Sega's lesser star reaches his quarter-century
How I learned to stop worrying and quite like Ristar
I've always had issues with Ristar, most of which stemmed from the constant use of diagonals on controllers that really weren't suited for them. The Gamecube controller via Sonic Mega Collection, the Dualshock via Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (and the PS4 Sega Mega Drive Collection), or indeed an Xbox 360 controller for Windows via Steam or - heaven forbid! - emulation. In all the forms I'd tried the game, I found it awkward and uncomfortable just to perform the essential moves. Again, the heavy reliance on diagonal "shots" in order to grab walls or swing on poles just felt antithetical to the reality of the accesory I was using. So, for a long time, I didn't like Ristar very much. It fundamentally didn't work.
Then, after Project Lunar came out, I somewhat reluctantly put Ristar on my Mega Drive Mini. I mean, I kind of had to. It's one of the go-to Mega Drive games that everybody cites. And, to be less than entirely self-effacing, I pride myself on my willingness to revisit games I simply don't like. It's a good way to discover new favourites when your tastes invariably change. Anyway, you can see where this is going. Ristar is an absolute joy to play when you use a Mega Drive pad, so smoothly does that thing take your diagonal inputs. Every action that felt "against the grain" before was now effortless, and seeing past my control issues allowed me to appreciate even further the stuff I already dug.
It's a beautiful thing to look at, with fantastic colours and superb enemy sprites. The visual contrast between each different stage is pretty spectacular and the music is extremely memorable and catchy. Of course, the level design is rather good too, though it's here that my misgivings with the controls were given some measure of substance - two water levels in a row? A weird musical escort mission? Simon bloody Says?
These problems do keep Ristar out of the top tier for me, but there's so much good and creative stuff going on that it would be churlish to dismiss the game. There's a reason a relatively obscure title like this has been so well-loved for 25 years. Give it a go! But make sure you're playing it with something that won't slice your hands off when you try to input diagonals. So, maybe not the Dreamcast, hmm?