Of all Sega’s 16-bit platforming efforts, perhaps the most underrated is Ristar. Released at the tail-end of the Genesis era, the game boasted stellar graphics and level design, as well as an engaging gameplay dynamic in the form of the main character’s stretchable arms. Ristar was created by Sonic Team, and its untimely release and lack of marketing support caused it to come in far too low on most people’s radar. Sega has tried to remedy the issue by giving Ristar repeated releases on various platforms, and now it has finally joined the Sega Forever line of mobile classics.
I’ve mostly applauded these efforts, since any chance to increase people’s awareness of this deserving and original game is welcome. Unfortunately, Ristar’s long arms miss the brass ring with this release because of the problems inherent with its control scheme. The buttons work fine, but it’s that darn digital D-pad that makes things almost unplayable.
The trouble lies with how Ristar controls as a character in this version. He moves left and right fine with the digital pad, but much of the precise platforming, as well as Ristar’s grab ability, depend on the player being able to move his arms in eight directions. Stretching up or down without your thumb sliding off the pad is difficult, and stretching diagonally is a challenge, to say the least. Precision movements, such as hopping from one tree trunk to another, can be a frustrating exercise.
Ristar also seems to suffer from slowdown during gameplay in many areas that I don’t recall experiencing in the console original. This issue hasn’t been a problem in slower-paced Sega Forever releases, like Phantasy Star II and Streets of Rage, but platformers are a much different animal. Slowdown, combined with the aforementioned control issues, can be a death knell for this type of game, which requires quick and precise movement. For one as dear to me as Ristar, it makes this release all the more disappointing. I’ve heard that Sega’s choice of Unity as its emulator for Sega Forever titles is the cause, but I have no evidence to that effect. Whatever the case may be, it actually hinders the gameplay here.
I have high hopes for the Sega Forever line, but the fears my experience with The Revenge of Shinobi and its problematic gameplay seem to be proven a genuine problem with Ristar. Platformers are not digital pad-friendly, and one as robust in gameplay as Ristar suffers more so than others. I don’t know what Sega could do to remedy this without offering some sort of external add-on alternative (Sega would EVER do that sort of thing!). In the meantime, Ristar is a platformer that requires lots of patience, just for all the wrong reasons.