Review by roadtosalvation
While Star Fox's visuals have obviously aged, its gameplay keeps it firmly afloat
In this wild world we live in, time never stops. Time is an unyielding force and a undeniable truth. Faced with its ebb and flow, we often demonize its passage, from classics like "I don't have the time!" to "Where did all the time go!" we'll come up with any excuse to make ourselves feel better and minimize its subconscious impact.
As automatic as such denial becomes for anyone, such a realization smashed me upside the in the head while I stood at the local game store waiting for the clerk to unearth of a copy of Star Fox from the back room. Ironically, I had sold a copy of Star Fox to the same store three years prior, the urge to revisit it fueled by my disappointment with Star Fox 64 purchased a week earlier. Striking me as a game that I would have enjoyed much more had I played it during its prime (I ended up in Sony's camp during the 32/64 bit era) I couldn't shake these thoughts of the original being the superior game. So, here I was, ready to reenlist and retake the control of those magnificent arwings. Did those memories survive the present, or did they crash and burn much like an Attack Carrier on Corneria?
Obviously, despite boasting the first appearance of the Super FX chip, anyone familiar with console gaming will immediately realize that Star Fox's graphical presentation is rather out of date. We have true polygons on the SNES, which is impressive feat in itself, but objects are simple representations of what they are. This is mainly due to the fact that texture mapping is kept to absolute minimum, mainly for performance reasons and the fact they would be at a lower resolution than those found in a Playstation game. So how is it that a game that mainly consists of flat, shaded polygons still looks impressive? Well, to be honest, it's a case where the beauty of simplicity challenges the player. Sure, that may seem like a boring column of gray matter coming at you while flying through Corneria, but we all know it's a building, and crashing into it would hurt. With video games being all about imagination, is it so hard to extend a hand and meet this element half way in such a respect, especially with the game being the first of its kind? Reinforcing such an argument is how cinematic Star Fox can make a small handful of polygons appear. I can't be the only one who gets chills watching the arwings soar through the sky as they depart from the base on Corneria or when Fox enters and escapes the twisted corridors of Andross' lair on Venom. It's "awe inspiring."
While some will obviously have concerns with Star Fox's graphical presentation (which was out of date circa 1995) most will find that the gameplay has a bit more resolve. Like most first party Nintendo games, the fact that things are kept simple doesn't mean that the game lacks depth or that it would be automatically be surpassed by future titles. For the most part, the game dodges a lot of the problems - especially due to the fact there is no free/all-range mode - you would expect to crop up in a game like this, but then there are simply some problems that are unavoidable, most of which center around the camera/boost/retros in boss fights. In certain skirmishes you'll be pretty prone to smashing your aircraft into boss enemies despite your best efforts. Because of this, a few battles feel pitched when you're expected to dodge structures you can't see (Macbeth boss Spinning Core!) because they're behind your view or the camera is zoomed in so far you can't see the boss' appendages (see Fortuna boss Monarch Dodora). The failure of the barrel roll to activate at times (although it may just be my ancient controllers), slowdown (which is much more noticeable today than it was when the game came out) and continue point/twin blaster issues can also put a damper on the proceedings but are relatively minor annoyances.
Still, if there is any one area where Star Fox could succeed blindfolded, it would be audio. While most will be quick to equate Hajime Hirasawa's score with what John Williams whipped up for the Star War movies, I find such a label grossly misleading. Sure, the bombasity behind some of the game's numbers may remind you of "The Imperial March" and such, but I don't think it's as big of a complement as people think it is, and, while I'm not musically inclined in anyway, I don't think it's hard to imitate such music. Listening to great tracks like "Corneria" and "Player Down (Band Version)" I find that while Star Fox's music may have taken influence from the above, by no means is it a copy and paste job. The only real hiccup is the credits theme which reminds me a little too much of Final Fantasy. (Side note: if you want some sticker shock, go and see what the official soundtrack is capable of going for due to its rarity.) Koji Kondo of Mario fame handles the sound effects with dead-on accuracy, the crack a downed arwing makes when it explodes being very penetrating.
Rounding out the sound department is Star Fox's use of voice and presidio-speak. Characters communicate in presidio-speak (unintelligible jabber that is geared/represents each character/animal) during game play and is a wonderful alternative to the wretched voice acting in Star Fox 64. Its also extremely memorable. The use of real-life voiceovers on the stage introduction screen (Good Luck!!) and during events like the appearance of a boss enemy ("Incoming Enemy!") and the ending and is wisely executed despite its limited application and low sampling. Its use in the ending sequence is especially powerful and puts a real cap on the whole adventure.
As far as replay and challenge, Star Fox offers three paths to the same finale. Level one is perhaps the most known because it is easiest, but is ultimately essential in building your skills. Level two requires only a minor increase in skill over the first path (although there is one boss that can throw a real kink in your progress if you don't know how to handle it and the game doesn't explain it very well) and Level Three is an altogether different (but awesome) beast when it comes to difficulty.
In the end, picking the game up after being away for it for three plus years I was able to beat the first two paths on the first shot, while the final path took me three attempts, which was a lot less than I thought it was going to take. A little disappointing considering I revisited everything the game had to offer in two (non-full) days of gaming but it was still rather fulfilling and worth all five hundred and eighty-five pennies. While it's obvious Star Fox's three-dimensional graphics can hold anything against games even one generation after it like a late era, two-dimensional masterpiece like Donkey Kong Country 2 can, underestimate the game at your loss. Highly recommended for anyone interested in on-rail shooters like Panzer Dragoon II Zwei.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Star Fox (US, 03/31/93)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.