Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64) Review

By Carrick Puckett 27.04.2017

Review for Star Fox 64 on Nintendo 64

Star Fox 64 (known in Australia and Europe as Lylat Wars) was released for the Nintendo 64 in Japan on the 27th of April 1997, and in other parts of the world later that year; to this day, it is the only game in the series to be fully developed in-house by Nintendo. Since its initial release, it has been ported to the Wii Virtual Console, and has seen an updated re-release on the Nintendo 3DS that takes full advantage of the system's native features, such as autostereoscopic 3D and gyroscopic controls. This review's focus will be the original Nintendo 64 release.

Star Fox 64 was a game of many firsts for the series. It was the first to introduce analogue control for the ships, fully-voiced dialogue, local multiplayer, and immersive use of the "Rumble Pak", a force-feedback peripheral that plugged into the bottom of the controller. This game also marked the first appearance of the Landmaster tank and the only appearance of the Blue Marine submersible.

The game opens with a deep field of stars and a message: a distress call from General Pepper of the planet Corneria (not to be confused with the city of a similar sounding name in Final Fantasy!). The mad scientist Andross has begun an invasion of the Lylat System, and his forces have begun encroaching upon Cornerian airspace. "Our army alone cannot do the job," Pepper claims as the message ends and the Star Fox team rolls out in a fashion that wouldn't feel out of place in a Star Wars film.

Pressing the "START" button on the title screen brings you to a simple menu with selections including "Training", "Main Game", and "Multiplayer", among others. "Training" teaches new players how to control the primary method of conveyance of the game: The Arwing, a high-tech fighter jet equipped with laser cannons and smart bombs. The Arwing is powered by a "G-Diffuser" anti-gravity system, the exact same system that machines in the F-Zero series use, to perform various high-G aerobatic acts, such as somersaults, "U-turns", and the memetic "barrel roll", with little risk of injury or incapacitation in to the pilot.

The game controls surprisingly well; the Nintendo 64's analogue control stick makes flying the Arwing easy; further, it controls like one would expect a jet to fly: pull back on the Control Stick to ascend, and push forward to descend. The "A" button fires the ship's lasers and "B" shoots a Smart Bomb. Pressing C-Left gives the ship a quick burst of speed, and pressing C-Down activates the air brake. Pulling back on the Control stick while using either of these functions allows the pilot to perform somersaults and "U-turns", respectively.

Screenshot for Star Fox 64 on Nintendo 64

The "Z" and "R" buttons tilt the Arwing left and right, which allows it to fit into tighter spaces, and tilting the Control Stick left and right in conjunction with allows the ship to make tighter turns. Double-tapping either "Z" or "R" activates the meme-machine's "barrel roll" feature; when timed correctly, the barrel roll can deflect enemy fire, making it a vital tool when the player is facing large volumes of enemy fire. Overall, using the Arwing's basic controls and manoeuvres is simple and elegant.

The "Main Game" option starts up the single-player portion of the game; upon starting, an Arwing floats through space as a monologue begins playing, providing backstory to the game: Andross, a scientist with a megalomaniacal streak, had been wreaking havoc throughout the Lylat System. The original Star Fox team, composed of Peppy Hare, Pigma Dengar, and James McCloud, were sent to investigate. Pigma turned traitor shortly after arrival and sold out his teammates to Andross; Peppy barely escaped and fled back to Corneria to give the sad news of James' fate to his son, Fox. The opening crawl concludes with the formation of a new Star Fox team, headed by Fox McCloud, who seeks to return the Lylat System to peace.

The game proper begins with a map of the Lylat system floating through space; players always start at Corneria, but actions made during gameplay determine their course through the game. With fifteen separate levels spread across three paths, enterprising players must play through the game multiple times if they wish to complete all of the levels.

The player assumes control of Fox McCloud, and will typically be piloting the Arwing fighter jet. Controlling it has two distinct flavours: "Corridor Mode", where the player pilots the machine in an always advancing on-rails setting; and "All-Range Mode", where the player is given greater freedom over where they can fly. A couple stages mix things up by having Fox control the Landmaster, an all-terrain tank with a powerful single-shot laser cannon, and one stage puts Fox in the Blue Marine, a submarine with a bottomless torpedo bay.

Screenshot for Star Fox 64 on Nintendo 64

All stages advance in much the same way: shoot down enemies with your craft's laser cannon and avoid being shot down yourself. Occasionally, Fox's teammates (Falco Lombardi, ace pilot; Slippy Toad, mechanical genius; and Peppy Hare, James's best friend) will pipe up in fully-voiced dialogue, pointing out branching paths, calling out enemy weak spots, or analysing enemy shields to display the boss's health bar. Also occasionally, they'll pick up an enemy or two and it is up to the player to pick off the offending units before they take damage; if they take too much, they'll retreat, and you'll be without their assistance for the rest of the current level and all of the next, while crucial repairs are made to their ships.

The Arwing has shields, which are depleted when it is struck by enemy fire or by hitting the ground (Or, in one level, which takes place on the surface of a sun, as you progress through the level!). Take too much damage, and the ship will crash and burn, costing the player a life and forcing him back to the last checkpoint he passed in the level. Thankfully, a variety of power ups exist that players can collect to keep the ship's shields in ship-shape: Silver rings restore a small portion of your meter, and silver stars restore a larger amount. What you, as the player, really want to keep an eye out for are gold rings; these not only restore a bit of the Arwing's shields, but collecting three of them extends the shield bar for the rest of the level, and collecting another three after that earns the player an extra ship. Gold rings collected in a level carry over into later levels, so if you collected two in the previous level, you can pick up just one in the next level to get improved shields that much faster!

Other items the player can pick up include laser upgrades; at first, the Arwing is equipped with a single green laser cannon. But, after picking up a laser upgrade, the single beam is upgraded to twin lasers. Picking up a second power up after that upgrades the lasers once more to powerful blue bolts that tear through enemies at an unprecedented pace. Players must take care to not fly into the ground; the Arwing can only take so many knocks to its wings before they get torn off.

An Arwing with a crippled wing sees its performance drop precipitously: the ship struggles to remain aloft, and any laser upgrades are lost. This isn't the end, however, as any laser powerups the player comes across become "Wing Repair" powerups; picking up one of these will return the ship's wings to working condition. It doesn't restore the ship's lasers to their previous state, however, so players will have to find more laser powerups to get back up to where they were before they kissed the floor one too many times.

Screenshot for Star Fox 64 on Nintendo 64

Rounding out the player's arsenal is the "Smart Bomb", a powerful item that flies forward and explodes in spectacular fashion, severely damaging, if not outright obliterating, any enemies caught in the blast. Players start with only three, but they can pick up more and carry up to nine of these; use them wisely, though, as replenishing your limited stock is difficult.

As you progress through Star Fox 64's main game, the game will keep track of how many enemy ships you shoot down; this is your score. Shoot down enough enemies in a given level and keep all three of Fox's wingmen in the air, and the game will award the player a medal. Collecting medals in each of the game's fifteen levels (which is not a small feat, mind) unlocks a more difficult "Expert Mode", which causes the Arwing to lose its wings after a single impact with the ground, and gives Fox a snazzy pair of shades.

Each level of Star Fox 64 has something new and unique to offer, so levels never feel like they overstay their welcome or get stale. With settings including an asteroid belt, a ruined deep space research facility, a sun, an endless ocean, and an arid desert world, there's always something new to see. Regardless of the path the player takes during his run of the game, he will always end the game at Venom, Andross's homeworld and headquarters. Should the player fight through the swarms of enemies posed against him, all the while being taunted by Andross, he will arrive at the final confrontation with the big man himself; should the player persevere against his most terrible enemy, he will emerge triumphant from the exploding ruins of Andross's lair and return to Corneria as the end credits roll and the Star Fox team flies off into the sunset.

The main game ends with a display of your total score; high scorers are added to the "Top Scorers" board: the ten best-scored runs through the game, with a point breakdown for each stage. After submitting your initials, the last screen is that of an invoice from the Star Fox team to General Pepper; depending on your performance, Pepper may comment on the cost (priced at a very reasonable 64 spacebucks per unit destroyed), which can range from a comment on the steepness of the bill to a sound of surprise and incredulity.

Star Fox 64 was the first game in the series (aside from the unreleased Star Fox 2) to have local multi-player; up to four players could sit on a couch and take part in All-Range Mode battles to a set score. At first, the only vehicle available for use is the Arwing, but after accomplishing a few goals in the Main Game, players can unlock the Landmaster and even just the pilots running around on foot. The arenas are fairly large and have enough obstacles and obstructions to keep combat interesting, and weapon pickups appear just often enough to change the outcome of a tense fire fight. It's not without problems, however; a player in an Arwing is the most nimble and quick of the three choices, and its U-Turn ability can be easily abused to bring the ship well beyond reproach of your opponent's weapons and can very easily throw a match into limbo. All the same, if all the players are on board for a good clean game, multi-player can be very enjoyable.

Screenshot for Star Fox 64 on Nintendo 64

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

Star Fox 64 was a pioneer for many things that are now taken for granted: in 1997, large amounts of voiced dialogue in a game was unheard of, as was force-feedback technology, but in the modern day, both of those are ubiquitous. The controls hold up incredibly well, and the gameplay is still as fun as it was when the game originally released twenty years ago. If you own a Nintendo 64, Star Fox 64 is one of those definite "must-have" games for the system.









C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (13 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


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