Publisher: Nintendo of America|
Developer: Nintendo Co. Ltd.
In yet another symbol of Nintendo's persistence to create sequels to its 16-bit games, StarFox 64 takes the never-say-die shooter genre to new levels of complexity, sleek design, and gameplay control. StarFox 64 represents the next leap in the evolution of Nintendo games, with full-speech samples, FMV-animation and fantastic production value, a challenging branch system, and multiplayer gaming all in one cartridge.
Staggered throughout the game is the use of full-motion video animation, eloquent cinematic sequences that wrap the gameplay up in a rich storyline, setting each mission with the right mood. Boasting a remarkable amount of voice sampling for a cart game, each team member's former burbles are turned into live voice samples. While not a CD-ROM killer, StarFox 64, like Super Mario 64 before it, demonstrates to second- and third-party developers what can be achieved on a single cartridge. StarFox 64 is an 8 megabyte cartridge containing almost 3 MBs of straight sound, and each of the 23 characters has, as it were, something to say.
An exceptional shooter that's only improved since its original 16-bit inception, StarFox 64 is deep with gameplay, strategy, and calculated level progression mechanics. Much like StarFox on Super NES, Slippy the frog, Peppy the hare, and Falco the falcon join Fox McCloud as they fly through space in their patented 'Arwing' fighters in forward-scrolling fashion. Players will also pilot a rather clunky submarine and a unique tank (with hovering capabilities), depending on the various mission they encounter. But what differentiates StarFox 64 from its past version is that gamers will play in both forward-scrolling levels, found in latter-day shooters like Sega Saturn's Panzer Dragoon, while newer missions enable full 3D movement, usually couched in a closed spherical environment. In each, the Arwings are capable of relatively quick acceleration, quick hard braking, Immelmans, loops, barrel rolls, and a wonderful control system that's as responsive, and as smooth as silk.
As many as 15 interconnected levels are playable in the single-player mode, each with the most amazing looking bosses seen in a long time. Ranging from a humungous clam in Aquas, to a lavish molten lava-monster in Solar, to an amazingly animated monkey head and hands in the easy ending, these bosses are fantastic in design and graphic execution. A clever set of paths are opened when players kill a specified amount of enemies, follow an unusual path, shoot subtle objects and enemies, fly through special constructs, or beat certain bosses. (In one level, if players fly through a set of blue rings they'll enter into a psychedelic bonus level that's the closest nod to Galaga we've seen in quite some time.) There are also a handful of paths in each level. This branch system, unlike the chooseable paths of the 16-bit StarFox, makes this often formulaic game a bit more challenging.
The four-player, split-screen action deepens the game's overall value, with chooseable variations, like team-play, or all-out 'death-matches.' And it's a blast. Plus, after meeting certain requirements, you can play on foot, with laser cannons on your shoulders. For beginners, a practice mode is also available in one-player mode. And let's not forget that the Rumble Pak, bundled with the game, adds an unusual burst of arcade ecstasy to the game.
There are a few disappointments, however, and these start with gameplay. With gameplay nods to Wing Commander (and cinematic references to a few recent sci-fi movies), the play is great, but not terribly innovative, nor altogether new, and with a few exceptions, it's a just a good update from the original StarFox. Second, this game, like all shooters by their very nature, is extremely repetitive. Almost all of the little details have been sorted out throughout the game, except the incredibly muddled and dark submarine level (Aquas). The music could also have been improved as well, and may have suffered due to the abundant sound samples.
But the branching system, loads of secret paths, intelligently designed levels, originally designed bosses, and multiplayer gaming all add up to overcome the game's minor weaknesses. If anything can be said, StarFox demonstrates that shooters are more alive now than ever.