Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Retro Review - Star Fox 64

This is an old review I did for the Wii Virtual Console version of Star Fox 64 four years ago.

In the spring of 1997, Nintendo brought back one of their innovative series from the Super Nintendo to the Nintendo 64 with Star Fox 64. The original that came out on the SNES was innovative for its day requiring the infamous FX chip to run it. There was a sequel some years later, but it never came out in the U.S. Fans of the series had to wait a little longer for the next iteration of Star Fox on the Nintendo 64 and it delivered as if it was what Nintendo wanted to do with the original. The biggest innovation of Star Fox 64 was the introduction of the Rumble Pak, which bundled with the game. The Rumble Pak basically began the whole era of vibration or force feedback that is a standard in this current generation of consoles. Now people that missed out of one of Nintendo's N64 classics or loved this game to death in 1997 can revisit it on the Wii's Virtual Console for 1000 Wii Points, or ten dollars, without the rumble function. Despite losing rumble, Star Fox 64 still remains fun today as a great space shooter that was something else back when it originally came out.

Star Fox 64 had a bigger focus on the story when it is basically a simple purpose of revenge. Fox's father, James McCloud was killed in Venom by the main villain, Andross. Andross wants to take over the Lylat System and started his takeover at Fox's home planet, Corneria. It is up to Fox and his team of animal buddies, which consists of Peppy Hare, who was a teammate of Fox's father and a veteran, Slippy Toad, a toad who is totally annoying which I will bring up again later, and Falco Lombardi, a crazy pilot who wants to go all-out, to defend the whole Lylat System from Andross and take him down. Andross also has a rival group of pilots, Star Wolf, which goes out to hopefully destroy Fox's team at certain levels. The whole storyline does not really matter in the gameplay except when it gets annoyingly addressed through the in-game chatter.

The gameplay of Star Fox 64 was great at the time. The progression of the game was something else besides being just another linear shooter. The game can be beaten two ways, which consists of a good and bad ending. Most of the levels have branching paths and if you complete a certain objective, then you move on to the harder route unless you do not want to go that way and you have the option to take the easier route to a different set of levels. This idea of progression gave the single player campaign more replay value which each run at least two or three hours depending on the path and your skills.

The shooting gameplay still remains special with most of the levels using the Arwing. The Arwing has three types of lasers, which are single, double, and hyper. It has the ability to fire a lock-on shot to any enemy and take it out in one shot. This lock-on attack is one of the primary weapons of the game especially taking out multiple enemies for combo points. You earn points for taking out enemy ships, combos with multiple sets, and the boss at the end of the level. The Arwing has uses bombs as its powerful weapon, but it is under used most of the time and only needed in certain sections. The on-rails action provides the best moments of the game with sets of enemy ships everywhere trying to take you out, but the difficulty is not that hard at default settings. In certain parts of the game, the Arwing will go on all-range mode and you start an arena type battle sequence. These parts are not as fun as the basic on-rails action, but it provides a good break of the action. Besides the Arwing, Fox can use other vehicles in certain levels like the Blue Marine in Aquas and the Landmaster in two levels. These levels were some of the weaker moments of the game because it is not as satisfying as using the Arwing flying around like crazy. Each teammate had a special skill, but Slippy's ability of showing the bosses' health meter remains as your most important teammate other than Peppy helping you with basics and when you're attacked and Falco going his own way.

There was also a splitscreen multiplayer versus mode for those who like multiplayer stuff. This mode is pretty bare-bones in 1997 and remains that way today with only three stages for battle and bland environments. The weird thing about the multiplayer was a certain controller was set to a certain pilot other than using a character select screen. Fox was usually the first player, Peppy was second, Slippy was third, and Falco was the fourth player. This mode is pretty much boring today because it is simply four ships in a deathmatch or competition of destroying the most enemy ships with not a lot of depth. Sure, it was cool back then having four players duking it out in a dogfight, but in the end, the multiplayer in Star Fox 64 feels tacked on and still is that way today.

Star Fox 64 in 1997 had great graphics because of the variety of single-player backgrounds Fox's team travels around. The planets were fairly diverse cliches with a normal Earth-like planet, a snowy planet, and a sand planet. Then there are the space levels, which also had something different on every one of them like Meteo's asteroid field and Bolse's enemy base. On the Virtual Console, the graphics are cleaned up and it is actually one of the better looking Virtual Console games on the Wii out of the other N64 games on the service. Compared to today's shooters, it is not that great now, but each level had its own special moment.

The music is still awesome in Star Fox 64. The soundtrack provided intensity at certain moments of the game and boss fights music still remains one of the best bits of music in a Nintendo game. For the rest of the sound, the firing of the lasers and the bombs still remains solid. The voice acting on the other hand is flat out horrible it is funny yet still nostalgic. Mostly, your teammates will say they need help from you as if they can't do anything at all other than being there. Specifically, Slippy sounds like a girl other than a guy and that is specifically noticed in the last Star Fox games like Star Fox Assault on the Gamecube. Then again, Slippy's gender remains questionable while you can tell Peppy and Falco by gender. The in-game chatter goes crazy at a constant rate that you feel like shooting them down and shutting them up, but the nostalgia does kick in hearing such memorable lines as "Do a barrel roll!." Despite the horrible yet nostalgic banter, Star Fox 64's music stands out from the good sound.

Star Fox 64 still remains as the best Star Fox game ever before it fell apart with the Zelda ripoff, Star Fox Adventures, and the on-foot segments in Assault. It was basically a better version of the original Star Fox with more stuff thrown at you and the constant annoyance of Fox's teammates. While you will likely buy this game for the awesome single-player campaign and branching paths, the multiplayer feels like a rushed mess of something that is forced in the game hoping to give the game more replay value. For ten dollars, Star Fox 64 is one of the better games available on the Wii's Virtual Console as one of the Nintendo 64's instant classics.

Then = 7.8/10
Now = 8.5/10