In this series reflecting on older games still getting regular boot-ups among Nintendo Life staff, Tom Whitehead talks about why he's still playing Star Fox 64 3D with worrying frequency. After all, it's worth warming up for Star Fox Zero, right?
I was reminded today by my tweeting mother (who has been described as the 'coolest mum in the world' by my colleagues as she arguably knows more about 3DS games than I do) that it's the 19th Anniversary of the Nintendo 64 in Europe. Putting aside the fact that it's a reminder of the grim marching on of time, it made me look back with rose-tinted spectacles (in addition to my normal glasses) to the day my older brother used his first ever paycheck to buy the 'Lylat Wars' - our rubbish European name for Star Fox 64 - bundle.
Now, bear in mind some key points. I was about 13 years old and had never owned a Nintendo console up to this point (yes, I've been playing catch-up ever since) and after the Mega Drive started showing its age I had become a PC gamer. On our gaming rig (a 486 if I remember correctly, phwoar) my jam was the Star Wars flying games, particularly Tie Fighter in which you play as the Imperial side and crush Rebel scum. If my parents hadn't been annoyingly responsible and limited my gaming time I would have forgotten what grass looked like by playing that game over and over again.
So I had a thing for flying and shooting stuff, and it's with no exaggeration that I say Star Fox 64, the first Nintendo 64 game I ever played, blew my mind. For those too young to remember the 'good old days' (by which we really mean 'not quite so good old days') the idea of 3D game engines and visuals was still young. When the Nintendo 64 arrived, particularly with Super Mario 64 to showcase its graphical grunt, it made quite a mark in the industry on a technological level.
Yet Star Fox was my first encounter with the hardware, and despite not being overly familiar with the characters I was immediately swept away. I wasn't - at that stage - particularly invested in the characters, but the actual gameplay was exciting.
Even today Star Fox 64 is a demonstration of the benefits that the N64 pad - and its analogue stick - could bring to games. The control setup is excellent, but more importantly flight is smooth, allowing for precision aim and manoeuvres. It's also a simple experience, with the linear on-rails stages - with occasional arena tussles - allowing Nintendo to push the hardware to its limits. It really did look fantastic, but it was the bombast and drama of the space fights that grabbed me.
In addition, this was still a time where the aforementioned rules limiting play time were strictly enforced, and the lovely thing about this game was that I could squeeze entire run-throughs into a session. So often we talk about game length as imperative to whether a product is good value - yet it's not about how long you play before seeing credits, it's about the time you invest in a game because of how enjoyable it is.
Star Fox 64, with its terrific gameplay and branching paths, kept me coming back constantly. Sometimes I'd try and go the 'best' route, and others I'd attempt to weave myself along so that I only played my absolute favourite stages. It's a game that's easy to beat but tough to master, too, as simply clearing it isn't enough.
I know that I truly love this one, too. Why? The answer's simple - I keep playing the 3D re-release every couple of months; when the mood strikes me and I have enough time I'll blast into a playthrough, cursing a little when I narrowly miss out on the tough requirements for medals... again.
The cartridge has a permanent place in my 3DS case because of this, and I think it looks gorgeous on my small New 3DS model. I also think Q-Games did a fantastic job of the remaster / port, as it made the visuals stand-out on the portable and actually utilised the autostereoscopic 3D effect as well as any other title on the system. I don't dabble with the motion controls and typically prefer the more difficult N64 versions of the levels - which are thoughtfully included alongside easier 3DS versions.
It's an excellent title on 3DS, and certainly worth picking up on discount. For me, the replayability is undeniable, with the core gameplay and top-notch level design making it a fun diversion multiple times every year. In fact, when heading to London last Summer to try Star Fox Zero at a post-E3 event I played through Star Fox 64 3D twice as a warm-up.
As I've said in old impressions on the upcoming Wii U release, I actually like the control scheme and think it works rather well. Assuming Zero is still due in April as anticipated a big challenge for Nintendo will be selling the Wii U public on its GamePad controls, which have been the source of speculation that localisation teams are uneasy with how they'll be received. Another challenge for the Wii U title will be that perception of value - if the campaign is short but with multiple paths, will that structure wash with the modern-day public? If the levels are fantastic to play, the answer will hopefully be yes.
I truly hope that Star Fox Zero turns out well - regardless of that outcome, I'll still be booting up the N64 classic in its 3DS guise every couple of months. I show up for the awesome action gameplay, and stay for the quirky script and anthropomorphic cast.