Review by MTLH

Reviewed: 06/16/08

Dated but still fun.

1993 saw the advent of the Super FX chip. With this appendage the 16-bit SNES could also use polygons in it’s games. Three dimensional gaming was at the time in it’s infancy on the consoles, so this was a true breakthrough. Such a chip would eventually be used in about seven games including the simply wonderful Super Mario World 2.

The game that initially showcased the possibilities of the chip was Starwing, as Starfox was called in Europe. This game would eventually become on of the big Nintendo franchises, although never one in the same league as Mario or The Legend of Zelda.

At the time of release, Starwing looked absolutely amazing. Due to the Super FX chip the game featured fully three dimensional objects and environments moving fluidly on the screen. Controlling your Arwing spacecraft and going up against fleets of fighters and huge battleships looked and felt great.

Unfortunately Starwing’s graphics haven’t aged all that well. It has been almost fifteen years and it shows. The graphics look rather bare because objects and environments for the most part aren’t textured. They also don’t use a lot of polygons which make them look very simple and sometimes rather abstract. Another point is that sprite based graphics, like explosions and planets for example, don’t gel all that well with the polygonal graphics because they are more detailed then the polygonal objects themselves. Finally there is a fair amount of popup which is always annoying.

All this doesn’t make Starwing unplayable, far from it. Starwing also isn’t an ugly game, especially by SNES standards. The point is that the visuals show their age all to clearly. This is probably due to the reliance on technology which back then was new, exciting and unlike anything seen before. Three dimensional graphics have come a long way since then which make Starwing look decidedly dated. Compare this to for example Super Mario World, a game which is even a few years older, whose two dimensional graphics still look crisp, fresh and attractive even now.

Starwing has a great soundtrack which add an amazing sense of grandeur to the proceedings. It is suitably bombastic and energetic. Sound-effects are good too. The lasers, bombs and explosions sound just right. One thing I especially liked are the garbled sounds that passes as speech for the characters. There are in all honesty no real problems with Starwing’s audio.

Starwing tells the story of how the anthropomorphic mercenary team known as Starfox repels an invasion attempt by mad scientist Andross, takes the fight to him in his base of operations, the planet Venom, and thus save the tranquil planet of Corneria.

Starwing is an on-rail-shooter with all that entails. The Arwing essentially flies ever forward trough a long invisible tunnel but has the freedom to move freely within this boundary. The main aim of the game is of course to shoot at the incoming enemies and dodge their attacks. Controls are in general up to the task but can feel a little crude and clunky, especially when comparing the directional cross used in Starwing to the analogue stick used in modern games.

At the end of each level the Starfox team faces a end-of-level guardian. These are usually large, heavily armed and there are usually only a few, blinking parts where hitting them actually causes some damage. With possibly only one real exception, these parts play much the same as the rest of the game, giving the impression the guardian is moving backwards inside the already mentioned invisible tunnel. The exception being attacking a central energy core inside a spacestation, where your Arwing has to fly in a circular room. Even so, the experience is much the same, only a tad confusing due to the aforementioned circular nature of said room.

The locales where the fighting takes place are surprisingly varied. Outer space, in orbit around a planet, trough an asteroid field, on the surface of several different planet and even some nebulas, Starwing takes the player on a varied journey. Even so, the experience never really changes that much. The planets for example may have different themes like oceans, volcanoes and wastelands but the gameplay stays much the same, only with another background. Perhaps this statement is lacking a little much needed nuance. Of course the challenges are somewhat different and the same can be said about the level of pacing. Dodging asteroids is not the same as dodging falling pillars and shooting other spacecraft is different from shooting ground-based tanks. However that may be, the game does feature a little lack of variation when it comes to the actual gameplay.

The player can choose one of three predetermined routes to Venom, simultaneously choosing a difficulty grade. Although each route features some similar environments, this is still a nice touch and it breaks up some of the monotony that could have appeared otherwise.

Starwing doesn’t feature a way to record the player’s progress. This is probably for the best, seeing that while Starwing can be challenging it can also be short. Each of the three routes is in itself not that long and the old proverb that practice makes perfect holds true when it comes to the challenge provided. Eventually the player will learn the best way to tackle each level and in time he will be capable to breeze trough each of the three routes.

Although Starwing is decidedly dated when it comes to it’s graphics, the gameplay is still good. The game remains challenging, exhilarating and fun. The controls can be a little clunky but doesn’t ruin the overall experience.

Starwing truly was a milestone for the SNES. It’s graphics where both spectacular and it’s premier feature but the game also managed to be more then just a glorified tech demo. Like Pilotwings and F-Zero before it, Starwing managed to overcome such insinuations.

Starwing’s biggest problem is probably the fact that it has been superseded by it’s own successor. The Lylat Wars on the Nintendo 64 is to all intends and purposes a remake of the game under review and improves on it in every single way. The day I first played this Nintendo 64 masterpiece at a relatives home was the day I put Starwing back in it’s box for the first time in years. I had simply become too conscious of it’s shortcomings. Since then this feeling has diminished and now I can again see what made this game special.

Would I recommend Starwing? Yes, I most definitely would. It is a piece of history and yet at the same time it also still remains a great game. The SNES library contains better games but anyone who is serious about his or her hobby should play Starwing. They owe it to themselves and to gaming in general.

OVERALL: a well deserved (but perhaps overly nostalgic) 8.0.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Starwing (EU, 06/03/93)

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