Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Star Fox 64

8.5 - [Excellent]

Gameplay: 9
Visuals: 9
Music: 9
Sound: 9
Value: 7

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Multiplayer: Offline versus
Console(s): Nintendo 64, Wii Virtual Console
Reviewed on: Nintendo 64
ESRB rating: E (Violence) [Note that this is the recently assigned rating for the Wii version]
BMR rating: E (Violence)

Good Points:

Excellent visuals and sound design - Fast and arcadey gameplay - Likable setting and characters - Welcome variety built around a strong gameplay system - Well-designed levels - Classic quotes - Value-boosting branching paths

Not So Good Points:

Short-lived - So-so multiplayer - Cheesy voice acting (if you really call that a bad thing)

What happens when the world of Star Wars and Nintendo collide? Well, nobody can tell for sure, but I'm willing to bet it would turn out whole a lot like Star Fox 64. As the defining entry in the Star Fox series, this action-packed space epic has become a true classic, and for good reason. Thrilling action and memorable moments abound in this spacecraft-focused shooter, and it's liable to be one of the most impressive-looking Nintendo 64 games you ever see. The ride is short, but you'll find yourself going back over and over again to discover which route is truly the best way to defeat the evil Dr. Andross.

Who is Dr. Andross, you ask? Only a diabolical mad scientist with a fleet of powerful spaceships and a malicious will bent towards the total domination of the Lylat System. He also happens to be a monkey. In fact, the entire cast of Star Fox 64 is built up of anthropomorphic animals, exluding the robotic R.O.B. 64. The emphasis is by no means on the narrative, but Star Fox 64 presents a cast of likable (and admittedly borderline annoying) characters and an appropriately melodramatic space opera setting. Who could forget the Star Wars-esque asteroid field level, or Peppy Hare's iconic advice related to barrel roles? Yes, Star Fox 64 wants you to have fun, and believe me when I say it does an excellent job.

Most of your time will be spent in the cockpit of an Arwing, a versatile and very cool-looking starfighter. The game plays out as an on-rails shooter, sending you automatically charging forward into a host of dangerous obstacles and enemies. Swooping all around the screen and shooting down as many bogeys as possible is fast-paced and fun, and you'll have to think quickly to take the right paths and avoid the plentiful returning fire. Throwing in barrel rolls and launching bombs at just the right time takes skill, and the better you are, the better your score will be. You'll also have to be prepared to help out a teammate in need; keeping your buddies alive will pay dividends in the future. They might drop you an item or two, take out a tough bad guy, or even analyze a boss's total health. Speaking of the bosses, they're one of the highlights of Star Fox 64, and some of them even require all range mode, which sends you off the rails and into a fully 3D arena. These fights are quite entertaining, especially when dogfighting the roguish Star Wolf team. In addition to the Arwing, you'll have the chance to hop into a submarine known as the Blue Marine and a tank called the Landmaster, both of which are a welcome change of pace.

While you were deciding whether to go for the bomb power-up or the laser upgrade, your wingman Falco just went down. Nice going.

Star Fox 64's presentation is almost unrivaled considering the time of its release. The graphics are detailed and expansive, featuring beautiful undersea ruins, frantic moving space stations and billowing worlds built up of scorching lava. Water reflections and zillions of laser bolts take advantage of the 64's hardware, a feat made more impressive when considering the game's pace. An amazing musical score fits the space epic perfectly, with exciting strings and triumphant horns that accompany instant classic songs. The game also features real-time dialogue, a revolution at the time, which introduced a new feeling of immersion and a bevy of charming quotes. Whether you hate Slippy or not, you have to admit that you'll never forget him/her. On top of all this, Star Fox 64 was the first game to use the Rumble Pak, which truly makes it "the coolest cinematic gaming experience there is." (For more information on this, I highly recommend viewing the informative promotional video at the end of this blog post.)

It wouldn't be a stretch at all to finish Star Fox 64 in one sitting; after all, you can't even save your progress as you make your way through the map of Lylat. However, the game is extremely replayable, and it will no doubt take you a good while to find all the hidden levels and secret warps throughout the excellently-designed stages, let alone get the best ending. Each level is unique and well-made, which makes going back for more very inviting. But despite the built in replay, Star Fox 64 is, in the end, a pretty short experience, and its light amount of content is its biggest problem. There's a multiplayer option for up to four players, but the handful of modes are a decent distraction at best.

Fans of good old fashioned shooting will find a lot to love in Star Fox 64, and its endearing qualities and snappy gameplay make it a fantastic, arcade-style adventure. Whether you want to buy the original Nintendo 64 cartridge or the Wii Virtual Console version is up to you, but it should be noted that the latter does not include the rumble feature, which is a crying shame. But either way, you really can't go wrong with this beloved title. So do yourself a favor; pick up a copy of Star Fox 64, fly into the deepness of space, and... I'm sorry, but I have to say it: do a barrel roll!

The following is a promotional video from Nintendo Power advertising the launch of Star Fox 64. It is also the best promotional video ever created, and has almost as many quotes of pure gold as does the game on which it's based. Enjoy!

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