I’d like to welcome you to Ristar Week! This week we’ll be focusing on Ristar’s depressingly short run as a video game star, looking back on the character’s two games. Sonic Team’s star-faced hero never got his due back when he first came around. Debuting just a few months after the release of the 32X and just a few months before the US debut of the Saturn, Ristar came out at a time when the Genesis was no longer a console SEGA was interested in selling. As a result, Ristar was ignored and became a cult classic. This week, SEGAbits will be giving Ristar his long overdue respect.
First, though, a little history lesson.
Nineteen years ago, the evil space tyrant Greedy brainwashed the planetary leaders, enslaved the popular, and captured the legendary hero. A desperate plea for help was made, which was answered by none other than the hero’s own son. This is the story of Ristar, one of the most underappreciated game mascots of all time.
Ristar was one of the final Sonic Team games released for the Genesis, launched worldwide nearly nineteen years ago in February of 1995. The game is perhaps best known for its connections to Sonic: it was built on the same engine as Sonic 1 and was based on a competing concept for SEGA’s mascot: a rabbit who picked up and threw objects with its ears. Though it was built on Sonic 1’s engine, this is most definitely not a Sonic game.
Ristar himself is fairly slow and he can’t jump all that high. Instead of running and jumping, Ristar is all about grabbing and swinging. Ristar has stretchy arms that he can use to grab and kill enemies, swing around poles, climb up ladders, and all sorts of other things. He can even swing around on spinners, which sends him bouncing around stages at break neck speed. Ristar is a slower, more methodical game then Sonic the Hedgehog, and it’s emphasis on grabbing helps set it apart from pretty much any other side scrolling platformer out there.
Ristar had two games released at the same time on separate platforms. The more well-known of the two is Ristar for the Genesis, but the character also had a Game Gear game. The Genesis version featured some of the best graphics of any game on the console. The technical wizards over at Sonic Team managed to not only produce beautiful scrolling parallax backgrounds and awesome effects like the reduction of light in deeper water, they also managed to surpass the Genesis’s infamous color palette limitations.
The Game Gear version is equally impressive given the age of the technology involved. Much like many other 8-bit incarnations of 16 bit games, Ristar for the Game Gear was a very different game from its Genesis counterpart. The two versions offered similar game play and shared many of the same themes in their levels, but offered wildly different level design. In fact, the Game Gear version even had several exclusive level themes and bosses. As a result, Ristar for the Game Gear is its own game rather than a downgraded port, and at the moment the closest thing Ristar has to a sequel. It is an incredibly fun game and a must have for any Game Gear owner.
In the last decade gamers have been given new chances to experience Ristar. It was one of several unlockable games in Sonic Mega Collection and SMC+, and has since been included in both Genesis Collection and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection compilation releases. Ristar was one of the first Genesis games to hit the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2006 and would eventually makes its way to Steam’s service in 2010.
We’ll be talking more about the Genesis version in a review later this week!