Given how sleek and digital modern gaming is, it’d hard to remember sometimes just how weird and arcane it used to be — and just when you’d forgotten, here comes a game like StarTropics to remind you. Nostalgic gamers who are playing this re-released classic on the Switch are being waylaid by lack of access to a clue that actually appeared on paper with the original game.
We’re not as far removed from the days of cartridge-blowing and RF switches as we’d like to think, but it sometimes feels like that only existed back in the Stone Age. And occasionally, when we revisit the classics from that period, we bump up against these relics of the time. In this case, the culprit is a game called StarTropics.
StarTropics was a late NES release from 1990, an action game in which the hero, Mike Jones, enters combat armed with a yo-yo. So we’re already brushing up against the bizarre, even by gaming’s standards. It was recently re-released on the Switch alongside Kid Icarus. But what can’t be included in this digital download is the letter that came with the original game. This letter, printed on paper, was from Mike’s uncle and set up the story of the game.
The trick was, you had to dip the letter in water in order to reveal a code which you’d then use in-game. And just stop and think for a minute how bizarre that is. What kind of Goonies nonsense is that? Not that I’m above difficult puzzles in-game, but if you tried to tell gamers nowadays to do something like that you’d have to a) find some way for the solution not to leak all over the internet five seconds after the game’s release and b) find some way of embedding the code in the digital download manual and probably incorporate an app or two.
While Nintendo did post a workaround when the game was released on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, it has not yet done so for the Switch edition. Still, it’s not a huge hardship, and nothing a swift search can’t reveal (it’s 747, for the record). But think about it: how weird is it for completion of a game to be dependent on something that’s not in the game itself?
This used to be more common than you think — not hidden messages, necessarily, but weird things like this. Remember how you had to look at the CD case of Metal Gear Solid to access Meryl’s codec frequency? Or Boktai, which you could only use by going outside and absorbing some sun because the game was literally solar-powered? There was an adventure game back early days of the 21st century called In Memoriam which required you to visit real websites (which no longer exist) and get emails from an in-game serial killer.
Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it, so it’s probably a good thing we occasionally get these reminders that games used to have weirdness like this. And while we’ve hopefully not risen too far above these kinds of oddity, hopefully we don’t have to dunk any letters into our water glasses when the next big release comes out. Death Stranding, don’t get any ideas.
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