Review by Anclation

Reviewed: 09/20/11

Just as fun as it is quotable, Star Fox 64 is back and better than ever!

Despite the various controversies surrounding it, as well as several game droughts, the N64 eventually managed to build up a game library that contained many unforgettable classics. One of those truly great N64 games was Star Fox 64, a space shooter that was incredibly fun to play, had tons of replay value and which later also became a veritable meme machine due to its many memorable and amusing quotes. The 3DS handheld console is in some ways similar to the N64, a technological marvel that went through a troublesome birth and is now suffering from a serious game drought of its own. Whether the 3DS, like the N64 before it, can overcome its early troubles and end up with a strong game library remains to be seen, but while we wait for the big, original 3DS games, Nintendo is providing us with remakes of some of the N64’s best games. The legendary Ocarina of Time has already gotten a successful 3D makeover, but how does Fox McCloud’s greatest adventure handle the leap into true 3D? Venom, here we come!

Concept

The setting for Star Fox 64 is the Lylat System, a futuristic solar system populated by anthropomorphic animals of various kinds. The Lylat System is under attack by military forces controlled by Andross, an evil monkey (no, he has nothing to do with the one from Family Guy) with a grudge. The Lylat System’s conventional defenses stand no chance against Andross’ armies, but all hope is not yet lost; Star Fox, the elite team of space mercenaries have been brought in to defend the Lylat System and take the fight to Andross. For the leader of the Star Fox team, Fox McCloud, this mission is also personal, as Andross is the man (or rather the monkey) responsible for his father’s death.

As is to be expected, you’ll step into Fox McCloud’s cockpit in this arcade-style space shooter as you blast your way through 7 different levels (out of a total of 16) on your way to Andross. Just what path you take is decided by how well you do on the prior level. Often all you need to do in order to open up a ”superior” path is kill lots of enemies, though some levels are a bit more creative about it, and on top of that there are several hidden warps to be found. Along with you for the ride you have your three wingmen, Falco, Peppy and Slippy, who’ll help you out and give you advice, though they also have a habit of getting themselves into trouble and stealing your kills. At least their one-liners are undeniably awesome.

Graphics

This 3DS remake has given Star Fox 64 quite the graphical overhaul and the end result is simply spectacular, this being a far better-looking game than the N64 original in every possible way. The levels are a sight to behold, with Zoness (polluted water has never before looked so good!) and the lava level Solar being standouts. The 3D (despite generally not being the kind that pops out of the screen) is also excellent, adding lots of depth and really helping to pull you into the game. No matter how hectic things get, with explosions galore and dozens of enemies on the screen at the same time, there’s no slowdown whatsoever even with the 3D maxed out. I also didn’t experience any serious ”ghosting” issues while playing. Overall, this may be the most visually impressive 3DS game yet.

Music & Sound

I’ve always been a big fan of the Star Fox 64 soundtrack, which is full of great songs worthy of an epic space opera. The music also does a great job of giving the different levels their own unique ”feel” and atmosphere, and some of the songs are actually genuinely beautiful. For the 3DS remake the soundtrack has been remastered (though it’s still MIDI as opposed to being orchestrated) and besides being of higher quality it’s just as you remembered it, definitely a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

Unfortunately, I have to report that two of Star Fox 64’s claims to fame, namely the voice acting and one-liners, have not fared so well. Don’t worry, almost all the classic quotes as still here (in fact, there was only one quote that I noticed had been altered, and for no discernible reason at that), but the lines have been re-recorded and not for the better. In the N64 original the voice actors were hamming it up and embracing the inherent silliness of the game, they seemed to really have fun with it and that was part of the charm, what made the one-liners so memorable. However, in the 3DS version the line deliveries are often flat or feel rushed, and despite the sound quality being better the lines actually come across as more robotic in the remake. Not that the voice acting is outright bad, and it’s certainly not something that ruins the game, but I definitely preferred the N64 voices.

Gameplay

Star Fox 64 3D is thankfully every bit as fun to play as the N64 original, which in terms of pure gameplay has aged extremely well. The controls are great, highly responsive and the button setup works very well. Pulling off the different moves, like sharp turns, boosting, braking and the legendary barrel roll is as easy as you could possibly wish it to be. Especially welcome is the mapping of the somersault move (as well as the U-turn in the All-Range Mode) to the D-Pad, which means that a simple button press is now all it takes to do a loop, one of the most useful moves in the game. You also have the option of using the 3DS gyroscope to control your ship, moving the 3DS around to move the Arwing, but I definitely think most players (even the more casual ones) will prefer using the Circle Pad when playing a fast paced game like this.

And this game sure is intense, full of enemies trying to kill you, obstacles to avoid and power-ups to collect. For the most part it plays like a rail shooter, with you flying through a set path killing all sorts of enemy ships and monsters that attack you or otherwise get in your way. Of course, at the end of each level you get to fight a boss that inevitably boasts plenty of firepower, but also has some notable weak points. The pacing is great and your enjoyment remains constant, while good design and plenty of variety within each level helps the game avoid repetitivity, with some levels even presenting you with a choice of different paths to take. At the end of the level you’ll (usually) end up in the same place no matter what path you took, but the different in-level paths do present you with different challenges and enemies, adding additional replay value to those levels.

There is also the All-Range Mode, which several levels and boss battles are based on. Here you can freely fly around to your heart's content – in between shooting down the dozens of hostiles that usually swarm these levels. It is also in the All-Range Mode that you’ll confront the Star Fox team’s evil counterpart, team Star Wolf. They’ll appear on several levels and provide you with the game’s most heart-pounding aerial dogfights. In the end, the All-Range Mode levels and boss fights help mix things up while not overpowering the arcade-style rail shooter experience.

While the total of 16 levels offered by this game might not sound like all that much, the variety both within and between the various levels ensures the player’s satisfaction. You get a good mix of both space- and planet-themed levels, which provide you with all sorts of exciting locations: Futuristic cities, Asteroid fields, icy worlds as well as desert lands, a defense satelite and even a red dwarf star are just some of places this game will take you. One particularly memorable level even turns out to be a tribute to the movie Independence Day, with the boss of course being a giant flying saucer (complete with a landmark-destroying laser beam and all!). And it’s not just the Arwing space fighter you’ll be piloting either, you’ll also on a couple of occasions get to control the Landmaster tank, and in one level you even have to navigate the Blue Marine submarine through dangerous waters. The levels based on these special vehicles are fun (the tank levels moreso than the submarine one) and certainly help spice up the Star Fox experience, while at the same time not overstaying their welcome.

All these different elements come together to produce a gaming experience that’s extremely entertaining, varied and quite simply unforgettable. Space shooters don’t get much more fun than this!

Longevity

Being an arcade-style high score-oriented game, Star Fox 64 is naturally quite short. In fact, you could easily finish it in about an hour. However, that’s somewhat deceptive as you wouldn’t have seen even half of what this game has to offer at that point, only having gone through 7 out of 16 levels, not to mention having neglected the different paths and secrets the various levels contain. Even after having seen all of the levels there are still medals to be earned, an expert mode to try out and of course, the multiplayer battles. While there’s no online mode, 4 people can play against each other using only one cartridge, and the multiplayer itself has been beefed up from the N64 version, though unfortunately you have lost the option of controlling anything other than an Arwing. If you don’t have anyone to play against you can always battle computer opponents, who can be quite tough on the highest difficulty setting.

However, what’s really going to keep you coming back again and again is the high score aspect of this game. With multiple possible paths to Venom in the story mode, just finding the optimal one could take a lot of experimentation, and once you’ve found your preferred path you’ll discover just how cleverly designed each level is: There are just so many little secrets and hidden power-ups, so many potential high-scoring opportunities that you’ll miss out on the first ten times you play any given level that you’re going to keep discovering new things (almost) as long as you keep playing the game. This makes it extremely addictive and gives the game phenomenal replay value. And then it turns out the 3DS remake actually manages to outclass the N64 original in that very category.

There are two reasons for that. The first is the level select mode (called Score Attack), which the original game lacked. Here you can play any given level you’ve reached in the story mode whenever you want and attempt to improve on your high score, which is every bit as addictive as the high score challenge posed by the story mode. The Score Attack mode also boasts a medal system of its own, and getting a high score that earns you the gold medal on any given level will prove quite a challenge even for Star Fox veterans. The second great addition to the 3DS remake is the ability to save mid-game in the story mode. While the N64 original forced you to beat the story mode in one sitting, the 3DS remake saves your progress after each completed level, making the game much more accessible, ideal for short as well as long play sessions. Despite the (seemingly) limited content on offer, chances are that Star Fox 64 3D will provide you with many, many hours of entertainment.

Closing comments

While not perfect, this 3DS remake of Star Fox 64 does nonetheless manage to improve on an already awesome game. It is visually stunning, boasts a fantastic soundtrack and is incredibly fun to play, while additions like the level select mode and mid-game saving send the replay value through the roof. If you’ve never played the original Star Fox 64 this is definitely a must-buy, and the various improvements together with the portability ensure that it’s worth picking up for people who owned the original game as well. Even if the 3DS starts picking up steam, chances are that Star Fox 64 3D will remain one its top games for years to come. Buy it!

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Star Fox 64 3D (EU, 09/09/11)

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