In today’s video game market, Star Fox hasn’t exactly had the greatest of times. Outside of the appearances of Fox, Wolf, and Falco in the Super Smash Bros. series of games, many probably can barely remember the last time they even saw a new Star Fox game. There was a time however that Star Fox was considered by Nintendo to be one of their important franchises, and today I am going to be talking about the second game in the franchise, and the one many people are undoubtedly familiar with, Star Fox 64.
Released in 1997, this game was an instant hit, selling over 300,000 copies in the US in its first week. Everything about this game was perfection. For those that may be unaware of what Star Fox 64 was, it was a futuristic rail shooter where you take control of Fox McCloud, an anthropomorphic fox and leader of the Star Fox team. The four man team consists of Peppy Hare, the wily veteran of the team and would often act is the game’s in game tutorial, informing the player of how to perform various stunts with the iconic Arwing, the ship that you and your teammates pilot. Many a gamer will remember fondly Peppy’s cry of “do a barrel roll”, just one of many things that has been immortalized from this game. The rest of your team is filled out by Slippy Toad, childhood friend of Fox and the team’s inventor, creating many of the vehicles seen piloted by your team, and Falco Lombardi, friend and rival to Fox, who is the best pilot on the team aside from Fox himself.
Star Fox 64 boasted many features that weren’t seen often up to this point in gaming. It had a branching storyline with variable difficulties, and provided the player knew how to unlock the paths to the other planets, the player was given the option of which path to take. This game also brought with it one of the most iconic gaming accessories to ever be created, and it is now so embedded into console gaming that even considering the idea of not having it is unrealistic. I am of course referring to the one and only Rumble Pak.
I could go on and on about the history of the game, but this isn’t what this is about. What I am here to do is to look at this game and answer the question: does it still hold up? Having gone back after nearly 16 years since the game’s release, and about 10 since I last played it, I can honestly say the game felt like I remember it. The graphics have held up remarkably well, looking like something I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear was released at a more recent time. The characters are very lifelike and relate-able, despite being anthropomorphic animals flying around in space. Each world feels great, from the starting level of Corneria where you are quickly thrown into the action in the war against Andross, to Fortuna, a small arctic planet where you first meet Star Wolf, a rival four man team that Fox and company run in to on a few occasions, all the way to Venom, the final planet in the game that holds Andross, the final boss. As you near Venom you feel the stakes rise as you go from battle to battle, thwarting the forces of Andross and clinching many victories for your side.
The game play has also held up remarkably well, with very intuitive controls that feel great. As I mentioned before, this is mainly a rail shooter, so you are confined to a fixed path as you blast your way through the level. However another of this game’s features was the “all-range mode”, where your Arwing opens up it’s wings and you are free to fly anywhere you want within a specific range. A good handful of the levels play in this mode, including the frantic and satisfying dog fights against Star Wolf. There is also a few levels where you will pilot the Landmaster, a powerful tank, as well as one amazingly fun water level where you man the Blue Marine, a submarine made out of spare Arwing parts.
Finally the story, while not the deepest plot in the world, it is still a fun and engaging story that will keep you playing straight to the end, leaving you satisfied on a job well done. This game also has a good amount of re-playability, as there are 15 levels in all but you can only go to 7 of them in any given play through, with two of those spots being taken by Corneria and Venom. Many levels have at least 2 branching paths, meaning you can play through this game multiple times and never get exactly the same play through. Each level also has medals you can earn, which you get by killing a certain amount of enemies, the amount depending on the level, while keeping the rest of your teammates alive. Once you earn every medal, you will unlock Expert mode, which increases the difficulty drastically but gives you a cool pair of shades.
Overall I had a blast playing this game again after 10 or so years since my last play through, and it has held up extremely well. Finding the original cartridge for the Nintendo 64 may be difficult, but for those who wish to try out the game or play it again for old times sake, it is available on the Wii’s virtual console, as well as for the 3DS, which has improved graphics and voice work, and is definitely a must-own for you 3DS owners out there.