Review by DDJ

Reviewed: 09/28/11

Size matters.

Review in Brief
Game: A pseudo-on-rails shooter stationed in an interplanetary sci-fi context, and the remake of one of the Nintendo 64's best-selling games.
Good: Surprisingly intuitive gyro controls; great graphical improvements; 3D functionality that actually profoundly adds to the gameplay experience; a new multiplayer suite; still fun after all these years.
Bad: Tiny -- the main plot still takes less than an hour, and you aren't likely to play more than 5 to 6 times; no Internet multiplayer; nitpicky little issues.
Verdict: Still fun, a great remake, but extremely small by today's gaming standards.
Rating: 6/10
Recommendation: Perfect for a rental, but it's hard to justify the purchase price for a 5-hour gaming experience.

"Size matters."

Star Fox 64 3DS, aside from breaking what should be a federal limit on the number of consoles you can allude to in your name, is the latest release for the Nintendo 3DS, better known as the Nintendo Remake Engine. Remakes of classic games always have an inherent problem, especially when it comes to reviewing them: is the appeal nostalgia, or is the game itself solid? Will people who didn't play the game for a hundred hours growing up enjoy it, or is it only for people desperately trying to get back in touch with the inner child that adult culture has beaten out of them?

In the case of Star Fox 64 3DS, the results are mixed. The game actually withstands the test of time relatively well; it's still very fun to play on its own right. The problem it runs into is less about the quality of the gameplay, which I argue compares favorably with many of the other portable games out there, but rather the size of the content. That, in addition to some changes they made that they shouldn't have and some changes they didn't make that they needed, leads to a game whose appeal is still more than just simple nostalgia, but that still feels a bit old and outdated.

That's not to say there aren't any improvements. In fact, I was rather blown away by two of the improvements, as I'll detail below. And with the 3DS's limited library, I would still say it is definitely worth picking up, but don't expect to get a whole lot of use out of it.

The Game

Star Fox 64 3DS is a shooter, and in many ways something of a rail shooter considering that on 80% of the levels, you're consistently moving forward with no means to stop your forward progress. If you've somehow never played it before, it's basically the 3D version of what you might picture a shoot 'em up to be. The game's main storyline is divided into 7 missions and takes about an hour to play through, but there are multiple pathways that you can take from start to finish, so the game has over a dozen distinct missions.

Plot-wise, the game is a light-hearted sci-fi game. Andross, the evil genius and disembodied head, has started trying to take over the galaxy again. The armies of the plant of Corneria are not enough to hold them off, so they've called in your special squadron to fight off the threat single-handedly. As you go through the game, you'll primarily pilot a plane (dubbed the Arwing), but you'll also have two missions in a tank and one in a submarine, should you choose that route.

The Good

I was surprised with how much good there was in Star Fox 64 3DS. To be honest, I expected a pretty straight port with the only enhancement being the gratuitous inclusion of 3D graphics. But, as I said, I was pleasantly surprised.

Gyro Controls
Ok, don't tune me out. You hate gyro controls, right? Good, me too. So, trust me, it's with shock and awe that I not only include this as a "good" feature, but I'm convinced enough to put it at the top of the list. How can this be? The gyro controls are wildly intuitive, but the only way to truly describe the intuitiveness of the controls is with an anecdote.

I started playing Star Fox 64 3DS with a degree of familiarity, having beaten the original several dozen times. I played through Corneria and was impressed with some graphical improvements. I played through Meteo, taking the easy path for my first game. It was on Fichina when I decided I wanted to a U-turn, and I realized that I wasn't sure how to. After all, how do you pull back on the control stick when you're not using the control stick? ...wait. I'm not using the control stick?!

I had been using the gyro controls the entire time, and I didn't even notice.

They were so intuitive that I actually didn't even realize I was using them. I played through 20 minutes of the game on the gyro controls before noticing I wasn't using the control stick.

Now, the gyro controls do have one problem: they sort of clash with the 3D capabilities. After all, if the 3D graphics are completely predicated on your head being in one specific position relative to the 3DS to work, then controls that demand you to move the 3DS around aren't exactly ideal. But if you turn off the 3D mode, they work beautifully. And after all, the 3D feature is just gratuitous, right? ...

Surprisingly Engaging 3D
I'm not a proponent of the 3D movement. In my opinion, when you get 10 minutes into the game or movie, you forget you're playing in 3D, and the success or failure of the game comes back down to the same old things: plot and gameplay. So, it's once again with surprise, shock, and awe that I list the 3D graphics as a benefit of the game.

Shortly after discovering I was using the gyro controls, I decided to turn the 3D graphics off so that I wouldn't experience the same blurry screen... except, as soon as I did, the game felt much more... well, there's no better word to use for it than "flat". The graphics were flat, but they actually made the game feel flat. I couldn't believe it, but the 3D graphics actually contributed to the gameplay enjoyment of the game. Typically I think graphical quality is primarily useful for humanization and immersion, but here, it actually aided the gameplay.

I think part of it is the nature of Star Fox 64 3DS. I've not played many other 3DS games, but the ones I've played treated 3D like a gratuitous obligation; it didn't contribute anything to the game, it just served to demonstrate, "Hey, we can do 3D now!" But because Star Fox 64 3DS constantly has you moving forward in your environment, the 3D is somehow much more engaging and enthralling. I couldn't play without it. I turned the 3D back on and learned to use the control stick.

Other Graphical Improvements
The graphics aren't a straightforward port of the original game to 3D, though. The game has been rebuilt from the ground up graphically, and it shows. All the character sprites, enemies, terrain, etc. are much sharper and crisper. This is especially interesting given that I reckon some of the original design decisions were made solely for the simplicity of rendering things: for example, it's easy to render simple shapes, so many enemy ships were just combinations of relatively simple triangles and squares. Star Fox 64 3DS somehow preserves the design of the ships without making them look overly polygonal. It's quite impressive.

Nothing reflects the enhanced graphics more than the opening cutscene with Fox talking to General Pepper. Those of us that played the original remember Fox being a boxy, polygonal sprite, but here he's crisp, clean, and well-designed. The same applies notably to the final boss, who benefits very much from the 3DS's enhanced graphical capabilities.

Of course, not everything is smooth with these new graphics. Some of the effects of the original game, most notably transparency, must be harder to do with the 3DS, and as such animations like the "barrel roll" spin and disappearing ships at a certain point in the game, just level something to be desired. But overall, the graphics are notably improved, even separate and apart from the 3D.

New Multiplayer Suite
The original Star Fox 64 was one of those games that game the Nintendo 64 its reputation for being a superior multiplayer console. Star Fox 64 3DS expands on this even further with a much richer multiplayer suite. Among the new features: four all new battle areas (based on Venom, Corneria, Meteo, and Macbeth), new game modes ("last man standing", time battle, points battle), and Mario Kart-style items. In fact, the multiplayer suite is really the only part of the game to receive a substantial overhaul.

Still Fun
But the main thing that determines my fairly high score for Star Fox 64 3DS is that it's still just plain fun. I, obviously, cannot positively comment on whether my favorable impression is due to nostalgia or to objective assessment of the game, but I know that I enjoyed the game even in places where I didn't feel particular nostalgic. The gameplay is still simple and engaging, the mission framework is well-segmented, and the game's good design still stands up as an engaging experience. How engaging the gameplay is should not be called into question: the game's weakness, on the contrary, is the size of the content.

The Bad

That's a lot of good things about the game, and I can certainly say I strongly enjoyed playing the game. But there's one major problem (and a few smaller ones) that severely weaken the game's viability.

Size matters, and it's small
The main problem with the game is a simple problem of size. Size matters. That's the title of my review, and really is the game's most major weak point. Star Fox 64 came out in a different era, I suppose, when expectations on games' size weren't quite so large (although that might not be true -- Goldeneye 007, Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Harvest Moon 64 all supplied a dozen times more playtime than Star Fox 64). But in the modern gaming climate, Star Fox 64 3DS just leaves a whole lot to be desired in terms of total play time.

To play all the missions at least once, you'll have to play through the campaign three times. After that, you might take some more time to earn the medals on each mission (which unlock the harder Expert mode), but it's hard for me to add that to the game's play time because it's not additional content, it's just game-imposed simple challenges. In my eyes, including those in the content would be like including the time to get all of the achievements in an Xbox 360 game as part of the play time, which just feels odd to me.

So, the campaign will give you about five hours of play time, if you play it a couple more times just for kicks and giggles. The multiplayer? Well, I'll get to the problem there later, but it doesn't really add to the play time. That's just far too little content in today's gaming landscape, so unless you're the type of person that will enjoy randomly picking the game up occasionally and playing it through again, it's hard to recommend dropping the money necessary for a 5-hour game.

There was the opportunity here to add more content. Maybe new levels? New ship power-ups or capabilities? Anything? But no, there's no new content outside of the multiplayer suite, which has problems of its own.

Multiplayer Problems
For all the praise I heaped on the multiplayer above, though, it doesn't end up contributing that much, for one simple reason: it's local area only. No online multiplayer. Now, of course, I might just be in a different situation than most people, but I've never been under the impression people get together and play portable games on individual systems very often. No one I know does that, and I've rarely heard about anyone doing that. The function is good to have because it at least allows the possibility of the kind of multiplayer people experienced in the original, but everyone still has to have their own 3DS, which I don't think happens a lot. So, I don't see the multiplayer actually adding very much to the game's appeal, unless you somehow have two or three friends with a 3DS that are open to getting together and playing (and yes, it does support download play, so only one cartridge is necessary).

That's not the only issue, though. The multiplayer system isn't well-designed. For one, oddly enough, the available altitude is so high that it becomes extremely hard to track other ships -- you spend almost all the time trying to move enough in the vertical direction to get into firing range, and with the ships perpetually moving forward, it gets very difficult to do. On top of that, the items, while interesting, are a bit hard to understand given that you never see them in the main game, and so their effects (or usefulness) aren't always obvious.

Nitpicky Details
There's also some kind of nitpicky things that aren't major knocks against the game, but that I feel like I need to mention. First of all, the voices have been re-recorded, and they didn't do a great job of it. They didn't do a bad job in that they matched the voices pretty well, but those voice actors failed to match the voice intonations of the original game, which results in many of the game's most famous quotes just sounding... somehow wrong. You know that Family Guy episode with the two foreign guys who almost speak English but not quite? It's kind of like that. It's just enough to throw you off.

Plus the system to the credits in the game is kind of annoying. I sat through the full credits three times in the game. It's not every time you beat it, but it's more than once, and that just seems gratuitous to me. I've used the word 'gratuitous' far too often in this review. I apologize.

The Verdict

In the end, Star Fox 64 3DS is a great, but tiny, game. The gameplay is still as fun today as it was back then, and the improvements they've made to the controls and the graphics really succeed in bringing the game into the 21st century. Even the multiplayer developments, while limited in their usefulness, are a great stride forward. The game's better than your average port.

But size matters in the gaming industry today, and for the price of Star Fox 64 3DS (even after price drops and the used game discount), you can get a lot more gaming from various other games. So, unless you're the type that's going to enjoy playing the same game over and over and over, Star Fox 64 3DS just isn't quite worth it.

My Recommendation

Definitely worth a rental. But for a purchase, it's hard to consider this worth it. It just doesn't have a lot of content, so unless you're the type that enjoys replaying short games over and over, you're not likely to get your money's worth from a purchase.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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

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