Review by yobaybeeyo
A unique concept marred by terrible execution, design flaws, and poor controls makes for one of the worst N64 games ever
I have a place in my heart for hidden gems. Finding great games on one of my favorite systems is what inspired me to become an N64 collector in the first place. However, for every hidden gem, it seems there are several abysmal games in its place. Starshot: Space Circus Fever is one of those truly awful games that has left me with a poor taste in my mouth.
Starshot is a 3D platformer typical of the time. Developed by now defunct company, Infogrames (gee, I wonder why?), Starshot is a quirky game that could have been great, but its flaws have made it a game lost in time. However, there is a good reason this game is lost in time. Read on to find out just why this game should be avoided at all costs.
Starshot seems to have identity issues. On first glance, the game appears to be very cutesy with a smiling protagonist and circus theme. However, the farther you go into the game, the more weird things you see. A lot of the characters actually swear, which seems really out of place for a Rated-E game. Many of the characters threaten to kill or maim other characters.
Outside of those oddities, the menus are nice, but the main intro screen and level select is needlessly confusing.
I actually thought the story was really unique. Basically, you play as Starshot, a robot designed as a military weapon who became struck with a virus that resulted in having a conscience. Without a place in the world, he joined the Space Circus as a star-juggler. Your rival, the Virtua-Circus is becoming a stronger competitor and is destroying all acts in the universe and converting them into virtual images for their own show. With Virtua-Circus stealing their patrons, the Space Circus is soon in extreme debt. In order to get back your money and save your circus, you must travel with your two robot companions to find new acts across the galaxy.
The story was really unique, but unfortunately, it wasn't told very well. Instead of visiting interesting locales, you visit very gloomy and drab environments that kill any kind of interest in the story. Instead of enjoying the places you visit, you would rather exit them as soon as possible. In addition, the build-up to the acts you find results in a very poor payoff that ruins the flow of the story.The worst part is that the game ends on a cliffhanger and obvious hopes for a sequel, so don't expect a satisfying ending.
The writing is a mixed bag. I found very few of the jokes funny, but there was one that made me laugh out loud, which is more than I was expecting. The writing does at least reflect the personality of the characters, but often times this results in lots of text, which can slow things down to a crawl.
One thing I found interesting, but also strange, was that the manual has backstories for a lot of the minor characters. Some of them are actually really involved, which is not reflected in-game whatsoever. Maybe one developer got laid off or something...
The sound effects are okay. The characters talk in a gibberish which sounds like bits of French. The way they talk sounds similar to something like Banjo-Kazooie. I kind of liked the way it was done. There are about four different voice actors too, so you will hear the same voice a few times, but not too often. The other sound effects, like laser beams and explosions are pretty good too. Some sound effects are a bit repetitive, but aren't too annoying.
The music is pretty bad though. Most of it loops really quickly so it gets old fast. I think there were maybe two good tracks in the game out of maybe 12 or 15 tracks. The weirdest part is that a lot of the music is really downbeat and gloomy. It sounds more like something you would play at a space-funeral instead of in an interesting interstellar world.
The majority of the graphics are pretty bad. Most of the worlds are floating platforms in space. Almost all the textures are severely low-resolution and look blurry and distorted from any distance. Only two levels use any bright colors. The rest are mostly filled with browns and grays. This creates so many uninteresting worlds that just make the game a chore to play through. This is a shame because the first level is bright and interesting. They really missed their chance to create interesting worlds here. Many of the later levels are so dark, that I had to turn up my TV's contrast just to see anything.
The only good character model is Starshot and his manager Mr. Starcash. The rest of the game characters are shambles of ploygons that are difficult to differentiate even at close distances. It really is a mess to look at. There are still some characters that I couldn't even tell what they were even at the end of the game. Starshot looks good, but he is such a contrast to all of the other characters in the game, that it is probably a given. The developers touted the game by saying that there are over 300 characters in the game. I don't doubt them, but I would say more than 290 of them look atrocious.
Lastly, there are so many graphical errors in this game, including a horrendous framerate at almost any given time. Objects commonly clip into each other and some parts of the game seem unfinished, all while the game chugs along at a snail's pace. Seriously, the only time the game ran smoothly was during cutscenes and the end credits. The only positive thing I can say about the graphics is that it allows for a widescreen format, which is nice for newer TVs.
The controls in this game are seriously faulty. Hit detection for you and your enemies is off, which makes collecting simple objects and solving even easy puzzles a chore. There were a few times where I thought I figured out a puzzle, but upon not being able to hit a certain object, I thought I was doing something wrong. It turns out that I didn't hit an object in JUST the right way.
The jumping does not feel good. Starshot's jump has more verticality instead of horizontal movement, so certain jumps are more stressful than they need to be. You are able to do higher jumps if you hold down the A button, but this always feels weird and results in you having to constantly jump around like a bunny rabbit. Sometimes when you land on the edge of a platform, you will mistakenly end up falling down, which often leads to an untimely death.
It could have been my controller being old, but I had issues with the fluidity of Starshot's movement as well. It seemed like if you were moving forward and turned left or right, Starshot would stutter a little bit, and you would end up losing momentum and stopping in place. It really drove me crazy after awhile and caused in more missed jumps than I needed. However, this could have been due to the horrendous camera (more on that later).
You also have the ability to fly for a short period of time when you collect a certain object, which works okay as long as you don't move more than an inch to the left or right. If you move even a little bit sharply, your character will careen all over the place. Overall, the controls felt really unpolished and having poor controls in a platformer is a gaming sin.
This game deserves a section to itself on just how disastrous its camera is. The camera has a mind of its own, and controlling it is a game in itself.
Firstly, the controls for the camera are ridiculous. The c-buttons work for just moving the camera to the right and left, but if you want to precisely control the camera, you must hold down the Z button and move the analog stick. This feels so weird and it requires you to be standing still and open to enemy fire. This results in many free shots being taken at you. Not only that, but when holding the Z button, you can zoom the camera in and out with the A and B buttons. For some reason, you are allowed to zoom the camera out to the point where you can hardly see your character.
Despite having all those options for controlling the camera, you will find that the camera just does whatever it wants. When you jump, the camera will move. The camera gets stuck on objects, especially when moving into a cramped locations. In some areas, the camera is fixed, causing you not to be able to see where you are going. A lot of the time, the camera zooms in during action sequences, so you can't even see the enemies. The camera is so bad that it sucks a lot of the enjoyment out of the game.
The game's core concept isn't really that bad. You are basically just trying to get from point A to point B through various means. Most of the time this is done by just walking, but other times you may need to fly around. There are enemies along the way. Most of which can be easily beaten by your blaster, which you collect ammo for. Usually the ammo is easily found, but there are times where you will be totally out and there is none to be found. The blaster is pretty cool. You can just shoot it normally with the B button, but you can also hold down B to control the directions of its trajectory. Unfortunately, you don't really get to use this in any particularly creative ways.
The game is pretty generous with its checkpoints too. Any time you see a glowing ring of light, all you have to do is walk through it and the game saves. No matter how many times you die, you will always start back there with all of your health and half of your max ammo. This is helpful because there are many cheap one-hit kills in the world of Starshot.
There are some puzzles in the game which are not really very creative. Some are just killing all enemies or finding a different way to do so, while others involving pushing an object into a certain place. They are mostly solvable, but issues with hit detection make some really frustrating. The ones involving flying are unfortunately not used very often, which is a shame considering it is one of the unique aspects of the game. The worst kind of puzzles are the ones where you have to escort non-player characters into certain areas. Their AI is just so bad that it becomes an exercise in patience.
My biggest gripe with the gameplay is that there is no period of invincibility after being hit. This means that even a small enemy can kill you in a matter of seconds if you are in a bad position. This gameplay mechanic is so annoying and causes so many problems, that you will be thanking the developers for adding so many checkpoints.
Platformer enthusiasts may be delighted to find out that you do not have to collect a million items like other platformers. There is one collectable, but you only need to collect 100 of them and there is way more than 100 in the game. I had 100 after the third world, and there are six worlds in total. As far as I can tell, there is no reward for collecting all of them, and I really don't care to find out if there is.
The game really doesn't offer much in the way of variety. Sure, each level has a few unique puzzles or enemies that require a certain way to kill them, but ultimately each level is the same. One level does kill you instantly for jumping, which is definitely a big change of pace, but doesn't really change the core gameplay at all.
It was kind of disappointing for there only to be one boss as well. Even one more boss could have added some more depth.
This game is difficult for the wrong reasons. The controls and the camera are the biggest enemies in the game. Sure there are hazards and enemies that can kill you one hit, but with so many checkpoints, those are negligible. The biggest challenge comes from trying to wrestle the controls to just get through the game.
With this game being so totally unenjoyable and devoid of interesting content, I don't think I will ever play this game again. I am a collector, so this game will just sit on the shelf and collect dust while I play other, better games.
For those who enjoy the game, they will most likely find no other reason to return to the game either. There is no reason to collect the items in the game, as they don't seem to unlock anything special. I guess I am thankful that means I don't have to play the game any more than I have to, but it makes them seem a bit useless to have in the game anyway.
Final Verdict: 24/100 rounded down to a 1 out of 5.
I hated this game from about 30 minutes in. I would play any other game on N64, including Superman 64. I put about 9 hours in this game from start to finish. I will never get those 9 hours back. Don't play this game for any reason, no matter how curious you may be. It offers nothing of value. The worst part is that this game is kind of rare (probably because it only sold about 50,000 copies). I paid $20 bucks for this game used, and I am kind of regretting it.
There were so many missed opportunities in this game. Oh well, at least I now have more time for good games to play.
Rating: 1.0 - Terrible
Product Release: Starshot: Space Circus Fever (US, 06/30/99)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.