The Star Fox series has seen its fair share of turmoil over the years, its stock rising and falling, never quite ascending back to the same lofty heights from which it first appeared. From a Zelda-esque adventure on a planet of dinosaurs to a third-person shooter to a stylus-driven strategy game, many have felt that while these games were not necessarily bad, per se, Star Fox had nonetheless strayed too far from its roots. In these circumstances, what is a developer to do?
If you’re Nintendo, then you apparently go back to the beginning, and try to figure out where it all went wrong while recreating the most well-received title in the series.
Enter: Star Fox 64 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. It is not the true beginning, being the series’ second game, released in lieu of a Super NES sequel to the Super FX Chip-powered original. Nonetheless, it is close enough, as it acted as a reboot of the short-lived continuity and a remake of the single game to be released prior. Despite all the strangeness, it was nonetheless well-received when it was released on the Nintendo 64.
Of course, this is not merely the same game released on a new platform; numerous refinements have been added which refresh the already-enjoyable experience considerably. Updated graphics and sound (including re-recorded dialogue by the original voice actors) are enhanced by the 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS, and together create the premiere 3D experience for the handheld device.
Unlike literally every other game we have played on the system, this one has not had the 3D turned off for more than a few moments at a time, which were merely for comparison’s sake. Unfortunately, this also takes a considerable toll on the system’s battery life, leading to an involuntary system shutdown during the final battle along the game’s more treacherous path. Even so, that is more a shortcoming of the hardware than the game itself– one might even argue that the game is greater than the Nintendo 3DS is capable of handling for extended periods of time, in that respect.
(As an aside: users of older Nintendo DS systems or perhaps Wii Remotes might note that when they begin warning you that your batteries are running out, you still have a bit of playtime left in them. Not so here– once the lights went red, our time left could be measured in a matter of minutes.)
Fortunately, there are some safeguards in place. The game automatically saves after you finish each stage, so one does not need to worry about conquering the entire game in a single run as they did in the Nintendo 64 original. On top of that, the bottom screen is adorned with a small battery life indicator, and even a small time display, which runs off of the system clock.
The controls have seen a bit of modification as well. While they are not fully-customizable, there are a few options in place which should fit most needs. In addition to two layouts for the face buttons, you also have the choice of whether to have up and down on the Circle Pad will move your ship accordingly, or whether to invert them for more realistic flight stick-like control.
Furthermore, up and down on the the D-pad act as simplified solutions to performing loops or reversing direction, functions which can also still be performed by pressing up on the Circle Pad with the boost and brakes, respectively. And by simply touching the lower screen when prompted, you can trigger an item delivery from R.O.B. 64, pilot of the Star Fox Team’s Great Fox mothership; other times, this is where you will see communications and life meters for other pilots, both friendly and adversarial.
The biggest addition, and the one which Nintendo has spent the most time promoting, is the gyroscopic controls. By simply moving the Nintendo 3DS up, down, left, or right, you can steer the ship accordingly. You can also use the Circle Pad in conjunction with these controls, though using both together can throw things off a little as far as re-centering goes.
There has also been some concern of using these controls in conjunction with the 3D function, due to the latter’s limited “sweet spot” for clear visibility, but they actually manage to work surprisingly well together, so long as you don’t go overboard with your movement. Naturally, this style of movement may not be practical for all situations (riding a crowded subway, for example) or be preferred by purists who favor traditional controls, but thankfully, they can be turned off easily before you begin playing.
Even so, their addition yields another benefit to the game in the form of two modes: Nintendo 64 and Nintendo 3DS. The Nintendo 64 mode is designed to replicate the original release, whereas the Nintendo 3DS mode is balanced to take the gyroscopic controls into account. What this basically means is that the 3DS mode is easier, and better still, you can still use the traditional controls, thus allowing newcomers to more easily get used to what the game offers before tackling greater challenges. However, those wishing to use the gyroscopic controls in the N64 mode are afforded no such option.
For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of Star Fox 64, it is basically a shooter not unlike Gradius or R-Type, among others. But instead of being viewed from the side, you view your ship from the back as you move forward through three-dimensional space, avoiding obstacles and blasting enemies. The original Star Fox was one of Nintendo’s first 3D games, and this has only been enhanced with time, thanks to the graphical horsepower of the Nintendo 64 and the actual three-dimensional view the Nintendo 3DS offers.
As you take out the forces of the evil Andross, your goal is to fight your way to his base on the planet Venom, and doing so will require going through space and to different planets to make your way across the Lylat system. Some stages will have you switch from piloting an Arwing space fighter to controlling a Landmaster tank or Blue Marine submarine, and along the way, you will be tasked with different goals. Success in accomplishing these goals will lead you along one path, while failure will force you on another as you work towards your ultimate destination and a battle against Andross himself.
In addition to saving your progress after each mission, another cool feature not found in the original is that with the successful completion of a goal or discovery of an alternate route, you can still choose to follow the original from the map screen. Or, if you fail to open a new path or otherwise wish to replay the last stage for some reason, you can choose to do so at the cost of one ship (or “life,” if you prefer).
As you play through the game, a Score Attack mode becomes available, allowing you to replay any stage you’ve already opened in the main game. These include the introductions, ending cinematics, dialogue– everything you would get in the main game, thus making it especially easy to not only replay your favorite missions, but also to compete for high scores and bragging rights.
The only downside is that meeting the requirements for finding alternate paths does not count in Score Attack, which means if you want to unlock more missions in this mode, you must do so in the main mode. And to do that for later stages unfortunately means you have to replay everything which came before it, too, including whichever requirements may have been necessary to reach that point in the first place. It feels like a bit of an oversight by the developers, unless they were simply being petty about which mode you unlock things in, given all other things are more or less equal.
The third and final mode is Multiplayer. On the plus side, you can play with up to three friends on one card, thanks to the Nintendo 3DS wireless Download Play. As for the minus, this is the only way to play– even if all four of you have your own copies of the game, you must still download it from a single individual, who also has control over most of the match options– no voting on courses or other things here as in Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. Brawl, though you can still toggle a few options.
The Multiplayer Mode has been downgraded a bit from the original in some respects, though this has been balanced in others. Gone are the unlockable options of taking control of a Landmaster tank or one of the pilots on foot with a rocket launcher, the latter of which being what seemed to give rise to fans wanting to play as the characters themselves in other games in the first place. Instead, matches are all-Arwings, all the time.
Balancing this out is a new “Power Up” option, which adds a variety of unique… well, power-ups, which give the matches something of a slight Mario Kart feel. Or, if one wishes, players can compete with standard lasers and bombs from the normal game.
Also unlike the Nintendo 64 version is the option to play the Multiplayer mode by yourself, which then pits you against three computer-controlled opponents, who happen to be your wingmen in the main game. And we can say from experience that despite his apparent weakness in the main game, Slippy is a beast in multiplayer. Thankfully, if you’re playing against friends, you don’t need to worry about the rest of this cutthroat crew getting in the way.
We would also be remiss in not mentioning this mode’s most heavily-flaunted feature, that being the optional live-camera. With this activated, you and the other players can see each other’s reactions captured in real-time through the interior camera of the Nintendo 3DS. It isn’t a make-or-break feature, but it is pretty cool, and leaves us hoping we might see it in more upcoming titles. Mario Kart 7, we’re looking at you.
In conclusion, we believe that Star Fox 64 3D is currently the premiere game for the Nintendo 3DS. While it does not push every feature of the system, it does not need to, and the features it does use are employed very well, perhaps even better than anything else to date, and that includes the eponymous 3D function. In fact, we can’t help but wonder where this game was at launch, and if the system’s fortunes might not be different were Fox McCloud carrying the Nintendo 3DS banner right out of the gate.
The game does have some small, niggling flaws here and there, as we’ve noted above, but the rest of the experience makes up for it in spades. Star Fox 64 3D reminds us of why we came to love Star Fox in the first place, and gives us hope that Nintendo keeps to the straight and narrow in whatever future sequels they may come up with.
Unless you are a gamer who remembers and just did not like the original for whatever reason, we give this our highest recommendation. This is a game no Nintendo 3DS owner should be without.
Star Fox 64 3D is now available for the Nintendo 3DS, and a copy was sent to us for review by Nintendo of Canada.