Review by bluej33

Reviewed: 06/30/08

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 I’d certainly consider myself a fan, and Star Fox 64 is a great VC title to download if you haven’t 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 you’ve got limited movement up, down, left, and right to target enemies and get out of the way of unfriendly fire. You’re 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.

That’s 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 you’ll 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 Fox’s 64 strongest points, and that alone makes it well worth playing.

Aside from this, game play is quite basic. You’ll 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 craft’s 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 they’ll require help. It’s 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 they’ll 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 doesn’t do a whole lot. It’s 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. It’s up to the Star Fox team to stop Andross and save the galaxy…you’ve heard this before. The writing does hold some merit -- not because of the quality of such writing, but just because it’s so hilariously bad. Dialogue is poorly done, and bad voice acting makes it even worse. Whether it’s the orgasmic groans of a certain boss or countless other classic lines (Peppy’s “Do a barrel roll!” and Wolf’s “I can’t let you do that” come first to mind), the dialogue will have you laughing as you play through the game.

The game’s control is actually quite well done, and it’s 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 it’s 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.

What’s really unique about Star Fox 64 is the fact that it’s really unlike a traditional video game by today’s 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, it’s game over -- and you’ve 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 doesn’t really get in the way of the fun you‘ll 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.

That’s a problem, obviously, but it’s one that’s 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, you’ll be given the option to proceed to a harder level, or stay on the easier (default) course. Because the levels themselves are so awesome, you’ll certainly want to experience each one -- and to do so, you’ll 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.

There’s 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, you’ll have no trouble beating it. The unloackable difficulty again relies on an arcade-game implementation: there’s 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, you’ll 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 you’ve 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 you’re destroying a supply train or protecting a base, this game is one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences you’ll come across. If I had to label a single game as “short and sweet”, Star Fox 64 may very well be the title I’d select. It’s 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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