Remembering Star Fox 64

Released: 1997
Formats: N64, Wii Virtual Console, 3DS

Just like the upcoming Wii U, the N64 had plenty of naysayers before release. Unlike the claims about the Wii U being underpowered though, the criticisms against the N64 weren’t unfounded. Even the developers of such launch titles as Killer Instinct Gold and Mortal Kombat Trilogy claimed that they had to leave frames of animation out due to the N64’s restrictive cartridges.

However, the proof of the N64 was in the playing. Can you imagine what Super Mario 64 would have been like had it been released on PSone, with loading screens and digital controls?

A few people complained that the N64 would never be able to handle CGI or FMV intros either. A quick play on Starfox 64 though was all that was needed to inform people that gimmicky CGI sequences weren’t required to make a game cinematic.

Like it’s predecessor, Starfox 64 started off with Fox and friends scrambling into their Arwings. Sirens were heard and a rousting musical score was played while fancy lighting effects coated the low-polygon models as they ran towards the hanger. After taking to the skies the crew checked in, reporting on their current status, before assisting in battle at a destroyed army base. The reflective water surfaces of the planet Cornaria struck us as really quite special at the time.

It was the amount of speech that impressed the most though. During the 16-bit era you’d be lucky to get four or five different speech samples in a game due to the amount of memory they used. Starfox 64 however had almost constant chatter between Fox and his crew.

We recall that N64 Magazine were slightly anxious to get their hands on the US version of the game in fear of Nintendo turning the Starfox team into whiney American teens – Starfox on the SNES featured incomprehensible nonsense as speech, lest you forget – but Fox’s new found voice helped to develop the character further, giving him a confident but not cocky attitude.

Peppy was on hand to give advice, Falco provided firing support and although Slippy seemed useless on first impressions, often requiring you to save his skin, he was able to provide shield data for boss encounters.

You wouldn’t think a linear on-rails shooter would offer much in the way of freedom, but Starfox 64 had a couple of tricks. There were hidden paths for starters. The first level featured a hidden boss, which you could only reach if you saved Falco at the start of the level and then flew under a set of arches. This boss paid homage to (or was a copy of, if you prefer) the first boss in the original game.

Another level featured a warp if you flew through several colourful rings. To make this task tricky, enemies in this area flew in formations similar to the rings you were meant to fly through.

Macbeth, the tank-based level, meanwhile had seven switches that needed to be shot to close a tunnel. Doing so would cause an enemy train to crash, resulting in a sizeable score boost and some frantic vibrations from the rumble pack.

Some bosses would see your Arwing enter ‘all range mode’ in which you were granted 360 degree movement. Somersaults became incredibly helpful during these sections. Let’s not forget the other moves available – if enemies were on your behind you could brake so that came into shooting range, while barrel rolling sent projectiles back to where they came from.

The scoring system added incredible depth to the game too. Hammering the button to shoot was all well and good but if you held down the button a charge shot could be fired which had a blast radius big enough to take out multiple enemies, netting you a score boost in the process. Levels soon became tests of memory, in which you’d try to take out as many enemies as possible with just one shot.

Added to already the cinematic vibe were plenty of homages of various movies. Similar scenes to those seen in Independence Day and Star Wars, mostly, such as a UFO that hovered over a base and blew it to bits if you weren’t quick enough to take it down. Nintendo included their own ideas too – the lava planet had a surface that had to be avoided, complete with a boss who would create waves of molten lava. Fox would also have to face rival gang Star Wolf on a few occasions and take them down before they fled. Fox had to take their chants on the chin. “Daddy screamed real good right before he died,” one of them would say.

European gamers had to wait a little longer for their version of the game, forcing many UK N64 owners to take the route of importing. It’s quite easy to forget how long Europe had to wait for some N64 titles – a select few took over a year to arrive, despite being available in other PAL countries.

It was assumed that the UK version would be renamed Star Wing 64 due to clashing copyright issues but no – Nintendo made the very bizarre decision to call it Lylat Wars. Even Space Fox 64 would have been a better title. The European version did however have a feature present that wasn’t in the US or Japanese iterations – the ability to set the voices to Lylat (read: animal gobbledegook).

It’s a known fact that Nintendo axed Starfox 2 for the SNES as they felt that releasing two Starfox games in a short space of time wouldn’t have done the franchise any favours. In other words, they sacrificed an almost finished game for the greater good of another. And what a glorious game it was.

Matt Gander

Matt is Games Asylum's most prolific writer, having produced a non-stop stream of articles since 2001. A retro collector and bargain hunter, his knowledge has been found in the pages of tree-based publication Retro Gamer.

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1 Comment

  • Looking back now, I’d have to say the absolute stand-out moment (level) in this game was Area 6. It really gave you the impression you were carving your way through the final (well stocked enemy-wise) barrier to your goal.

    From the sheer amount of things coming at you, to the desperate shouts of the enemies (“They’re through the second line!”) to ROB mowing down the “just that little bit big for an Arwing to kill” starships and finally the rather innocent looking end of level boss with the biggest baddest Rainbow Death Beam ever, Area 6 is memorably breathtaking.

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