Retrospective64 – Starfox 64

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

Only a handful of games challenge Star Fox 64 for the top tiers of N64 legendary status. Released in 1997, the game built on the foundations of the original SNES title with a vast new range of graphical capabilities and continued focus on quality world building and sound design.

The game sees you take control of the Star Fox team through its leader, Fox McCloud. At your side are Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and Peppy Hare. ROB64/NUS64 provides team management from the team’s flagship and offers supplies and hints throughout the game. Your mission, given to you by General Pepper, is to destroy the evil interplanetary mad scientist Andross. You do so by making your way through the system, planet to planet, destroying his minions.

The box cover of Star Fox 64. Courtesy of Nintendo.

The majority of the game has you traverse through the map in a sort of straight line, killing enemies as they come, though a handful of maps see you fight in a more three dimensional space, circling one central target.

Star Fox 64, and the entire franchise, is a masterclass in world building. Just like its compatriots in the Super Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises, Star Fox oozes with well, Star Fox. You barely need to leave the menu and opening animations to get a grasp on the futuristic, gritty world you’re diving into. With every planet, you learn more about this strange universe of 80’s science-fi combined with a world of sentient animals. Every type of ship, tank, and robot has extreme detail and can frequently be identified from far away. Your own ship, the Arwing, is exquisitely designed and looks like it could fit perfectly into any top science fiction universe.

That quality of design is added to by a great cast of characters, both visually and audibly, who all stand out as well though out and developed. Each voice is unique and perfectly cartoonish, something shown by the meme-like power of Peppy’s one liners (i.e. “Do a barrel roll!”).

Both Hajime Wakai and Koji Kondo are collaborated on the soundtrack for Star Fox 64 and both knocked it out of the park with the job of creating a soundscape that both reflects the subtle horror of the countless monsters and obstacles you face in the void of space and the proud passion of Fox Team as they achieve victory mission after mission. The Star Fox Theme, the spine of the soundtrack, is a plane and simple classic from this era and one that lives in other Star Fox games along with the Super Smash Bros. franchise.

All in all, one of Star Fox 64‘s biggest accomplishments is creating such a consistent and strong series of images and sounds to immerse players in a world they may well be brand new to.

The controls for the game are relatively simple. The C buttons, along with the joystick, give you all the basic managements of your vehicle, including steering, braking, and boosting. The right bumper and Z button provide you some of your more fancy moves, including the famous barrel roll maneuver. The A button fires your main attack, while the B button launches the bombs you can collect. If you can handle a N64 controller, you can handle these controls. I hadn’t played the game in years prior to doing so for this review and got back into it instantly.

The game’s upgrade system, which is per planet, is quite straight forward. You can collect silver rings to regain health. Gold rings do the same, but when you collect three you will receive an armor upgrade which can prove vital in boss battles, which are the centerpiece of the campaign. You can also pick up laser upgrades which improve your main weapon. There is also a wing repair item and a 1-Up item.

One of Star Fox 64‘s best aspects, especially looking back, is the player’s ability to unlock secondary paths, new missions, and alternative bosses. These opportunities are spread across the game and allow for a brand new experience every run. This is especially useful for a game which is relatively easy to finish in an hour or so.

The hidden bosses and planets tend to bring an increased difficulty, but also a brand new wave of experiences and even a few new characters. While its gameplay may be more like a three dimensional cousin of the classic vertical scrolling shooter, it’s detailed personalization feels almost like an RPG of sorts.

Star Fox 64 is an absolute classic, something you shouldn’t need me to tell you. It’s aged remarkably well and is still an engaging futuristic shooter even in 2020. The design, on all ends, is impeccable and iconic and you’ll find that revisiting its countless enemies, allies, bosses, and maps is a welcome journey down memory lane. 9/10

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