Nintendo and Q-Games have joined their power rings together to bring the definitive version of Star Fox back for the 3DS. It’s a sensible partnership considering that the N64 release owes its existence and primary ideas to the original Star Fox on the Super Nintendo, and the unreleased Star Fox 2 – titles forever linked to Q-Games president Dylan Cuthbert.
This remake is also a beacon of hope for a series that has often appeared to baffle Nintendo, and in many ways was left keeping company with Metroid on the outer rungs of Nintendo’s famous franchise list.
Depending on your feelings toward last year’s release of Metroid: Other M, you may or may not agree that Star Fox has received far less respect over the years, often acting like a square tube Nintendo frustratingly attempted to squeeze through a circular hole – whether calling team Star Fox into service to make Rare’s Dinosaur Planet more marketable with Star Fox Adventures (2002) on the GameCube, or attempting to force the series into a more robust but less focused action game with Star Fox Assault (2005) on that same system.
Star Fox 64 (Lylat Wars) debuted on the Nintendo 64 in North America on June 30th, 1997 – reuniting fans with the Star Fox team as well as introducing players to the rumble pack accessory.
The game was later released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service for the Wii on April 2nd, 2007.
With Star Fox 64 3D emerging as a loving and detailed restoration of the original N64 release, and building on the Q-Games partnership that most recently produced Star Fox Command (2006) on the DS, there is indeed reason to hope that Nintendo has fresh respect for the franchise – which, with this release, presents no surprise character appearances, makes zero changes to the stage structure, and even brings back the flapping puppet heads to Fox’s communication screen.
Star Fox 64 3D does bring new controls to the table, but allows players to choose whether they want to try the new gyro-aided steering, or use the circle pad to guide their Arwing into battle. I was immediately taken with how smoothly the circle pad allowed me to control the ship, though must admit to never having been a fan of the bulky N64 controller. Star Fox 64 retains a very simple and elegant series of controls, giving players everything needed to navigate environments while preserving the open arcade invitation that makes the game easy to step into, but also offers a learning curve that takes time to perfect.
The 3D certainly gains an advantage with a science fiction based franchise, with the depth of space and field of stars putting on a good show – but in combat it’s just easier on the eyes and aiming to stick with a traditional field of view.
Anyone not familiar with the original release will want to know that there are two flight modes, which the game alternates between during most stages. Corridor Mode is the traditional scrolling style that moves players forward on a tight rail, allowing them to boost, brake, and perform a deflecting barrel role as well as a somersault to get behind enemies.
During more pitched battles and some boss encounters, the game will swap to All-Range Mode, which lets players fly in an open but walled arena where they gain the additional ability to execute a u-turn. Along the way players gain opportunity to pick up bombs and laser upgrades to be used within a stage, and can also grab supply rings to replenish health – pay attention to rings people!
Star Fox 64 is a unique game in the way it presents a series of rewards and penalties that never prevent players from reaching the ending – in many ways it carries over the carefully crafted paths and secrets that Super Nintendo games are still renowned for, reminding us of a time when one game had to last quite awhile, and thankfully provided plenty for those willing to dig and experiment. The stage selection map for the game shows multiple routes across the Lylat system toward the final confrontation, and how the route is determined relies entirely on the player, but not by simply selecting the road one wishes to take. Instead, the road traveled depends entirely on the player’s performance.
In the very first stage for instance, saving wingman Falco from attackers and flying through a series of ringed hills will cause Falco to invite Fox down a different road than had the player simple blasted forward – subsequently pushing them along a new route when the map offers access to the next stage.
That sort of detail within stages is largely lacking in the straightforward releases we’ve become accustomed to today – as is the way wingmen that are forced to retreat after taking too much damage will be absent for the following mission while their ship is repaired. But Star Fox 64’s details are also caught between a style of game popularized near the end of the N64’s life-span, with titles like Perfect Dark offering an experience that provided seemingly endless modes and secrets to keep players occupied on a desert island for fifty years.
With that in mind, there’s still a healthy amount of replay value within Star Fox 64, but not nearly as much as some would like to nostalgically suggest. The replay emphasis is on playing the same stages again and again until perfecting them, like any solid shooter.
If I told you Star Fox 64 3D was a brand new game, you’d have no reason to doubt my word given the visuals and stage structure on display – but a familiarity with Nintendo releases coming up short in some departments would also unfortunately aid that lie. Multiplayer options in Star Fox 64 3D may allow you a visual glimpse of your real life opponents, but they aren’t that hard to see in real life because the game only allows you to play against people in the same damn room. Providing download play is a positive, but the lack of multiplayer support over the Internet is baffling, and hardly compensated by a score attack mode.
With that said, there is no denying that Star Fox 64 was a smart choice as far as N64 revisits on the 3DS are concerned. The short mission structure and alternate route experimentation fit the handheld agenda, which offers a very intimate engagement to battles that made me forget how much I’ve whined for a proper HD aerial combat Star Fox game over the last few years.