Star Fox 64 – Nintendo 64
Platform: Nintendo 64
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: June 30, 1997
Genre: Rail Shooter
Nerd Rating: 9/10
Reviewed By Paladin
I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on a Nintendo 64. Flashback to 1997; I was ecstatic that my brother had just bought his buddy’s old SNES. Couple that with my Star Wars obsession at the time and you could say the setting was ripe. I walked into my friend’s house, saw him playing Mario Kart 64, and I was blown away. The commercials didn’t do this console justice. “Look at these graphics!” I thought. “These controls are incredible! Check out those backgrounds! It almost makes me want to buy one myself!” I knew of the first Star Fox though I had never played it, but when my friend popped in Star Fox 64, I knew I had to own this system.
I had never experienced a game like this before. The opening cinematics alone were enough to suck me in. An epic score playing as the beautiful planet Corneria was attacked by distinguishable 3D villains; this was something unseen as of yet. Early 3D games, while quite enjoyable and ahead of their time, still only looked like a bunch of polygons linked together. But on the Nintendo 64, we finally got fully recognized objects that needed no speculation as to what they were. And they not only looked realistic, they moved as such. It hit me hardest when I saw the four main characters running down the hallway of their mothership, the “Great Fox,” and their entire bodies were engaged in the action as opposed to just their limbs. The cherry on this visually orgasmic sundae? Camera angles. This game looked and felt like you were playing through a movie. Cinematography was not something that gamers thought about up to this point, but after the intense zooming in and out, full rotations around a single point, and the focus panning from one piece of action to the next, we all started to. Such were my first impressions of Star Fox 64, and I hadn’t even pushed a button yet.
Even after the opening cinematic sequences, this game still takes your breath away. The player takes third-person control of Fox McCloud (all characters are animals) who is piloting his fighter spaceship (called an Arwing) low over the landscape of his home planet of Corneria. The first few seconds of gameplay sees Fox’s Arwing skimming the surface of a lake complete with flowing waves and currents. In the distance are majestic mountains that keep getting bigger relative to your own forward momentum (yay perspective!). The graphical detail is so advanced that the surface of the water even reacts when touching it with your wings or shooting it. Each action has its own unique sound effect; the laser sounds different the longer you charge it up, getting hit with an energy blast sounds different than running into a wall, and my personal favorite part of the entire game; voice acting. Every character has his or her own distinct voice and personality. This certainly wasn’t the first game to have these features, but it was the first to do it this well, in my opinion. Every couple of seconds a little screen pops up in the corner with a static-like scratch and someone speaks, whether it be your wing mates or a villain. Through their banter we get glimpses into backstories and learn a little more about each character from level to level.
But wait, doesn’t this auditory and visual awesomeness distract from actually playing? Nope. This game has some of the most responsive and intuitive controls I’ve ever experienced. Besides a helpful training mode, Peppy Hare (your superior) gives you instructions as you’re blowing bad guys out of the air. All it takes is a one second glance downward to see what buttons he’s indicating and you have a new maneuver at your disposal. After a few levels, performing somersaults, U-Turns and, of course, barrel rolls, you’ll notice that it’s all second nature. It helps that the game doesn’t throw everything at you all at once. While the levels do get increasingly difficult, the difficulty curve is paced so you are able to learn, practice, and adapt.
So, after all this, what’s the plot, right?
Andross, an evil monkey scientist, is trying to take over the solar system, called the Lylat System, and every planet is infested with his minions, all armed with the latest technology. Each level features a different world with a different eco-system and different challenges. For example, the asteroid belt, Meteo, has hundreds of asteroids of varying sizes that have to be navigated around. Macbeth has you on the trail of a supply train that needs to be taken out. Even the sun, Solar, is a level, with tidal waves of lava threatening to overtake you at any moment.
So, do you fly through all these levels? Most of them, but occasionally, the game lets you control different vehicles. For as much fun as the Arwing is, the Landmaster tank and Blue-Marine submarine are equally as enjoyable, with each one perfectly suited to their respective levels. But don’t expect to pilot all three in one sitting. The game is divided up into easy, medium, and hard paths. Each is traveled by performing, or not performing, certain tasks in a level and the player can even diverge from one path onto another so you’re not stuck on one for the entire game.
Between the controls, graphics, visuals, sound, voice acting, controls again, and camera work, this game has only one real flaw; no Save feature. Even playing the game on Hard mode isn’t as frustrating as getting to the last level and not being able to finish. If life gets in the way, you just have to pause the game and hope no one turns it off. This problem only gets worse when attempting to get all the Medals on each level, obtained by destroying a certain high number of enemies each time. Snagging three or four Medals in one sitting only to lose them all because you have to turn the system off before the game can be beaten makes you want to throw the controller like you’re playing the NES. Seeing as it was the early days of the N64 I might have been able to forgive this, but this same thing was a problem with the original Star Fox. Why they didn’t fix it the second time around is beyond me, but at least they learned in time for Star Fox 64 3D, released in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS.
Being unable to save is annoying, but honestly, playing through Star Fox 64 in one sitting is so fun that it barely takes away the enjoyment. I could be accused of looking at it through Nostalgia Goggles, but I’ve met few people who disagree with me. The brilliance of Star Fox 64 comes from its complex details executed with simple straightforwardness. There’s so much going on and so much to experience, yet it never once feels overwhelming or forced. I would recommend this game to anyone. Play it.
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