• The Legend Of Stafi Trilogy Review - Nintendo GBA

    The Legend of Stafi Trilogy tells the tale of a chirpy yellow starfish that spends his time helping out the local seabed community: he finds their lost items, he fights off bullies and he plays games with them. The story is almost sickeningly wholesome; one that is obviously designed to be suitable for young children but donít let that fool you. Although the games are designed for kids their control, level design and puzzles make them more than playable for adults too.

    The Legend of Stafi (2002) is a platform game without platforms, all of the usual conventions are there but there is very little jumping. Though it initially feels like an Ecco the Dolphin clone, looking past the under-sea aesthetic makes it clear that Stafi has a lot more in common with Super Mario Brothers. Itís the Nintendo style tool-set that creates the similarity as Stafi begins his adventure with a basic repertoire of moves that become much more flexible and acrobatic as the level design demands.

    As with Nintendoís podgy plumber, it is the wide array of mobility skills that makes being a limbless sea creature so much fun. The gradual shift from clumsily swimming through the ocean to gracefully torpedoing about is one that awards a sense of having learnt to master an avatar to a degree that is all too lacking in more recent 2D games. Consequently, it is the latter half of the game that is most appealing, the first few levels being so simple that they could turn many off. Skip through the baby steps of these opening stages though, and Legend of Stafi will start to bestow its many gifts. Like a true classic, its boss battles are enjoyable finales to every level rather than uncomfortable stalling points and the occasional mini-games provide the adequate distraction that such a device was always designed to do.

    The Legend of Stafi 2 (2003) is more of the same but with an extra bit of spit and polish rubbed in to make the game a little more enjoyable. The character animation is much richer and the poor music of the first game is remixed enough to make it worth plugging in a set of headphones for. Stafiís range of gymnastics receives the mandatory update with particular emphasis placed on his out-of-the-water abilities: since the sequel sees Stafi having to spend more time on dry land he has become much faster and more agile on his points. The game plays much better for this mix of above and below sea-level antics and makes Legend of Stafi 2 a better starting point for newcomers as it avoids much of the simplicity of its predecessor.

    Rather than revolutionise the series, the third and final (?) instalment builds on the advances made in the previous two games and adds a secret ingredient known only to the best developers: the ingredient of level design. The Legend of Stafi 3 (2004) keeps the graceful movement of Stafi 2 and puts the player into a series of stages that really test those movements properly. Levels use simple tricks like placing platforms slightly out of reach so that the player is forced to think about what abilities they have learned that can help them reach further, jump higher and float longer. More elaborate tricks are also employed: World 3 for example is set in a haunted house that is filled with mist that Stafi can disperse by spinning around. Spinning can, of course, make Stafi dizzy and immobile so the player must find the right balance between visibility and manoeuvrability if they are to successfully beat the stage.

    As well as the much improved level design, Stafi 3 involves much more imaginative boss battles than its previous iterations. Each boss level is broken up into two stages, in the first stage the player takes control of Stafiís little pink sister Stappie who must weaken or trap the boss before the player regains control of Stafi and finishes the boss off. In the first World, Stappie must chase a hermit crab with a lamp, which gives him heat exhaustion and breaks his shell-armour so that Stafi can give him a good kicking.

    The improved level design and boss battles make Stafi 3 the best game in the series by several knots, but thatís not to say that the other two are not worth playing. Experiencing each one in sequence not only tells the linear story of Stafiís various triumphs but also allows us to see the organic process of improvements that a talented developer undergoes as it evolves a franchise from one good game to a great one and into a truly excellent one. It is thoroughly encouraging that TOSE have stuck to their guns, in this age of innovation, for the last three years and consistently worked on refining the classic platforming formula into one that it can now call its own. Indeed, as the DS continues to push the boundaries of portable gaming and the PSP forces handheld graphics into the next generation; the GBA will have to host stubbornly traditional games of a high quality if it is to mark its own territory in Nintendoís insane ďthree pillarĒ plan. Games like Legend of Stafi are just what the ageing handheld needs to do just that.

    Words by Ashley Day
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. Mairus's Avatar
      Mairus -
      Thank you for the article, but this game is not fun
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mairus View Post
      Thank you for the article, but this game is not fun
      Which one?
    1. Mairus's Avatar
      Mairus -
      I mean first one (2002) not impressed me
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