Review: Star Fox 64 3D
October 10, 2011, Author: Andy Corrigan
Ah, I used to love me some Star Fox. The SNES original back in 1993 (known as Star Wing, in Europe) was the first to make use of the seldom-featured FX Chip, allowing Nintendo’s 16bit machine to handle something approaching 3D graphics. The game was like not much else at the time visually, while playing as a forward-scrolling space shooter.
As is the way with Nintendo, their big franchises make at least one big appearance on each console, and after winning plaudits on the SNES it was no surprise to see Star Fox 64 (Lylat Wars 64 in Europe… sigh) hit the N64 exactly one generation later. Acting more as a remake, this is the one that everyone fondly remembers the most, introducing free roam arenas to fly in, along with ground-based battle tanks.
With another N64 classic, Ocarina of Time, recently doing the business for Nintendo, some might say that it was only a matter of time before another remastered title saw the light of day to bolster 3DS sales. Sure enough, Star Fox followed suit.
Star Fox 64 3D follows the adventures of one Fox McCloud (who is, coincidentally, an actual fox), an ace mercenary fighter pilot working with the Cornerian Army as they battle the evil genius of the simian scientist, Andross. However, the story of how the planet Corneria came to blows with Andross began long before Fox’s involvement, as his father had previous dealings with the dangerous genius.
You see, Andross himself was a former resident of the planet Coneria; however, his insane experiments led to his banishment to the most distant planet in the Lylat system: Venom. In the years following, General Pepper (promoted from the Lonely Hearts Club Band, I imagine) and his team began detecting mysterious goings on around Venom and hired the original Star Fox team to investigate. This Mercenary unit was then led by Fox’s father, James, who was betrayed and left for dead by one of his wingmen during battle against Andross’ forces. This sets us up nicely for the perfect revenge story, as Fox, now in charge of a new Star Fox team, is also hired to help prevent Andross’ further attacks on the Lylat system.
Not that much of this is conveyed all that well in the game. Aside from a Star Wars-style text scroll at the beginning explaining the above, and a few remarks about Fox’s father from NPCs, it’s pretty easy to miss. It’s a product of its time, though, as it’s essentially an arcade game focused a lot more on the space combat than any of the underlying plot.
For what does unfold in gameplay is littered with cultural references. It’s noted (on Wikipedia, anyway) that Miyamoto took a lot of inspiration from puppet shows like Thunderbirds when originally approaching Star Fox, but you’ll find a lot of other Sci-Fi nods here. You’ll spot things like Peppy Hare’s obvious impression of Admiral Akbar in the second stage or the level entirely in homage to Independence Day; you’ll be sure to find things to smile about as you work your way through.
Do a barrel roll!
Okay, for those of you who have never played the game before, the core gameplay is played out over two distinct types of flight. The first is a simple forward-scroller in the game’s signature aircraft, the Arwing. Here, the enemies appear in front of you, and you shoot them by moving your ship and reticule around, until you get to the end boss. It’s as simple as that. On facing the first boss in the game, you’ll be introduced to the second flight-style: All-Range mode. All-Range mode gives you freedom to fly wherever you like within a set arena, allowing you to take part in fun dogfights. If you hit the edges of the map, you’ll be automatically U-turned and put straight back into the action.
Throughout the game, depending on the routes you take through the Lylat system (which acts as your level select screen, more on that soon), you may also occasionally be tasked with controlling two other vehicles; the Landmaster and the Blue Marine. Both of these only come into effect once or twice, and don’t really change the basic premise of the game.
During the missions, you’ll have a few tricks and power-ups to help you out. If you’re under fire from behind you can always do a loop to get the drop on the opposition (or just U-turn in the All-Range gameplay). If you’re under heavy fire you can do a barrel roll to deflect enemy attacks, by double-tapping one of the shoulder buttons in the direction you want to spin. The power-ups uncovered along the way offer incremental laser upgrades, health replenishments and wing repairs.
Playing through nearly all the included levels is an absolute joy, thanks to some excellent and intelligent game design. You’ll find lots of secrets and different paths to take, while each stage is themed to its planetary style accordingly with different hazards in each. In some cases, the type of environment itself can also affect gameplay. For example, on a planet composed entirely of molten lava you have to stay high, otherwise the intense heat starts zapping your health, and I shouldn’t need to explain what might happen in an asteroid belt…
Flying with you are three A.I. colleagues, and they can all have an effect on how you progress, so it pays to help them out if they’re in trouble. For example, if Slippy Toad survives the level, as a technician, he can scan the end of level boss, telling you exactly how much health it has. Peppy acts as your mentor, giving you advice at times on how to progress through certain areas or avoid hazards, while keeping Falco healthy will open up alternative routes to harder stages. If you don’t save them, they’ll be unavailable in the next level as they stay on the Great Fox (Star Fox’s mothership) for repairs.
The level select screen takes the form of the Lylat System, with the harder levels along the top route and the easier ones across the bottom. To traverse the more challenging levels, you can’t just select them on this map from the off, but you have to fulfil certain (sometimes hidden) criteria in the stages. Hitting these criteria will then give you the branching options onto other levels.
There are many different routes to take on the way to Venom, all dependent on a myriad of factors. So many, that it’s impossible to name them all, but it could be something secret that you stumble upon, odd sequence events you must trigger, or it could be dependent on an objective you get in the middle of a fire-fight.
How long a Star Fox 64 campaign will last you depends on which version of the game you choose to play, with an initial choice between a 3DS balanced mode and a traditional N64 mode. Be warned, they’re both incredibly short.
3DS mode allows you to play using the gyroscope, which I didn’t find to be all that fun over using the stick. You lose a lot of precision, and it was something I only stuck with for the purposes of review. Aside from that, I found the 3DS mode to be the easier of the two options in general play, as I completed it twice within the first hour without losing a single life. Even if I had lost all my lives I could have just continued as much as I’d have liked, which seems a bit pointless considering how little content the game actually has.
In the N64 mode, I felt like I was pushed harder all the way to the end, and this is the way the game was meant to be played. I highly recommend going with N64 mode from the off, as it’ll help you feel a little less short-changed. In this mode, you can’t use the motion controls in any form, and while it still saves your progress, once you run out of lives that’s it; you’ll have to start again. Folk already familiar with the game won’t find themselves particularly phased, though, as it’s still a fairly short experience when you know what you’re doing.
That aside, it is a very fun game while it lasts and, gyroscope aside, handles very nicely. It’s a basic arcade title in many ways, but it’s one that still manages to evoke joy. It’s upon revisiting Star Fox 64 on 3DS that I realised just how much newer titles owe to it, even ones you wouldn’t instantly imagine. Child of Eden is one such game that’s still fresh in the memory, and I thought of it just a couple of levels in.
There is a new mode that’s unlocked upon completing the main game for the first time, and that’s the Score Attack mode. Here you can enter any of the levels that you’ve encountered in the main game, and replay them to get the highest score you possibly can to try and earn medals. It’s a nice addition, allowing you to jump into whichever missions you want whenever you want, but there’s nothing that will extend your playtime all that much.
Sadly, despite all that’s good with the game, the length of the campaign really puts a dampener on things. Sure, when you first fire it up, you’ll be all smiles and giggles just as I was, yet once you’ve completed it by the third or fourth time without much issue, you’ll feel a bit cheated with the amount you paid.
Much like Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64 has been given a lick of paint, and it certainly shows. The formerly blurry visuals are now crisp, clean and colourful, which helps in a game that’s this busy visually in all areas of the screen. It’s not a game that’s full of detailed texturing, though, often lacking any texture at all, but it makes up for it by being bright and engaging, without any technical hiccups.
The 3D effect employed is also pretty sweet, certainly enhancing the game with decent field of depth. With the action being forward-scrolling, it also helps with the feeling of things popping out at you as you dodge enemy fire. The strange thing is the game’s apparent will to push the gyroscopic controls on you, which as you know from other games, renders the 3D effect completely useless. It’s the 3DS, not GryoDS, after all.
Must… kill… Slippy…
The audio has apparently been re-recorded for this release, but while some of the lines are different, it doesn’t make that much difference to the game’s presentation. To be honest, if I didn’t know that fact, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed. There is a surprising amount of dialogue, and if you can catch it all you’ll find out a lot more about the back-story of our group. Don’t be expecting anything like Shakespeare, though; it’s all cheesy fun befitting of a Saturday morning cartoon.
For those who are here as they’re big fans of the series, you won’t be able to help but smile when you hear all the old music and sound effects again. From General Pepper’s chatter before missions, to the robotic ‘Good luck’ that plays before you start gameplay, the game has the nostalgia factor in its favour.
That said, if you’re anything like me (may god have mercy on your soul if you are), then you’ll grow tired of your colleagues pretty early on. Constantly you’ll hear Slippy’s calls for help as, yet again, the useless green bastard finds himself hunted by an entire squadron of enemy ships. As much as it has become a cultural reference, Peppy’s ‘Do a barrel roll’ becomes increasingly more irritating the more you hear it, while Falco continues to be the most ungrateful wanker when you get him out of a jam. I remember back in ’97 that I grew tired of hearing these three with their constant repetition, and I grew sick of them even quicker this time around.
For Fox sake, what a missed opportunity
Hey, those of you who have played Star Fox 64 before, remember how awesome the four player multiplayer was? It’d be so cool to play it online, wouldn’t it? Well, guess what? You’ll never know. In what is a massive oversight, Nintendo have not made the strides to give Star Fox 64 3D an online component, which is quite frankly bizarre given that the core multiplayer mode included is, without a doubt, a perfect fit for online. It’s also been completely rebuilt from the ground up anyway, so why not extend the worth of your product?
Anyway, I’m never going to rate a game on things that I think should have been included, instead judging it on its own merits and demerits. That said, with the game being so short an online mode would have ensured my interest for weeks and months, rather than the few days in which it took for me to grow bored.
Instead you only have access to four-player deathmatch, dubbed Battle Mode, which is obviously local only. Thankfully, it at least uses download play, meaning that you can beam the multiplayer portion of the game to four of your mate’s consoles, and engage in glorious dogfights at a whim. It works rather smoothly, and has some nice little features, such as using the front facing camera to project your image directly to your opponents after in-game incidents, opening the line for comedy and banter.
There are three modes on offer here: Survival, where it’s last man
standing flying, Point Battle, where it’s first to a set amount of kills, and Time Battle, where the player with the most kills at the end of the time wins the game.
While there’s definitely fun in all three of these modes, it’s something that’s low on real substance, acting only as a brief distraction. It can only go so far, as you can’t really play it to its fullest whenever you like; instead you have to wait until you’ve got at least one friend handy. You can play solely with bots, but as is always the case, you lose half the fun straight off the bat; you may as well just play the campaign again…
Bargain price only…
Star Fox 64 3D is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the content that you’ll experience is of an unquestionably high quality, while on the other there’s just not enough of that content to warrant laying down the full RRP.
Case in point: this was not a game that we received a review copy of. I paid for this with my own money, and just a couple of hours later (a fun couple of hours, mind) I instantly regretted my decision to buy it.
Wait til it’s cheaper, unless you really value quality over quantity.