventually it becomes second nature. The colourful graphics, smooth scrolling and jolly music make this a game that is going to appeal to a wide variety of age groups, from children to adults.
Ristar is currently (at the time of writing) officially available to buy on Steam for a mere 79p, or as part of the Sega Megadrive/Genesis Classics pack. It’s the emulated original, but that’s fine as it’s done very well. It’s also available for the Nintendo Switch and mobile phone platforms. If you’ve never played it before I highly recommend it.