Fun fact: StarTropics was originally sold with a paper letter from your in-game character’s uncle. At one point, halfway through the game, a character instructs you to take the letter and soak it in water in order to reveal a hidden numeric code that you must input to continue the game.
Far from being a cute little design quirk or an avant-garde attempt to make the game seem more “real” by taking the action into the real world, this was actually a total dick move by Nintendo.
You see, StarTropics was a rarity at the time because it was made for a North American audience and not for release in Japan. Back in the early 1990s, the North American video game rental market was huge. Not so in Japan, where Nintendo and other game companies successfully lobbied to have the practice literally outlawed. Anyone who rented games back then can tell you that they almost never came with any instructions or other extras, just the cartridge. Rent StarTropics without the letter containing the code? Sucks to be pre-Internet you, kid! Now go buy that cartridge brand new from your nearest authorized Nintendo retailer! I mean, you can’t quit now, can you? You’ve gotta see those last four levels!
This also explains why some already tricky games like Castlevania III, Ninja Gaiden III, and The Adventures of Bayou Billy received massive difficulty increases with their North American releases. You’d then have to rent the game multiple times to get enough practice to win, so you might as well just buy it!
Nintendo: Total pricks since the mid-1980s.
(Originally written 3/21/2017)