Review by Genjuro Kibagami

Reviewed: 08/29/06

Corneria Dies Screaming

Taking on Andross’ Space Armada for the first time was unforgettable. While the epic score thundered from my television, I was piloting my Arwing and blasting away at rival star-fighters when a gigantic battleship appeared in the distance. It crawled toward me firing bolts of energy into the dark depths of outer space. It grew bigger as it approached. Eventually I neared the hull and I was dwarfed in the shadow of that mechanical beast. I felt like I, not Fox McCloud, was the one fighting to defend the Lylat system. It was all thanks to the Super FX chip’s ability to craft polygons at a time when the idea was unheard of. I couldn’t believe it! Nintendo had its very own 3D rail-shooter, and Sega wouldn’t even release Panzer Dragoon for a whole two years!

But it isn’t 1993 anymore. Witnessing the massive battle cruisers of Andross’ fleet in action no longer takes my breath away. The polygon count is low, there’s no texture mapping, the animation is jerky, there are huge black borders around the edges of the screen, and particularly large objects suffer from horrendous pop-up. Many SNES games were pretty 2D games, but Star Fox is a very ugly 3D game.

But fortunately ace-pilot Fox and his team’s intergalactic adventure to stop the nefarious monkey Andross was more than a tech demo. Truly the prowess of the FX chip is now nothing special, but Star Fox was filled with enough creativity to carry it on its own.

After choosing the easy, medium, or hard path (each with a unique set of stages) to Andross’ lair on planet Venom, you’ll pilot Fox’s Arwing through several rail-shooting levels filled with both obstacles and hordes of enemies. The Arwing is a truly versatile vehicle capable of slick maneuvering in skilled hands. Both thrusters and brakes are available to allow you to avoid perils such as opening and closing doors or large, spinning steel girders wandering through space. With the intuitive use of shoulder buttons, your ship can be tilted vertically to squeeze through narrow spaces and perform quick and sharp turns, or you can give it a button a quick tap to execute a barrel roll and deflect incoming attacks.

Having a spacecraft with such abilities isn’t exactly as ground breaking today as it was when Star Fox was up against the likes of Space Harrier, but it makes the game not feel too dated compared to flashier hits such as Panzer Dragoon Orta.

With power-ups to improve your craft’s blasters and bombs to clear entire groups of foes, Fox is more than enough to take on Andross’ forces. But sometimes we all need a bit of reassurance, so Fox has assistance in the form of both advice and support fire from his fellow teammates Falco, Peppy, and Slippy. Although the three are entirely interchangeable save for unique portraits and their own sets of squeaks and squawks used as a replacement for speech, your team will come in handy a number of times. During scripted events, one of your allies will either appear chasing down an enemy spacecraft or as the one being pursued. If you aid your teammate, they’ll return the favor by giving support fire to shoot down the trickier enemies. For example in one stage you’ll encounter turrets mounted to asteroids. Destroying them hurls the greatly damaging asteroids right into the path of your Arwing. But help one of your allies right before this segment and they’ll blow up many of them for you.

Pretty cool, huh?

Most important is Star Fox boasts a variety of awesome, memorable stages; some of which require adept piloting to give a satisfying sense of challenge that was sorely missing from the sequel, Star Fox 64. One the game’s three path starts Fox out in an asteroid field littered with chunks of drifting rocks, the already mentioned kamikaze asteroid snipers, and large comets that bear both a ghoulish face and a desire to crash into your ship. Seriously, the big-nosed mutant asteroids literally propel themselves toward your Arwing forcing you to quickly utilize evasive maneuvers. This lovely flight through nefarious rocks is then followed up by a vacation on the tropical planet of Fortuna. Unfortunately Andross has taken control of every living creature, so now colossal fox-eating plants burst from the ground to block your path while mammoth dragonflies swoop in for the kill.

If that’s too much for you, Fox can travel another path and reach Sector X, a seemingly quiet stretch of dead space. At one point Sector X must have been the location of an enormous space station because Fox will have to guide through an entire field of debris. You’ll start the level dodging a few sparse steel girders, but pretty soon the screen is enveloped by pillars and columns that storm your craft from every which way. And Sector X has a sister level that’s even more astounding. Sector Y is an otherworldly area containing marine life swimming through space. Imagine a quiet, calming tune chiming in while schools of immense fish gingerly dart back and forth in the distance. Soon after gigantic squids contract their bodies and torpedo themselves at Fox and co. Finally all the monstrous oceanic creatures are eclipsed by a Stingray the size of one of Andross’ flagships.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that incredible encounter with the entire Space Armada.

Before Star Fox’s levels come to an end, the epic soundtrack quickly cuts off while alarms sound in and a crystal clear voice-over announces “Incoming Enemy.” That’s when usually an exciting mammoth boss reveals itself. For example one encounter features a titanic robot spider, whose spindly legs click and clack against the ground. Fox will have to blast away its appendages, but the spider fights back by lifting them and spinning like an inverted top. Swerve around those lethal legs and the boss surprises you with a flamethrower! Keep in mind the Arwing can swiftly dodge these attacks in capable hands, so such surprises are exciting rather than frustrating. Survive that skirmish and you’ll face other interesting foes like a giant flower-shaped ship that spins around to bounce your shots back at you and utilizes a tractor beam to draw you into its sharp body.

Unfortunately either due to hardware limitations (as in insufficient cartridge space) or time constraints to push the game on shelves, a couple of stages and bosses feel severely half-assed. For example Titania and Macbeth both feel like shorter, less challenging versions of the level named Meteor. Each locale looks exactly like Meteor only the graphics have been tinted blue and red respectively, and they both reuse a lot of the same enemies. They do have their own cool, unique features like Titania’s hulking crab monsters or Macbeth’s magma spewing volcanoes, but both of these are easy to deal with compared to the bigger armies of enemies and a maze of pillars you have to plow through on Meteor. As for bosses, just picture the disappointment when you face a speeding spacecraft over a swirling, turbulent lake only to smash it without taking even one hit because moving to the top of the screen steers you away from its entire repertoire of attacks. Then there’s the two-headed dragon boss that’s a struggle to defeat unless you mash the attack button before it slowly starts up its routine.

Yes, that’s right! You can kill it before it even strikes!

Other bosses are also repeated throughout the game. The Rock Crusher is a cool boss the first time I stood up against it in the asteroid field, but it appears in three different levels! Fortunately there are far more enthralling, original levels to make up for the development team’s few missteps.

Looks can be deceiving. At first glance Star Fox appears to be an outdated rail-shooter, but in fact it holds its own with plenty of awe-inspiring moments and solid mechanics. The title has its less than stellar parts, and there are certainly better entries in the genre. However, the game is a lot more challenging than its sequels and has enough unforgettable levels that the tale of Fox McCloud is one you will not soon forget. Star Fox is worth checking out if newer games like Panzer Dragoon or Rez didn’t satiate your hunger for rail-based shoot ‘em up mayhem.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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