Back in the finer days of the Nintendo 64, each Nintendo release was anticipated highly (mostly because great games were few and far between). Star Fox 64 was no exception; the release was hyped up due to the inclusion of the brand new Rumble Pack, which was said to offer a jolt to the controller when hit by enemy fire and suchlike. I suppose it was a neat addition, though it really did not affect the gameplay that much. How did the game turn out?
The story goes like this: Star Fox 64 is intended as a reboot of the Star Fox story, ignoring the events of the SNES release. Andross has attacked the Lylat system on a mission on conquest. Fox McCloud and his companions, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad (who I never found as annoying as most other gamers seem to!) are tasked by General Pepper to repel the invasion, beginning on the Planet Corneria.
Fox has a personal vendetta against Andross and his home world of Venom, as his father, James McCloud, and Peppy, were betrayed by Pigma Dengar on a previous mission to Venom several years ago. James did not survive and Pigma is now part of the elite Venom force known as Star Wolf. Pretty detailed story for what is essentially a rail shooter, huh?
Star Fox's graphics are a huge leap from the rough and unshapely polygons that dominated this game's predecessor on the SNES. The Super FX Chip was designed to show off new worlds and effects in Star Fox, but the look of SF 64 is far beyond the scope of the original. This game goes for a more traditional set of graphics with its 2D shapes on 3D backgrounds. Some of the finest graphics that the Nintendo 64 was capable of are displayed in this game. Most of the presentation is lacking in the traditional eyesores of the 64: be it muddy textures or ugly polygons. Star Fox 64 is just... smooth in comparison.
The music in the game is also very good, though not quite my ideal for out of game listening. Some stages have an epic feel; like the Asteroid Zone. Other favorite include the pollution polis of Zoness and the militaristic drumming of Macbeth. Overall a very good score.
Sound effects also deserve mention, first of which is that your teammates not speak English rather than gibberish. Each ally has different tips to offer Fox (though Slippy seems to get in trouble more than anything...) You'll have to save the others in key situations if you want to find alternate stage exits or obtain helpful boss strategies. It definitely is a good idea to keep them alive.
A lot of the voice acting is quite good, perhaps a little cheesy. There is a great deal of voice throughout Star Fox 64, making us wonder how so much dialogue can fit on a cart. My favorite characters are Star Wolf, the pirate captain of Zoness, and the commanders of the Venom Air Defense Force: "Fire, FIRE! Don't let them through!" Amusing.
Gameplay is similar to rail shooters, in that you are constantly in motion on a predetermined path. You can move freely across the screen to lock onto enemies or dodge projectiles, but your path is one-way (unless your teammates unveil alternate routes). Besides free movement, there are several evasive maneuvers to choose from including barrel rolls and acceleration.
At the end of each level, a boss encounter is a battle of weak points, often resulting in a dismantling of the boss as you lower their lifebar, which really gives these battles a life-or-death kind of feeling. The over-the-top dialogue and explosions help a lot too. Some of these encounters also require the help of your teammates or you'll find yourself having trouble.
There are also other vehicles, the Landmaster and Blue Marine that you really don't get to use as often as you wish. Their controls take some time to get used to, but they are a fun diversion.
Challenge in Star Fox 64 is above average, even on the normal setting. Many of the enemies are capable of doing a lot of damage rather quickly and obstacles are even worse. While it is true that things go down quick with the blue double lasers, crashing too much can cost you that advantage. If you hit something 3 times, you lose one of your wings and your firepower. Replacements are available, but be sure to practice safe flying if you want to coast.
On Expert Mode, there are more enemies, greater damage dealt, and your wings become damaged after one collision, which can be very annoying. Expert mode changes so many things that the stages feel quite different, making it good for replay.
Speaking of replay, you can earn medals based on how many enemies you destroy, making for some fun extra goals, especially as getting the maximum number of enemies to show up is often a matter of navigation. There are also new options to unlock in multiplayer. I enjoyed playing SF 64's multi when it was first released and I still think it is worth a go once in a while.
Overall, Star Fox 64 is a great action rail shooter hybrid. It really belongs in many different genres, and it succeeds in all of them. It is one of those rare games that not only eclipses the original, but makes you wonder why further games in the series didn't do exactly the same thing. This is especially TRUE with Star Fox 64.
- Ugly Bob