Skip to main content

Star Fox 64: 25th anniversary

Twenty-five years ago today, Star Fox 64 was released in America. It surpassed its SNES predecessor, Star Fox, in every way.

Star Fox 64 is an on-rails shooter. "On rails" means that your ship always moves forward along a pre-determined path, like a roller coaster. Within this path you can move around on the screen using the d-pad. You can speed up briefly by holding ←C or slow down with ↓C (the N64 controller has a C button in each orthogonal direction). Speeding up uses a boost meter, which needs a few seconds to refresh before you can boost again.

The main gameplay element is shooting enemy ships with your laser (press A). Holding the button down for a second charges the laser. Charging has the added advantage of locking onto an enemy and doing splash damage to those next to it. The game records how many ships you destroy on each level and uses the total to create an arcade-style ranking, where you input your name for eternal glory (my best score so far is an unimpressive 748 hits). If you score high enough on a level, you get a medal. If you collect a medal on all seven stages, you unlock expert mode. You can retry a level after you beat it at the expense of one life, and you gain an extra life whenever you beat a level with at least 100 kills. There are no continues.

Gameplay is Star-Wars-style combat with a little bit of dodging and barrel rolling (to do a barrel roll, double-tap R or Z). You have a health meter that is reduced each time you collide with an object or are shot. You can replenish the meter some by flying into silver rings left by defeated enemies. If you collect three golden rings, the meter grows longer for the current level only. If you collect another three, you get an extra life.

There are two other power-ups. A floating B gives you a bomb. You can carry up to ten bombs at a time, and they are deployed by pushing B. The other power-up is a floating L, which turns your single laser blaster into two. Taking too much damage downgrades you back to one. Sometimes you get a message from your support team, and if you press →C, an aid package is deployed. Shoot it to release a power-up (usually a bomb).

A fun aspect of Star Fox is that you have three wingmen, Slippy (a toad), Falco (a falcon), and Peppy (a rabbit). It all feels very Star Wars, but with anthropomorphic animals (you play the titular Fox). In the SNES game they spoke only in gibberish noises, but the N64 allowed real dialogue. Often you have to resuce them from trouble (especially Slippy). If you fail to destroy their pursuers, their ships may become so damaged that they must retreat, leaving the stage. If so, they have to sit out the next one as well while their ship undergoes repairs. The wingmen are not essential to beating a stage, but they add to the fun and realism. To earn a medal, you must keep all three wingmen in the game the whole stage.

Another thing I like about the game is that it contains three branching pathways to the final stage (Venom). Most stages have a main objective. If you complete it, it says "Mission accomplished" and you move up to or stay on the harder pathway. If you finish a stage without completing the objective, it says "Mission complete" and you move down to or remain on either the intermediate or easy path. For example, on the first stage (Corneria), the mission is to find and destroy the true boss. If you fly under several archs in a row, Falco announces that he's found him and leads you through a waterfall. If you don't do this, you fail to find the true boss and face an easier one instead. When you "accomplish" a mission, you can still opt to move to the lower track instead. Two stages (Meteo and Sector X) have hidden warps to higher tracks. As a result of all this, there are 25 possible routes to Venom.

Venom holds the final boss, Andross, a giant ape head. If you approach Venom from the easy path, you will only see his first form, which is easily defeated. You shoot his eyes to distract him, then shoot his disembodied hands. The only real danger is getting sucked into his mouth. After the credits roll, Andross reappears and laughs, hinting at the fact that you need to find the hard path. The hard path means approaching Venom from Area 6. If you do this, you face a final, more difficult form of Andross after defeating the easy form. This is the game's true ending.

A few of the levels in Star Fox 64 are played in vehicles other than the standard Arwing fighter jet (the name is an obvious rip-off of the x-wings from Star Wars). Two of them (Titania and Macbeth) use a ground tank called the Landmaster. The Landmaster can hover briefly by holding ←C. There is also a submarine called the Blue-Marine that is only used on the underwater stage, Aquas. These non-Arwing levels offer some nice variety in the game.

Even the standard space levels have a lot of variety. The unique feel of each level is one of the game's main strengths. I went in to Star Fox 64 assuming every level would be basically the same, just shooting enemies in space, but it doesn't feel that way. Each level ends with a boss fight, and these also vary considerably. One stage that stands out to me is Solar, in which you fly above the surface of a star. The heat drains your health meter, so you need to pick up silver and gold rings.

I went in expecting to like Star Fox 64, but as it turns out, I love it! This is one of the best video games I've ever played. I've mostly been playing the 3DS version (with Super-Stable 3D), and it's a fantastic experience. Among games I hadn't played before I began my retro-game quest, this is my favorite. I didn't own an N64 as a teenager, though some of my friends did, and I'm learning it had some excellent games. Star Fox 64 is one of its best.

Grade: A+

Linked Review
"There's a lot of enjoyable battling as you weave about the screen, taking out enemies and avoid colliding with obstacles in Star Fox 64."
— Dave Frear, Nintendo Life, 9/10

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

SimCity: The OG city simulator still rocks

When I ordered an Analogue Super Nt to begin collecting and playing SNES games, I knew which game I wanted to play first: SimCity. This game hasn't been rereleased since the Wii Virtual Console in 2006! Analogue Super NT SimCity was created by Will Wright as a PC game, published in 1989. Nintendo worked with Maxis to have it ported to the Super Nintendo for their new console's launch. The SNES version is a huge improvement over the original, with better graphics, pop-up advice screens from Dr. Wright, and, most importantly, gifts. But let's start at the beginning. SimCity was the first ever city-simulation video game. Your goal is to build up a city as successfully as you can. You can play however you like, as it is not possible to "beat" the game, but the main achievement is reaching a population of 500,000, at which point your city becomes a "megalopolis." The maps are fairly small (and some have a lot of water), so the only way to achieve this is to h

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: 20th anniversary

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is special to me because it was one of the first games I played on the Wii U. I hadn't owned a game console since the Super Nintendo until my wife bought me a Wii U for my 30th birthday. Since I missed the Game Cube and Wii eras, playing The Wind Waker was a revelation to me. It was as good as I remembered A Link to the Past being. I've read that, when it debuted, some people hated the cel-shaded art style. In retrospect that's hard to fathom, because the game is a visual delight. The cartoony style and feel is probably its strongest feature for me. Sailing the seas and exploring the game's many islands is a joyous process of discovery. There are all sorts of quirky citizens to meet and interact with, including an auction house, bird people (the Rito), pirates, a traveling merchant (Beedle), temples, and the long-lost, sunken kingdom of Hyrule. The mid-game twist delighted me: Link learns he's the reincarnation of a hero from an

Rock n' Roll Racing: 30th anniversary

Although not marketed as a sequel, anyone who has played Blizzard's RPM Racing will recognize Rock n' Roll Racing as its successor. They are both isometric racing games with weapons, similar to Rare's classic R.C. Pro-Am on the NES, but Rock n' Roll Racing is the superior game by far. You can enjoy Rock n' Roll Racing solo or with a second player. At the beginning, you choose your racer from six colorful, punky characters: Tarquinn, Snake, Cyberhawk, Ivan, Katarina, or Jake. Each is good at two skills from among acceleration, top speed, cornering, and jumping. Olaf, from The Lost Vikings , is secretly available by holding down L, R, and SELECT while Tarquinn is selected. Olaf is busted because he's good at all four skills! Four characters race and attack one another's vehicles with lasers, missiles, and mines. You begin with only one laser shot per lap. Between races, you can purchase additional shots and upgrade your vehicle's armor, tires, shock abso