Review by bluej33
An action-packed, high-quality shooter that everyone should experience
While the original Star Fox was released for the SNES, it seems that Star Fox 64 is the one that everyone remembers the most. For someone like me who missed out on so many great N64 games, the Virtual Console is a pretty great way to catch up on the classics, and downloading this title was an easy decision for me to make. I had no idea what to expect, as my Star Fox experience entailed only Star Fox Command and the first half hour or so of Star Fox Adventures. But after playing through the title countless times Id certainly consider myself a fan, and Star Fox 64 is a great VC title to download if you havent already.
Star Fox 64 is a fairly basic on-rails shooter, and at first glance it really does seem simple and repetitive. The game guides you through various levels on a set path, and youve got limited movement up, down, left, and right to target enemies and get out of the way of unfriendly fire. Youre going to be holding down the fire button for about 95% of the time, which might incline you to believe that this is just another mindless shooter.
Thats not the case, however, for a number of reasons. Star Fox 64 manages to take a simple concept and make it addictively fun, and probably the largest way the dev team has done this is with some truly unforgettable level design. Each and every level is unique, exciting, and a heck of a lot of fun to play. During one level youll be flying through the capital city, the next through an asteroid belt, and then later underwater in a submarine or even across the surface of the sun. The ingenuity and creativity of the level design is certainly one of Star Foxs 64 strongest points, and that alone makes it well worth playing.
Aside from this, game play is quite basic. Youll work your way through the level, collecting various power-ups, helping out your teammates, and taking out enemies. Various items are scattered throughout each level; some give you health or bombs, and others will upgrade the weapons on your ship or your crafts shields. You progress through the game with a group of three iconic Star Fox Heroes (Falco, Slippy, and Peppy, along with Fox McCloud himself), and every once in a while theyll require help. Its in your best interest to give your pal a hand, because they can occasionally be useful (despite generally bad AI), and if they go down theyll be out of commission for the next level. Boss fights (which occur at the end of every level) are also quite a lot of fun: some stick with the on-rails scheme, and others are played out in All Range Mode, where you can fly freely throughout a set area. Bosses are creative and original, if a little easy to defeat.
Plot-wise, Star Fox 64 doesnt do a whole lot. Its a really basic bad guy back from the dead set-up, with an evil monkey named Andross having created some world domination plans from his planet of exile, Venom. Its up to the Star Fox team to stop Andross and save the galaxy youve heard this before. The writing does hold some merit -- not because of the quality of such writing, but just because its so hilariously bad. Dialogue is poorly done, and bad voice acting makes it even worse. Whether its the orgasmic groans of a certain boss or countless other classic lines (Peppys Do a barrel roll! and Wolfs I cant let you do that come first to mind), the dialogue will have you laughing as you play through the game.
The games control is actually quite well done, and its my personal opinion that using the GameCube controller is actually preferable to the N64 controller in some ways. The L and R buttons to me are better tahn Z and R, but the maneuver buttons, as I call them, are a bit out of the way. Still, assuming you find a comfortable way to map them out, performing loops and u-turns is an effortless activity. Particularly when in All Range Mode, performing maneuvers to out-fight foes (fighting team Star Wolf is an absolute blast, by the way) is a lot of fun and very intuitive.
Star Fox 64 has received a graphical facelift, and it looks fantastic (the original N64 version was great looking as well, so updating the visuals only makes things better). Level environments in particular are great, whether its collapsing buildings in Corneria City or exploding asteroids in outer space. Enemies are also distinctive and well-designed, and bosses are essentially the graphical high-water mark of the game. From huge enemy spawning ships to crazed mechs to team Star Wolf, each boss fight looks great and is so much fun to play.
Whats really unique about Star Fox 64 is the fact that its really unlike a traditional video game by todays standards -- in fact, even by standards defined in the N64 days. See, Star Fox 64 borrows heavily from traditional arcade games, and the biggest way in which this is reflected is the lack of a save function. When you run out of lives, its game over -- and youve got to start back over from the beginning of the game. There are only some half-dozen levels you need to play to reach the end of the game, so the restart feature doesnt really get in the way of the fun youll have with this game. Of course, the downside here is that a half-dozen levels, each maybe ten or twenty minutes long, does not make for a very long game.
Thats a problem, obviously, but its one thats somewhat relieved by the fact that Star Fox 64 has got a lot of replay value. To begin with, there are tons of branching paths that lead to different levels. By fulfilling specific requirements in a level, youll be given the option to proceed to a harder level, or stay on the easier (default) course. Because the levels themselves are so awesome, youll certainly want to experience each one -- and to do so, youll need to play through several times. Even if you can beat the game in an hour or two, having to play it five or six times to get the good ending and play all the levels definitely extends the life of this game.
Theres also an unlockable difficulty level, and this is a good thing because Star Fox 64 is a fairly easy game. The first time or two you play a level, you may find it challenging -- but once you get used to the nuances, enemy patterns, and environmental obstacles, youll have no trouble beating it. The unloackable difficulty again relies on an arcade-game implementation: theres a point system that plays a big part in this game. You gain points for shooting down enemies; if you achieve a certain point milestone, youll get a medal. Get a medal for every level in the game (15 total), and the harder difficulty is yours to enjoy. Additionally, there are tons of other little unlockables -- getting medals on all the levels in hard mode, for example, nets you some pretty sweet artwork.
Round out the experience with a fun little multiplayer mode, and youve got yourself one heck of a game. It might not be very long, but Star Fox 64 is a gaming experience that emphasizes quality over quantity. Whether youre destroying a supply train or protecting a base, this game is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences youll come across. If I had to label a single game as short and sweet, Star Fox 64 may very well be the title Id select. Its a fantastic game -- certainly one of the best on the Virtual Console to date -- and one that you definitely need to play.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Star Fox 64 (US, 04/02/07)
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