Ristar: The Sega Genesis Hit That Never Was

Ristar Intro Screen Animated

Sega had a ton of great games for the Genesis, many of which are missed treasures. One of the best of these is “Ristar.” This 1995 game was released late in the system’s life and was highly acclaimed, but not much of a financial success.

Starring a cute little star named Ristar, it was a side-scroller that eschewed the “attitude” era and focused on high-quality platforming. If you’ve never played “Ristar,” or are simply looking for obscure games to discover, read on to learn why it’s worth your time.

The Story Behind The Game

“Ristar” was originally developed around the concept of “grabbing” items in your environment and using them in a variety of unique ways. It was originally going to be Sega’s answer to Nintendo and their mascot, but they wanted to focus on “speed” to differentiate their game from Nintendo’s plodding plumber.

Unable to think of a way to make “grabbing” fast, they scraped the idea and created Sonic instead. After the huge success of that game, the weird “grabbing” idea was resurrected, given a little spit shine and sent off into the world as “Ristar.”

The Game Play

“Ristar” is one of the simplest games on the Sega, as far as mechanics go. Ristar can jump and grab items: that’s it. Grabbing helps him manipulate the environment in a variety of ways, including climbing to new areas, swinging around like a gymnast, flipping switches, and grabbing statues to throw.

Beyond those actions, you can also grab enemies to quickly perform a head-butt that defeats them. While simple, this mechanic is stretched in a variety of awesome ways.

For example, you’ll be swinging from post to post to avoid fires, grabbing items to trigger traps, head-butting monstrous end bosses, and behaving like a true high-flying star.

The Presentation

“Ristar” is, hands down, one of the most gorgeous games on the Genesis. It has bright colors, great details, finely designed characters, and a whole litany of graphics that pressed the system to its max. As it was released in 1995, designers had a better idea of how to push the system a little harder to get better results.

The music is also great: though not among her best work, it is another example of the stellar skills of game composer Tomoko Sasaki. Each level gets its own bouncy theme music and it’s exciting to listen to the ways it develops. The sound effects are also a nice touch, being well-defined and rarely, if ever, grating on the ear.

The Challenge

For such a cute game (Ristar really is adorable), this game is TOUGH. The first few levels shouldn’t challenge any hardcore old-school gamer, but you’ll quickly find yourself spinning over fire, making leaps of faith, battling toe-to-toe with hard-to-pet-down bosses, solving puzzles, navigating mazes, and fighting to get the most out of your “grabbing” ability.

You’ll also be challenged to beat the entire game in one sitting, as there is no save feature or even a password system. You do get several continues, which makes the game easier to handle. However, the lack of a save system is a severe problem that may cause many people to turn away from this game.

Thankfully, it has been released on a variety of platforms, including on the stunning XBox 360 collection “Sonic’s Ultimate Sega Collection.” If you have a 360, that game is a must-own, as it also collects other forgotten games, like “Dynamite Headdy,” the bizarre “Decap Attack,” and the cute-as-a-button “Flicky.”

The Final Verdict

“Ristar” is a classic of the Sega Genesis that every retro gamer should at least try. The best way to get it is the previously mentioned collection on the 360, though it is available for download on several other platforms.

Tracking down the original game is a little harder, though, as it didn’t sell well and was released so late in the console’s life. The handsome cover does make for a great display item, though, so it’s definitely worth a try.

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