Star Fox 64 (N64) Review
When I was around 10 years old, my cousins came to visit us from Texas, and with them came their Nintendo 64. They had a lot of heavy hitters in the stack, like Super Mario 64, Diddy Kong Racing and Pokémon Snap, but there was a game I gravitated towards more than the rest. That's right, Star Fox 64! There was just something about it that captivated me. I was especially enamored with the dialog, and the "do a barrel roll" meme already being huge surely helped a bit on that front. Anyway, we somehow ended up with that N64 and all the games. I guess they just got tired of it. I still have that very same console, and I even recently installed a mod which gave it a cleaner video output, and I repaired my broken power supply too. I've been spending more time than usual with my 64 lately, and though it's mostly been F-Zero X (review incoming?), I can't help but want to pop in the game that got me into the console to begin with: Star Fox 64.
The game is an on-rails 3rd person space shooter where you control an aircraft called an Arwing. The shooting is a lot of fun! You can charge your shots, which also allows you to lock on, and if you take down multiple enemies with one shot, you get a bonus added to your kill count. The kill count isn't just for bragging rights, either, as there are some stages you can only reach by ending the previous stage at or above a certain number, plus, you can earn a medal on each stage the same way. However, the kill counts required for getting medals are usually pretty high and tough to get.
The branching paths mean variety in playthroughs. Maybe you missed the hidden path in the first stage but met the criteria in the second. Unless you do everything the same, you'll have good variety in the stages you play. Speaking of variety, there's 3 vehicles you can control. You'll mostly be in the Arwing, but there's also the Landmaster tank and the Blue Marine sub. I don't mind the Landmaster, but the stage with the Blue Marine has always been a drag for me. At the very least, the sub has unlimited torpedoes, whereas the Arwing and Landmaster have limited bombs you have to collect in the stages. All-in-all, the game has enough to keep me entertained for a good while. Secrets, cool maneuvers, satisfying shooting mechanics and you can even play the game in 1st person, looking out through the cockpit. Oh yeah, there's multiplayer too! It feels a little shoehorned in, but you can unlock extra features for it by completing challenges in story mode. Good luck unlocking the on-foot mode though, that took me ages and made me hate Sector Z...
Usually I take this time to talk about a game's music, and while the game does have some excellent melodies and immersive atmospheric pieces, the inclusion of voice acting into this game is a big part of what makes it so good. All of the characters are memorable and well defined, with their dialog only adding to it. Slippy is a bit timid, Peppy is a mentor, offering advice and praise, and Falco is always the last one to say something nice. I think he's just there for the paycheck. In terms of voice acting, the real stars are the bad guys, Andross's army. I love how over-the-top so many of them are. Of course, I also have to mention Star Wolf, Star Fox's rival mercenary team. Many of the best lines come from them. It's not every day you get a Nintendo game with a line, spoken aloud, quite like, "daddy screamed REEEEAL good before he died!"
I should note that the voice lines are pretty heavily compressed. I don't consider this to be much of an issue considering voices through an aircraft communication system wouldn't be crystal clear anyway. Besides, outside of the vehicles, the audio is much more clear. The compression may even be a stylistic choice rather than a space-saving one, though methinks it's a bit of A and a bit of B. Voice lines aside, there's just nothing in this game I get sick of hearing. The sound effects are as satisfying as the actions that cause them. The explosions have this special spacey sound to them and they just make you feel proud of the destruction you've caused. Boom, bang, pew! This is a game that just sounds good, plain and simple. If you play this game, just know thay you'll be quoting it for the rest of your life.
The graphics of this game are pretty middle-of-the-road, and even a little crappy in certain spots. A lot of stages just feel a little bland, but when your setting is outer space, having areas begin to blend together visually is practically unavoidable. Stages like the water planet Zoness and the star Solar stand out as memorable and unique, but on the other end, you have the submarine stage Aquas, which just looks too dark and murky. Everything in between the two extremes is just kinda... bleh. At the very least, you can always see whatever it is you're supposed to shoot. There's not a problem of clarity-- just aesthetic.
The story in this game is pretty good by Nintendo standards. Mercenary group Star Fox, lead by Fox McCloud, is hired by Sgt. Pepper of Corneria to defeat the evil genius Andross, who is attacking the Lylat System. You're given a good bit of backstory in the intro and the relationships between characters are pretty interesting. For example, Pigma of Star Wolf was a former member of Star Fox, back when Fox's father James was at the helm. However, he betrayed James and lead him into a trap that spelled his doom, and when Fox fights Star Wolf in the game, Pigma will taunt him about it, as quoted above.
You'll also occasionally be helped out by old friends of Fox and Falco. Their relationships aren't really explored in-game, but it's nice in that it furthers the sense that these characters have existed before the events of the game, in contrast to simpler game characters who only seem to live in the present. Bill seems to be an old friend of Fox's, and Katt seems to know Falco, though he doesn't seem particularly amused by her joining in. In a sense, their dialog is realistic since there's no exposition or backstory shoehorned in, as you're all in the middle of a fight, but it just leaves you wanting to know more.
I believe this to be a game that held up quite well. The shooting is fun, the characters and dialog are memorable and there's a decent bit to see depending on what paths you choose. There's even an unlockable hard mode, and even bonuses if you clear hard mode with every medal. Even though the multiplayer is basic, even it's fun enough to play around with for a while, especially since you unlock new modes for it by doing well in the single player mode. I definitely say you should give it a shot, maybe pop in a Rumble Pak, go into cockpit view and throw on some headphones for extra immersion. However you play it, it's an excellent addition to anyone's Nintendo 64 library. It has a little something for everyone.