Star Fox 64 Review

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I think it’s safe to say that anyone who’s been around knows about Star Fox 64 and most likely played it back in the day. It’s one of those 64 games that everyone seemed to own. Or at least all the kids I grew up with. I didn’t have a 64 back in the day but even I played it because I knew people who had it. Star Fox 64 is the follow up to Star Fox for the Super Nintendo, one of Nintendo’s early 3D titles. It was originally going to be followed up by Star Fox 2 but Nintendo cancelled it in 1995 in favor of focusing on their Nintendo 64 console. However, the game was eventually released in 2017 on the Super NES Classic Edition.

Developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo, Star Fox 64 was released for the Nintendo 64 in June, 1997. Star Fox 64 is considered a reboot and is the first game to support system’s Rumble Pak. It’s also a rail shooter and shares many mechanics and features with the first game and even borrows some elements from Star Fox 2. It is one of the best-selling games for the 64 and was even remade for the 3DS as Star Fox 64 3D. Star Fox 64 does come with a multiplayer component but I didn’t get to try it so this review will only focus on the single player.

Set in the Lylat system, the story goes that Dr. Andross, a scientist on the planet Corneria, goes mad and nearly destroys the planet before he’s exiled to the planet Venom. Some time later, Andross declares war on the Lylat system and deploys forces to invade Corneria. Corneria’s General Pepper reaches out to the mercenary team, Star Fox, for help. As the team battles their way to Venom to stop Andross they encounter the rival mercenary team summoned by Andross, Star Wolf, who they have a history with. This is yet another straightforward plot but with a touch of drama and two endings. The story is accompanied by full voice acting and includes some of the most memorable and quotable hammy dialogue in video game history. It’s amazing and never fails to put a smile on my face.

The Star Fox team consists of Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad. The player assumes the role of Fox and much like the first game, the teammates or wingmen feel like they’re included more for immersion and guiding the player than anything else. But you will get to hear some great dialogue exchanged between them. You will see your wingmen engage enemies from time to time but you will be doing most of the work. They can sometimes get in your way and friendly fire is a thing this time around so you will need to watch where you’re shooting. If your wingmen take too much damage, they will drop out of the current mission but will return later.

I would say most of the game is structured like the first game. There is a map screen that shows all of the locations and planets in the system and you progress through the campaign by moving from one location to another and each location is also considered a mission. But unlike the first game, you don’t select the route at the start and you can change your route or course from the map screen. There are many routes to take and all of them start at Corneria and end at Venom. You must find the different paths or ways to complete missions on your own. There is technically a “hard” route which consists of missions more challenging than others but you don’t necessarily have to stick to it to see the “hard” ending. That’s one cool thing about Star Fox 64, most missions or locations have two let’s call them exits. In most cases, one will keep you on the current route and the other will take you to a mission on another. Basically, there’s multiple ways to get through the campaign. It doesn’t take very long to beat but the game is designed to be replayed.

Star Fox 64 is a rail shooter and most of the time you’re being pushed in a specific direction. Some missions and areas allow you to enter all-range mode which simply means you can fly around the area freely. The Star Fox team pilots ships called Arwings and most of the mechanics from the first game have been carried over. You can bank left and right, brake, boost, roll to deflect shots, and fire lasers and bombs. You can also perform somersaults and in all-range mode you can perform u-turns. When compared to the first game, there are some very welcome additions here like the always visible crosshair and the ability to charge up your shots and lock onto foes. In addition to the Arwing, Fox will also get to pilot other crafts like the Landmaster and Blue-Marine, but these are only seen in certain missions.

For the most part, I would say Star Fox 64 is more accessible and forgiving than the first Star Fox. Just beating the game isn’t very difficult and you can accumulate quite a bit of lives along the way. Don’t get me wrong, some missions are definitely challenging, especially along the “hard” route, but once you have a firm grasp of the mechanics, you can still easily get through the campaign. Even if you don’t meet the requirements for a specific exit, you’ll still progress but just to a mission on a different route. What is challenging is the Expert Mode and even unlocking it. To unlock it, you need to earn the medal for each mission which requires you to destroy a set amount of enemies and ensure your wingmen don’t drop out. You are scored based on how many enemies you destroy and you can earn bonus points for destroying multiple enemies with one shot.

Much like the first game, you can find and acquire items or pickups and even unlock some by meeting certain conditions in the missions. Plus, some enemies leave behind pickups when destroyed. Pickups include bombs, laser upgrades, rings, and extra ships or lives. Flying through checkpoint rings and collecting Silver and Gold rings replenishes some of your shield gauge. If you collect three gold rings, your shield capacity increases but only for the current mission and acquiring an additional three will grant you an extra life. You will also receive communications from ROB on the Great Fox who will send you supplies. You take damage by getting hit and crashing into things and once again, the Arwing’s wings can be destroyed and if that happens you lose any laser upgrades you acquired but they can be repaired by collecting Wing Repairs. But they will automatically be repaired in the next mission.

Each location does feel distinct, even the multiple missions set in space. They all have different obstacles and some missions are entirely all-range missions which makes for nice breaks from the typical rail shooting action. The missions can include multiple paths, for example the choice to go left or right at certain points and the game comes with some neat details and things to discover. The route you take can result in different events in certain missions. Some missions include friendly pilots that will help the Star Fox team and they may even show up again in a later mission, depending on the route. In some cases, a different path through a mission can result in a different boss battle. If Slippy drops out, you won’t be able to see the boss’s shield gauge because Slippy is the one who analyzes the enemy. Also, I’ve always loved the cockpit view in this game. It can be quite immersive.

If you play Star Fox 64 directly after the first game, you will certainly notice the better performance and in my opinion, the smoother gameplay along with the better presentation does make for a more enjoyable experience. I don’t want to knock the first Star Fox because it is fun and is technologically impressive for the hardware it’s designed for. It’s a good game. But the frequent frame rate dips can be annoying and certain aspects of the presentation haven’t aged all that well despite the game holding up pretty well, overall, in my opinion. In terms of gameplay, Star Fox 64 borrows a lot from that game and I think this style of gameplay benefits from looking better and running better. Star Fox 64 just feels better to play. I found it easier to make things out even when the action got busy, I had no problems with depth perception, and the frame rate remained pretty stable making for a nice smooth experience. I never felt that the game was eating my inputs or that the performance had a negative affect on my timing or whatever I was trying to do.

Star Fox 64 is certainly not a bad looking game for its time. In fact, I would say the audiovisual presentation was quite impressive. Some of the textures and backgrounds look muddy now but I think, visually, it definitely holds up overall. The presentation is colorful, the ship models look great, each planet is distinct and the environments are well detailed, and needless to say, the 3D in general looks much better here than that of the first Star Fox. The audio work is also good and the gameplay is backed by a wonderful soundtrack with a lot of catchy and memorable tunes ranging from dramatic to intense. Not only that, I feel the music along with the voice acting help give the game a cinematic quality. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues.

I love Star Fox 64. As of this review, it’s my favorite game in the franchise and in my opinion, one of the greatest rail shooters ever made, if not the greatest. It’s easy to jump into, accessible, and also offers a challenge. It’s a game that’s enjoyable from start to finish no matter what route you take. Star Fox 64 is a short game but is designed to be replayed. The gameplay can be addictive and there’s a lot of routes through the campaign along with medals, Expert Mode, and multiplayer content to unlock. This was the first time I ever unlocked Expert Mode and some missions in this mode can be quite intense. It’s a game that holds up very well and I think so for two reasons. One; it’s extremely fun to play. And two; there’s not a lot of games like it which kind of surprises me. There’s a lot of rail shooters out there but nothing quite like Star Fox. It surprises me because we’ve got plenty of what some consider “clones” of other popular games in other genres. But no developers tried their hand at the Star Fox formula? Really? Maybe there are some games out there that I just don’t know about.

I would absolutely recommend Star Fox 64. It’s a classic. It’s one of the greatest rail shooters ever made and one of the greatest 64 games ever made. It’s one of those must-play games. It takes everything that was great about the first game and does it better. From the gameplay to the presentation, it feels better, it looks better, and it performs better. The gameplay is fun, the replay value is high, and it can be enjoyed in short bursts and long sessions. Definitely check it out.

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