Star Fox 64 (Lylat Wars on Europe) holds a special place in many Nintendo 64 owners’ hearts. Released globally in 1997, the game was a graphical tour de force of the system (which was less than a year old in North America), and it introduced the “Rumble Pak” to N64 Owners.
Star Fox 64 was actually inspired by the canned “Star Fox 2” as Shigeru Miyamoto felt that the SNES just didn’t do justice to the vision he had for the game, thus many of the ideas introduced in Star Fox 64 such as Fox’s Arch Enemy Star Wolf, were taken from the canned Super Nintendo game.
A Visual Stunner
The N64 was relatively speaking a new console in 1997, and as such the system was continuously showcasing great looking games that were just not possible on the PlayStation, and the Sega Saturn with the same graphical fidelity. Star Fox 64 was one such game.
Perhaps the first level, Corneria, is the one that sticks most to my mind 23 years after its original release, it was the introduction to the game, and it showcased some of the smoothest water effects ever seen up to that point. Who can ever forget smoothly gliding over the water, and disturbing its surface with the Arwing?
The game even featured reflective surfaces, it was a stunning sight to see both; Arwing and enemy ships reflected on Corneria’s water surfaces. There was a vast collection of worlds, and outer space levels, all possessing a distinctive look.
Some of these levels had atmospheric conditions that required a change of vehicles like the Blue Marine (a submarine) which is used to traverse the planet Aquas , and the Land Master (a ground vehicle) in other ground based levels.
The game even took our charismatic animal crew into uncharted territory such as Solar, the game’s solar system’s sun. In this fantastic level you had to keep your Airwing from melting down by using various rings to regenerate the ship’s health.
A ‘Rumble’ Revolution
The game introduced Nintendo’s Rumble Pak to the masses. As a packed in peripheral there was no better way to get ahold of one, than to buy a copy of Star Fox (This is how I got my Rumble Pack), and no better way to enjoy it either. The Rumble Pak was a natural for Star Fox’s heavy vehicle combat gameplay, while modern gamers take controller “rumble” or Vibration for granted; in 1997 playing Star Fox with the pack was truly a revolutionary experience.
Nintendo’s little add on was so revolutionary that Sony scrambled to make its own version of a rumbling controller in the DualShock, which would quickly become the standard PlayStation controller. With a few exceptions, every controller in the industry has featured vibration features ever since Nintendo introduced its peripheral to the market.
An All Time Great
While the Star Fox 64 holds an 88 Metacritic score (a particularly good tally but not that impressive), most all time lists include the game in their rankings as one of the finest games ever made. In truth, Nintendo EAD (Now EPD) has never been able to replicate the same feat in the series, and while Star Fox 64 lives on as a 3DS remake the original game has yet to be surpassed even by newer attempts such as the mediocre Star Fox Zero (Wii U).
Star Fox 64’s featured a blend of addictive on rails shooting, coupled with free flight areas (mostly in boss battles), and Branching pathways that kept gamers immersed for hours in order to achieve 100% completion.
Another overlooked aspect of this classic game is the voice acting. In truth, the voice acting in the game is solid (as far as cartoonish characters go) but the most impressive part of it is that the game is fully voice acted and that there is plenty of it. By utilizing the magic of audio compression, every recorded line was able to be fitted in the game’s cartridge and it was a fresh, if uncommon experience for an N64 game at the time (and afterwards) because cartridges were infamous for their inability to hold large amounts of sound (as space constraints made it difficult to store in Nintendo’s chosen media).
It is a shame that Nintendo has not re-mastered the 3DS remake for the Nintendo Switch, as such a remaster seems like a perfect fit for the system. Still, Star Fox 64 is one of the few games from the 32-64-bit era that remains nearly as engaging to play today. The visuals remain pleasing, and the game’s gameplay remains an impeccable showcase of Nintendo’s game design acumen. Finger’s crossed for an eventual Switch Remake/Remastered of this underrated classic.