This review originally went live in 2016, and we're updating and republishing it to mark the arrival of N64 games on Nintendo Switch Online.
Despite Star Fox 64 (or Lylat Wars in Europe) being only the second (released) game in the series, Nintendo decided it was time for a reboot and so, similarly to the SNES original, this Nintendo 64 title sees exiled scientist Andross causing trouble in the Lylat system. It's up to you as Fox McCloud and the rest of your Star Fox team to fight off his forces and save the day.
As before, saving the day involves a lot of on-rails shooting action, but there are plenty differences to the previous game besides the increased fidelity that came from 64-bit hardware. Star Fox 64 takes some inspiration from the then-unreleased Star Fox 2, including the "all-range mode" the game switches to on occasion, allowing free movement in an arena as you battle against enemy forces. The new U-Turn manoeuvre is useful to get after a foe who has just whizzed past, and a couple of the missions here see Fox take control of the tank-like Landmaster to provide a change of pace. There's also a submarine mission, too.
The game originally came bundled with the Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak, which added some welcome feedback to the excellent controls as you duck, dive, blast and, yes, barrel roll your way through the branching levels avoiding impacts and explosions and generally shooting 'em up with the Star Fox team at your side.
The game is a lot of fun to play through, the movement of your Arwing feeling natural as you either gently descend to collect a power-up or spin frantically to deflect enemy fire. There's an epic feel to the game as you work through the missions and the battling varies depending on the situation. The lock-on feature of your lasers is useful for getting rid of enemies but if there are a lot of them it's sometimes easier to just blast away – and of course you can "use bombs wisely".
There are a few different paths through the Lylat System, and how you do on a mission affects where you end up next. There's a variety of planets visited and space battles, too. Sometimes you'll be dogfighting with enemies (including the rival Star Wolf team), and other times you'll be picking off waves of attackers and weaving between obstacles — brake, boost and the new loop manoeuvre being deployed to get you through the stage in one piece.
Visually there was a big step up from the SNES game; the extra power of the Nintendo 64 delivering more polygons which, in combination with textures, added far greater detail to the locations whilst cinematic moments help immerse you in the story. Years later the SNES game has an eye-catchingly minimalist look, but the greater visual complexity on show here holds up well, too — it certainly moves along much more smoothly than the 16-bit title and there are plenty of wonderful looking environments to visit, although the game's blockier moments do stand out these days.
Audio-wise, there's some great hummable music; a mix of action and adventure that works well with the on-screen happenings. Other tracks can be intense sounding and there are some very effective sound effects as you blast through the levels (or crash into things). Whereas the original Star Fox (bar a few instances) used a collection of sound effects to make up a language for the team's radio communications, here they are fully voiced in English, although the original PAL region release includes a Lylat 'babble' if you prefer that. Some duff line readings aside, the chatter works well and adds to the excitement of the missions and the game's goofy B-movie vibe.
The game can be cleared quickly, but the frantic action makes for enjoyable playthroughs; the multiple paths add some variety, as well, with the difficulty well-judged and steadily getting tougher as you progress. Fluke your way through a tough mission and the difficulty increase is quite noticeable. Do well on a mission and you will be awarded a medal, and earning medals on all missions will keep you occupied for some time.
Also adding to the game's longevity is the multiplayer mode, available for up to four players, you can either blast away at each other or compete in a time trial mode where you shoot down as many enemy craft as possible in the allotted time. Earning medals here unlocks some alternate ways to play these modes, but however you choose to battle, there's fun to be had if you can find three willing pilots.
There's a lot of enjoyable battling as you weave about the screen, taking out enemies and avoid colliding with obstacles in Star Fox 64. All-range mode (and the tank and submarine missions) add variety to your play through and the multiplayer mode provides plenty of fun. The game can be cleared quickly, but there are alternate paths to check out and medals to earn. That all adds to the replayability, but the main reason to return to this cinematic on-rails shooter is that it's still a total delight.