When the remake of Star Fox 64 was announced for 3DS, it joined Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D as part of Nintendo’s N64 re-release launch strategy. Opinion will vary on the merits of releasing these titles on the handheld, with some pining after the new titles on the horizon. What we can say after a lot of time with Star Fox 64 3D is that this is another title that simply must be experienced on the 3DS.
It is important to bear in mind that this title was originally released 14 years ago, so there will be a lot of gamers with no memory or experience of the original. This release — and indeed this review — is primarily for these gamers. Those who have played the original should also take note, however, as to dismiss this title as a lazy port would be a grave mistake.
For those new to this title and perhaps the series, Star Fox 64 3D is an action intensive, on-rails arcade style 3D shoot-em-up, with occasional ‘All-Range’ sections that involve dog fights or boss encounters in an open arena area. Starring Fox McCloud and his fellow talking, aircraft-flying animals, you pilot the wonderfully designed Arwing through a number of levels shooting absolutely every enemy that you can see. Some variety is provided with land-based missions, as well as an underwater level that is, in some respects, the exception to the overall standard of the gameplay. That standard is fast-paced, heart-pounding action that will bring you back again and again; if you like this genre, then you will be hooked.
A key element in the success of this title is the controls. The intensity of each level requires precision and quick reactions, and on these fronts the 3DS control setup delivers successfully. The old-fashioned control system uses the Circle Pad for navigation and the shoulder buttons for quicker turns and defensive barrel rolls, with the four face buttons providing your laser, bombs, boost and brakes. There are two options for these controls, with an intuitive setup where boost and brake utilise the top and bottom buttons of the four, or there’s a setup more closely resembling the N64 controls. On top of this, it's possible to pilot your vehicles with the 3DS gyroscope controls. This is surprisingly effective, and we comfortably completed a play through using nothing but the gyroscope and buttons. Moving the device up and down as well as tilting left and right is very intuitive, but only really works in 2D mode, as maintaining the 3D sweet spot is challenging when moving around in the heat of battle.
The care and attention given to the controls carries across to the game options available. First there is the Main Game, the primary focus of the title, consisting of seven missions to save the Lylat system from fiendish monkey scientist Andross. The storyline is cheesy and inconsequential, but has just the right degree of silliness to make it charming. The key element of this mode is that there are branching paths to follow, meaning that there are actually 16 distinct missions available.
Which path you take depends on your performance in the previous mission; an average display earns a ‘Mission Complete’ accolade, while ‘Mission Accomplished’ means you’ve met certain criteria. This can vary from shooting certain enemies quickly, to flying under arches or shooting out searchlights; you have to figure out these requirements through hints in the game and plenty of practice. If you achieve the ‘accomplished’ grade, you can choose which of the two paths you want to pursue, a nice touch that gives you freedom of progression. Seeing all levels will require multiple playthroughs, which typically last around 45 minutes, with different paths of progression leading to variations in the storyline as well as alternate endings. The final challenge is to collect gold medals in every mission, a task reserved for the most skilful of gamers.
Beyond this mode is Score Attack, allowing you to play unlocked missions in pursuit of more medals; bronze, silver and gold. Hidden objectives are less relevant, as your score is based solely on how many enemies you destroy, and much like the main game medals the top rewards in this setting are exceptionally difficult to achieve.
The other major one-player option is Training, which is mandatory the first time you play the game. This is a good way to grasp the basics, and new to this version of the title is the ‘Trial’ run that follows your training, an obstacle course that will test your abilities and prepare you for the main challenge.
In both the Main Game and Score Attack, you actually have two distinct challenges and sets of medals to collect. The 3DS option is balanced for play with the gyroscope controls, though you can play through this mode with these controls disabled. The difficulty level is slightly easier, with less aggressive enemies and a more generous health bar. The N64 option recreates the challenge from the original game, and gyroscope controls aren’t provided as an option. For those seeking the most thrilling and challenging gameplay, this is the mode to play.
The final gameplay mode on offer is Battle. This consists of arena battles against three opponents in the All-Range style, and can be played against CPU opponents in single player. There are variables in objectives, though they all basically involve shooting the most rivals. Further options are given in victory conditions, as well as which extra items are available for use: some of these can be fun to use, such as homing missiles and weights that prevent opponent’s movements. This mode is best when played with friends, though this is limited to local multiplayer — the lack of online is a genuine loss, but the fact that up to three extra players can all join in with only one cart in use is a big bonus. After a bit of a wait for Download Play to complete setup, the additional players then have access to play against you in any of the maps for multiple rounds, without additional wait times. The feature of seeing your friends’ faces – utilising the inward facing camera – as you try to blow each other out of the sky is undoubtedly fun, so this is a decent diversion.
In terms of presentation, Star Fox 64 3D is another strong indication of the console’s capabilities. The graphics have seen a significant overhaul, with some levels in particular standing out. The greatest triumph is the 3D; the effect is subtle enough to be easy on the eye while genuinely enhancing the experience, all with no noticeable drop in frame rate. This helps this title immensely, maintaining a silky smooth performance that allows the gameplay to shine. Sound is also of the highest order, the music in particular supplementing the action perfectly.
The beauty of Star Fox 64 3D is that it provides a quick pick up and play experience that is guaranteed to provide an adrenaline rush. The original was renowned for its exciting action, and this title takes that original material and enhances it with much improved graphics and a gloriously smooth frame rate. The only complaints are the lack of online multiplayer and the fact that, content-wise, this game is almost the same as the original. Yet, this release can provide thrills and addictive shoot-em-up action to both veterans and those new to the game, its irrepressible energy enough to make us forget that we’ve done it all before.