Star Fox 64: Does It Hold Up?
In 1997, Nintendo struck gold with a little thing known as the Rumble Pak for the Nintendo 64. This device introduced force feedback to console gaming, a feature that was previously exclusive to arcade cabinets and would soon become a staple of consoles. Originally, the Rumble Pak was bundled with a copy of Star Fox 64. Quite frankly, the game probably didn't need the peripheral to succeed, but that didn't mean it wasn't a sweet combination.
At the time of its launch, Star Fox 64 was heralded as an instant classic on account of its arcade gameplay, multiplayer, voice acting, force feedback, and above all else, its intense aerial shooting action. With the exception of the Rumble Pak compatibility, these features are all measured on a different scale these days, as gaming has changed dramatically. Still, Star Fox 64 remains an entertaining 3D shooting thrill ride, even if it is a bit on the short side.
Gameplay is simple but engaging, relying on fast-paced shooting that's reminiscent of something you'd see at an arcade. Enemies fill the screen and shoot projectiles at you as your Arwing flies automatically forward. You control the aircraft's movement around the screen and your guns' aiming, so it's essential that you dodge incoming fire and blast away at those baddies. Again, it's a simple formula, but the way the game continuously throws fast-moving enemies your way makes for an intense experience that trades in depth for challenge and excitement.
As you wage war on the evil Andross' army, your buddies Falco, Slippy, and Peppy are right there in the mix. They each have health meters, so you're not just watching your own hide. Scripted sequences put them under enemy fire, so you have to target the threats and take them out. If any one of your three pals takes too much damage, he'll be out of the equation for one level. To be honest, I never thought the lack of partner characters made much of a difference, though it's pretty fun having to protect them regardless.
You could get through Star Fox 64 in under an hour, which is terribly short. The game is deceptively lengthy, though, as it offers secret paths that lead to much more difficult stages, increasing the lasting value. It's an addictive experience, too, and it's hard not to start the game over once you get through it the first time. There's also a local multiplayer mode, which makes for a nice distraction if you've got some friends to play against.
For the purposes of this feature, I played the Wii Virtual Console version of Star Fox 64, which is an exact port of the original Nintendo 64 release. I was actually surprised by how decent the game looks even by today's standards. A lot of the time, 3D Nintendo 64 titles don't hold up especially well in the graphics department, but Star Fox 64, though certainly aged, still looks okay for the most part.
Sound design tends to surpass graphics in these kinds of games, and this one is no exception. The music of Star Fox 64 is memorable and catchy, and it gets you in a distinct aerial combat mode. At the time of its release, the game was praised for its use of voice acting. Nowadays, the whole thing sounds a bit too cheesy for its own good, and the actual sound quality of the voice acting isn't all that great. Even then, you'll love the super old school sound of the characters saying their lines for all the wrong reasons.
The verdict: Star Fox 64 holds up and delivers retro arcade shooting bliss
It's hard not to love this game. I only briefly played it during its heyday, but I got really into it following its Virtual Console arrival in 2007. I was glad to recently revisit the game one more time, and even as I write this, I'm itching to fire it up again and let loose on Andross and his goons. If you want a slightly nicer-looking version, you can always play Star Fox 64 3D on the 3DS. Whatever the case may be, Star Fox 64 has managed to succeed for several generations, awkward, tinny voice acting notwithstanding.
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