Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Anyone who is a fan of Nintendo Games is probably a fan of the Star Fox Series. The anthromorphic space opera is one of the most recognizable rail shooting space games created by the crimson N, and has for years enthralled gamers with it’s rather rich story and epic sense of engagements. While the series got a head start on the Super Nintendo, “Star Fox 64” is perhaps the pinnacle of the entire series, offering all the action and drama that Nintendo is actually capable of if they set their mind to it.
“Star Fox 64” is essentially the same game as the original “Star Fox” with more depth. You star as young hotshot pilot named Fox McCloud, who takes over a mercenary pilot Star Fox team to take out the enemy of the Lylat system, Dr. Andross, a evil scientist exiled on the planet Venom. Your job is to shoot through a ton of star systems and planets and fight back Andross’ army, eventually taking on the big man himself.
The reason why this game is so good is the simplicity in the control scheme, with the complexity of 3-D. While “Star Fox” was a technical 3-D game because of the fabled FX chip installed in it, it was “Star Fox 64” that perfected the technology two fold, offering a great range of movement and varied attacks against enemies, including bombs, charged lasers, strafe shooting and of course, barrel rolls. The other addition included the all range mode, which was supposed to be in “Star Fox 2”, a cancelled sequel for the SNES. In this mode you can move around freely in an environment and shoot down enemies at will. This is an impressive mode to play, and back in 1997 the free range of movement offered was simply awe-inspiring.
There were other vehicles for the first time too, the Landmaster and the Blue Marine. Both are used in only one or two areas in the game, but they offer another, more fun rail shooter level’s that break the gameplay enough to keep it fresh. In fact, all of the levels are designed real well. Some showcase a complete space battle either between the two opposing armies, or your team against the enemy themselves. Others are destroying a train depot, a satellite, and even preventing missiles from taking out your main ship. Hell, there is even a level that rip’s off independence day so well, it makes the climax of that movie look fake!
There is also a pretty bare bones multi-player game included, which was pretty much 4 man death-match. Standard stuff, but it was cool to hunt down fellow pilots and show off your flying skills.
But perhaps the best part of the game is it’s entire presentation. This also includes the graphics and the sound. Nintendo usually has a knack for keeping their main protagonists silent and their stories simple and straight-forward. Depending on how you play “Star Fox 64” changes the actual story. Since mission progression depends on how well you perform and certain conditions in the previous levels, you can change course and alter the storyline as a whole rather easily.
But the story is told very skillfully every time. For example, the backstory mentions how Fox’s father was killed by a traitor from the previous Star Fox team. That traitor joins a rival mercenary team called “Star Wolf,” creating a great rivalry between the four teams, one so good that they appear in three levels of varying degrees of difficulty. This rivalry is a sub-plot at best, but offers so much dialogue and back-story as you fight each other it actually becomes just as fun to listen to the cries for help and the thrill of finally shooting them down. And not to give away the ending, but the best ending of the game is rather sublime and in many ways, a great twist to the entire back-story present.
In fact, the voice over’s in the game, a rarity for Nintendo to begin with, were impressive. The cast was sometimes annoying but still endearing as the four man Star Fox team, as well as the various adversaries you would face. Hell, it is not every day where enemy forces have a personality that changes in the course of a ten minute level. You also get a sense of the roles each character has through in game chatter. And thanks to the power the Nintendo 64 did have in showing graphics, the often shapely polygons you faced were varied and slightly detailed. Plus the fact that there is never any slowdown when you have hundreds of enemies on screen in all range mode is a testament to the overall design of the game.
When the credits roll and you see your ship ascending across a sunset as you race across the plains of a desert planet, the epic feeling does hit you again. Even though it is a rather short experience, it is a deep and engrossing one that truly captures how a simple gameplay mechanic can be fleshed out and varied enough to be almost instantly repayable. “Star Fox 64” is perhaps one of the best Nintendo games ever made, and shows that true classics never be forgotten.