Full disclosure: I have to let you know that I played Star Fox 64 on a handheld fourteen years ago. I still remember it, that day in 1997. I came home from grade school to news that my brother had bought a new Nintendo 64 game, which was big news in and of itself because that system had game droughts that put the Wii’s to shame. So I headed downstairs and went into his room (without knocking, of course), and was greeted by Mase’s immortal “24 Hours to Live” blaring from his CD player. He turned the volume down, and I asked him about the game. He smiled, and pointed me toward the N64 that lay by his entertainment unit. It was then that I played Star Fox 64 for the first time. The funny thing was that it wasn’t connected to his TV. No, I first played this legendary game on a clunky, 1990s-era camcorder. I was blasting fools, doing backflips, and cursing Slippy on a 3-inch display with tinny, barely-audible speakers.
And I loved it.
I wasn’t alone either, as the game was one of the N64’s most critically acclaimed titles. It was action-packed, had obscene amounts of dialog, four-player dogfights, and featured a branching-pathway system that had many replaying it several times a day so they could find the secret levels. Surely such tightly-woven gameplay could stand the test of time?
That’s what Nintendo’s hoping for with the new Star Fox 64 3D for 3DS. Like Ocarina of Time 3D before it, the core game remains unchanged. For better or worse, the graphics and sound have been updated, gyroscope controls have been added, and little tweaks have been made here and there to enhance the experience.
For the uninitiated, the game puts you in control of a Fox named Fox and his team of vigilantes known as (you guessed it) Star Fox. The evil Andross is waging war on the Lylat system, so you must pilot your Arwing fighter through a series of besieged planets to stop him. Most of the game involves Fox flying ever-forward, as waves of enemies and obstacles beset him, kind of like a 3D Gradius. Sometimes it changes up this formula, letting you move around a small area on your own or giving you a tank instead of the Arwing, but general gameplay stays the same. You kill some dudes, do some barrel rolls, fire some bombs, and save some planets. You can collect powerups that let you fire more lasers at once, but you’d better be careful not to lose your wings or you’ll be stuck with the dinky single gun. Each planet offers a new twist on the formula, however. One minute you’ll be defending a planet from an Independence Day-style mothership, and the next you’re laying siege to a train delivering enemy supplies.
The most interesting thing this series brought to the table, in my opinion, was the branching paths you could find to unlock different routes through the galaxy, and thus a higher challenge. In one instance, the level you go to next depends on whether you defeat the rival Star Wolf team before a bomb blows up, while most are less obvious. Without spoiling the secret route, you should definitely help out your wingmate, Falco, when he is attacked on Corneria, as if he goes down you’ll be stuck on the easy path the rest of the game. Actually, you should keep all of your posse alive, because Slippy lets you see bosses’ health bars while Peppy constantly feeds you advice.
Besides the ability to start a new game from any previously-unlocked planet, the only real alteration to the campaign is a new control scheme. You can play in ‘N64 Mode’, which just uses the Circle Pad and buttons, or ‘3DS mode’ which lets you manoeuvre with the gyroscope. Like in Ocarina 3D, the added gyro controls are a great addition to this remake, letting you bob and weave around incoming fire much more naturally. The big ‘what the heck’ here is that the game dials the difficulty down significantly when using this option. You must select which control method you want before starting the game, and ‘3DS mode’ throws approximately half the number of enemies your way. Understandably, some may find the gyro more difficult to control, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to provide two difficulty levels and let the player change the controls at will?
At least the multiplayer lets you switch between the two control types on the fly. Using just one copy of the game, up to four players can go at it in dogfights and score attacks on several arenas. New to the 3DS game is the fact that you can see video of your opponents’ faces above their Arwing, so your victory is all the sweeter when they crash and burn. Nintendo has also added new powerups that you get at random when you pick up an item, adding an unpredictable, Mario Kart-style element to the multiplayer.
The major oversight regarding the multiplayer mode? Lack of online play. You can play with bots (also a new feature), but it’s not the same. I’m one of those types who looks at people who demand online in every game that supports multiplayer and asks ‘Why?’ After all, some titles just work better when you’re sitting on the same couch as your friends and talking smack. That said, in this case the game just feels incomplete without network play. Its DS predecessor, Star Fox Command, featured a competent online mode, so I have to wonder why that feature was left out of its younger brother on the new, more Internet-friendly 3DS.
Of course, the most obvious enhancement in any good remake is the graphics, and they are stunning in Star Fox 64 3D. Characters look sharper than in the beautiful Gamecube Star Fox Adventures, and they’re just a small detail this time considering you rarely see them outside the ships. Everything from the water you gracefully skim across on Corneria, to the hulking bosses that populate each level, has seen a major visual boost. You can practically feel the heat on the planet Solar as snakes of lava jump out at you in full 3D. The system’s top screen is used to good effect here, as Fox’s speedy descent toward the planet Venom is all the more urgent when the ground seems to rush towards you.
Too bad the audio quality can’t always match the visuals. While the various lasers sound fine, and the Star Fox theme is always catchy, the voices here are just groan-inducing. I wanted to kill Slippy Toad in the original when he merely complained in a girly-sounding voice. This time, he sounds like all his male hormones were replaced, in triplicate, with estrogen and he has a clothespin permanently affixed to his nose. Don’t even get me started on Wolf O’Donnell. Fox’s main rival used to sound so sinister that you felt he was a serious threat to your team. Now he inexplicably sounds like some British stand-up comedian who is more of an annoyance than anything. The game gets points for getting the ‘Do a barrel roll!’ line perfectly, though — it knows better than to slight such a sacred Internet meme.
Make no mistake, this game will not take you long to beat. A typical playthrough lasts between thirty minutes and an hour, and once you know the secrets it doesn’t take too long to unlock every planet. It’s a very score-heavy game, though, and the action provides enough adrenaline rush that I foresee dozens of runs on my part. Too bad they couldn’t even see fit to provide online leaderboards, as that would have extended the replay value considerably.
In summation, playing Star Fox 64 3D didn’t quite recapture the magic of that first N64 experience in my brother’s room over a decade ago. While the core game has held up admirably, the additions and refinements here (barring the great graphics) are a little too subtle for me to say ‘must-have’. Don’t let that discourage you, especially if you haven’t played it before. The improved controls and graphics, action-packed campaign, and entertaining additions to multiplayer easily make the game worth a purchase and then some. All the quirks and unfortunate omissions I mentioned mean I can’t give it the very highest accolades afforded by gamrReview. That aside, it can’t be denied that this is the best version of the best game in the Star Fox franchise.