Star Fox Review

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Star Fox 64 was my gateway to the series. In fact, I had no idea the first Star Fox existed until I was much older. And I had a Super Nintendo growing up. The only rail shooter I owned for the system was Hyper Zone and it uses the system’s Mode 7 technology to great effect. Star Fox is also a rail shooter and was impressive for its time for its use of polygonal graphics, achieved with the Super FX chip included in the cartridge. It’s one of Nintendo’s early 3D titles and is considered to be one of the greatest games of all time. Developed by Nintendo EAD and Argonaut Software and published by Nintendo, Star Fox was released for Super Nintendo in March, 1993. For this review, I played it on the Analogue Super Nt.

Set in the Lylat System, the evil scientist Andross fled to planet Venom after being banished from Corneria and has declared war on the latter. Corneria’s General Pepper summons the mercenary team known as Star Fox to defeat Andross and grants them access to the prototype high-performance fighter aircraft called the “Arwing”. The player assumes the the role of the leader of the team, Fox McCloud, and is accompanied by his teammates, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad. There’s not much to say about the plot since it’s pretty straightforward – Andross is bad and it’s your job to stop him from wreaking havoc. But I do think the fact that the Lylat system is populated by anthropomorphic animals gives the game a unique charm.

Star Fox is considered to be a rail shooter. You pilot the Arwing and are always pushed forward and can bank left and right, roll, brake, and boost. The Arwing is equipped with a laser blaster and can fire Bombs to inflict a lot of damage to any enemies in the blast radius. Bombs are limited and are one of multiple items you can acquire in the stages. Others include Extra Ships or lives, Power Shield, and Twin Blasters and if you pick up Twin Blasters a second time, they are upgraded to Type B. The Arwing can take damage from enemy projectiles and by crashing into things. Most of its shield energy or health can be replenished by flying through Supply Rings which also act as checkpoints. The Arwing can deflect projectiles by rolling and destroying enemies will sometimes result in Energy Rings that replenish a small amount of energy. Also, its wings can be damaged and when that happens, you’ll lose your blaster upgrades. In that case, blaster upgrades become Wing Gyros that will repair your wings. The Arwing can be destroyed if you’re not careful and that results in a loss of life. Lose all your lives and it’s game over. You are scored at the end of each stage based on your performance and can earn bonus credits.

Before jumping into the gameplay, you must choose a level or route from the map screen. There’s three different levels and each one takes you different locations and planets or stages but all of them start at Corneria and end at Venom. The levels also reflect the difficulty. The higher the level, the more challenging the gameplay. Just a side note; to avoid confusion with other terms, I’ll refer to the levels as routes going forward. Corneria and Venom will differ depending on the route you choose and certain stages contain exits to secret stages. One in particular is like a warp zone that can warp you to specific stages including one that’s part of a different route.

I played Star Fox maybe once or twice as an adult and remember it being challenging so I went into this expecting to get my ass kicked. But in the end, I found that it’s not as hard as I thought it would be. Now don’t get me wrong, I saw the game over screen numerous times, especially on route three, but the game is far from impossible. The different routes add a good amount of replay value as do all the what I’ll call secrets you can discover. Meeting certain conditions in the stages will unlock things like the secret exits for example. But there’s more. Flying through specific things can unlock items or pickups and in one stage, shooting specific enemies can result in a whale-looking thing that appears and drops pickups right before the boss.

As good and impressive as Star Fox is, it’s not perfect. I think many of my complaints with the game are the result of the limits of the technology. So I can forgive most of the issues I’m about to bring up but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t cause some aggravation. For one thing, the frame rate is choppy as fuck. The game will slow down often and this did frequently mess with whatever I was trying to do. Unless you’re in the cockpit view, there is no crosshair so aiming can be a bitch sometimes. Plus, not every stage supports this view. Some of the pop-in can be annoying and when the screen gets busy with enemies, projectiles, and particles, it can be hard to make things out. In certain stages, the camera and position of the Arwing can make it difficult to see what’s in front of you and I found judging depth perception to also be problematic at times and the frequently fluctuating frame rate can make it worse. I did kind of get used to it after a while but there were numerous instances where I was certain I was going to avoid an attack but got hit anyway because my timing was off which was because I guess I misjudged the distance.

Outside of those problems, my only other issue is with your teammates. They sometimes get in your way which can be a nuisance. But other than that, I have no major issues with the general design of the game. It’s quite fun. Your teammates feel like they’re just kind of there to add immersion and any time they help you feels scripted. They’re off-screen much of the time so you’re doing most of the work. They will call out for assistance if they’re being tailed and under attack and you can help them out. But if you don’t, they can die.

Being a rail shooter, Star Fox is a linear game. You’re always kept on course and can’t stray far off the intended path. You’ll fly through numerous planets and in space, engaging enemy ships and ground forces, and each stage ends with a boss. Some of the boss behavior can feel like nonsense at first but once I got their attacks and patterns down, I usually didn’t have too much trouble on subsequent runs. Stages are often filled with obstacles to avoid like buildings, asteroids, and rotating objects among other things and knowing when to boost and brake can be helpful. One of my favorite stages is called Space Armada because you not only get to blow away tons of ships but also get to fly into enemy Battleships and destroy their cores. The way its presented is very cool.

The 3D presentation undoubtedly looks archaic in today’s world but I think for a Super Nintendo game released in 1993, it looks pretty good. Buildings and objects often look simple, textures are flat and pop-in is noticeable. But it doesn’t look terrible. It is a colorful game, some of the backgrounds look awesome, and the Arwing and enemy ships look pretty good in my opinion. I was impressed with some of the details and visual effects like explosions resulting in particles filling the space and sometimes you’ll see enemy pilots come flying out. The sound work is good and the action is backed by a great soundtrack with a lot of catchy and memorable tunes. On the technical side, outside of the fluctuating frame rate, the game ran fine and I encountered no major bugs or issues.

I enjoyed Star Fox. While it does feel a little primitive today, I actually expected it to be worse. Star Fox is more or less a demonstration of the 3D graphics made possible by the Super FX chip but it’s also a solid game. The core gameplay is fun and while there is no multiplayer component, it does have a good amount of replay value. Most of my issues with it are due to technological limitations. I have no major gripes with the general design of the game. Even though I can forgive most of the issues, to say they don’t cause some aggravation would be a lie. It’s annoying when you’re in the heat of battle, dodging projectiles and obstacles while trying to shoot down enemy ships, and the frame rate just tanks. Nevertheless, what was on display here for a home console in 1993 is pretty impressive and I can’t say the performance ever outright ruined the experience for me. I have played most of the other games in the series and I do think the reboot, Star Fox 64, is better but this was still a great time.

I would absolutely recommend Star Fox. It’s a fun rail shooter that should appeal to those that like the concept of flying around different planets and in space, shooting down enemies. That’s the big draw here. Star Fox may show it’s age nowadays but it is technologically impressive for the hardware it’s designed for and an excellent game, overall. Definitely check it out.

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