The Nintendo 3DS is starting to look like it’s in great shape as we head into the month of November. The “AAA” releases like Super Mario 3D Land amd Mario Kart 7 are about to completely wipe away the memories of a lot of those 3DS owners who experienced the painful dry spells of the summer months.
Things have lightened up over the last few weeks, particularly since Nintendo released Starfox 64 3D – the first truly notable 3DS release since Ocarina of Time 3D. This review may be a little late to the party, but I can’t seem to pass on Starfox 3D, so read on.
Starfox 64 was an “on-rails” flight combat shooter for the Nintendo 64. The game starred the Star Fox team, a group of anthropomorphic space fighter pilots. After receiving a distress call from General Pepper of Corneria, Fox McCloud, Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, and Falco Lombardi set off on a mission to save the Lylat System from an invading evil scientist named Andross.
The original Nintendo 64 game was the first major title to use the Rumble Pack accessory, and each new copy of the game was bundled with one of the giant, vibrating peripherals upon release. Starfox 64 was the pioneer of force-feedback gameplay, which makes it somewhat interesting that there’s no option for a rumble feature on the 3DS. Nonetheless, the original experience is still a joy to remember in its glorious, 3D-enhanced form. Some of my favorite parts – the treacherous, bogey-cluttered Area 6, the tough battle against Star Wolf on the “hard” version of Venom, the chaotic pace and the search lights of Zoness – are even better than I remember them.
Starfox 64?s single-player game design was always a lot of fun, but it wasn’t very long for a full-priced console title. On the 3DS, the short amount of time that it takes you to fight your way across the Lylat System is perfect for those short bursts of action and brief pick-up-and-play sessions. Starfox 64 seems to have the perfect type of game design for a portable gaming experience, and as a result, the 3DS version capitalizes on all fronts.
Due to the fact that there are 20+ unique routes to take through the Lylat System, each new play-through in Starfox 3D can be completely different than the last. There are over a dozen planets to explore, almost all of which features multiple paths that branch out to alternate routes. In all ten of my play-throughs, I took a different route and generally increased my total score for the levels that I had visited the most.
Finding out how to explore all of the different paths from planet to planet is part of the fun, and honing your dogfighting skills is necessary in order to earn the highest scores on each stage. The progress is completely based on your actions in the previous stage, which brings me to the only major flaw: the poor comrade A.I. Now, your teammates (particularly Slippy and Peppy) have always been notorious for getting themselves into bad situations, but I noticed that they would fly in front of me more than ever before. There are scripted sequences where you’re asked to fight off some bogeys to save them, but your teammates will sometimes fly off of the edge of the screen or soak up your laser shots instead of getting out of the way and letting you take care of business.
Playing Starfox 64 on the 3DS feels completely natural. The “on-rails” gameplay style is smooth, responsive, and intuitive with the 3DS’s circle pad. The added gyroscope controls are a nice feature, but I mostly stuck with the “3DS Mode” when I played through the game, and left the gyro controls disabled. For that matter, I couldn’t tell much of a difference between the game’s “N64 Mode” and “3DS Mode”, but I completed five runs in both of them before writing this review.
Performing barrel rolls, somersaults, and deploying smart bombs are all just as effortless and exciting as I remember them on the N64 game, but with the added bonus of 3D effects that truly impact the gameplay. Avoiding close-range enemies is easier than ever now that you can use the depth effect to smoothly steer yourself away from trouble.
The entire game has been perfectly re-built from the N64 original; each stage, enemy pattern, and boss fight has been ported over without missing a beat. Although this makes the game more predictable for veterans, it also supports the replay value by challenging you to make each mission attempt a flawless, high-scoring run. Starfox 64 was a relatively easy game, regardless of its length: Starfox 3D is equally simple, and skilled gamers will be able to breeze through it without much of a struggle after one or two attempts. It’s too bad that there weren’t more adjustable difficulty settings featured in the 3DS version of the game. The only major challenges come from unlocking Medals with high scores.
Starfox 3D is certainly one of the 3DS’s best-looking titles, and it is even debatable that it looks better than Ocarina of Time 3D. Each stage, Arwing, enemy ship, and boss character has been built from the ground-up; the textures are sharper, the animations are smoother, and the characters no longer look like blocky, low-poly plastic molds. The graphics in the original were built with very basic polygonal shapes, but the smoothness of the 3DS version shows no trace of the primitive roots.
The deep-space environments in most of the “on-rails” sections are a perfect fit for the 3D effect; constantly flying forward means that there is always something coming toward the screen, right at you. The open-ended “all-range mode” segments rarely last very long, but they’re also a fantastic display of the 3D depth effect. The visual effects are better than ever, from the Arwing’s bright blue Hyper Lasers to the starburst blast of a Smart Bomb. The cut-scenes look a lot better, too: remember that scene with the exploding base on Macbeth? Well, it’s even more badass than you remember, thanks to the 3DS’s advanced visual capabilities.
Unfortunately, where Ocarina of Time 3D could have used some enhanced music and sound effects, Starfox 3D actually loses some of its classic charm thanks to its “upgrades”. The all-new voice cast takes away from some of that unforgettable cheesiness of certain lines, particularly those of Slippy, Peppy, and certain boss characters.
Replay value was the biggest problem with the original N64 game, but Starfox 64 3D avoids having that problem by being such a great game for portable sessions. Each trip through the Lylat System took me roughly one hour to finish, and after ten different play-throughs, I still haven’t lost any interest in playing again. After all, there are still over a dozen unique routes that I haven’t explored.
As I hinted at before, the Medals are back from the N64 version: skilled players will be able to earn these by completing missions with outrageously high scores and no teammate casualties. The 3DS version actually doubles the number of Medals available to unlock by challenging you to earn them for each stage in both the N64 and 3DS game modes. Most of the toughest Medals require you to master all of the game’s craftiest tricks, such as shooting charge shots without a locked-on target, or stockpiling bonus points by destroying multiple opponents with a single blast.
It’s true that the lack of online multiplayer is a major bummer, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s the only concerning setback when factoring the purchase. Battle Mode is still entertaining for up to four local players: the expanded, improved maps and additional power-ups add a small touch of depth to the combat. The addition of Video Chat is particularly interesting: although it doesn’t serve much of a purpose for local matches, seeing it pop up in Starfox 64 3D might serve as proof that Nintendo plans to use the feature again in future games.
Honestly, Starfox 64 3D was the last game that I expected would impress me on the 3DS, but I ended up being completely surprsied and amazed to see its game design working so well on the handheld format. Perhaps there’s another reason why I enjoyed it so much: I had unfathomably high expectations for Ocarina of Time 3D, and while the Zelda re-make met all of those expectations, I’ve never loved Starfox 64 more than after playing the 3DS version. I played the crap out of the classic N64 game, but at the time I would have put it down in a heartbeat for Rogue Squadron.
When thinking about Starfox 3D, the only flaws I can think of are simply features that I’d have liked to see in the game. Online multiplayer, co-op gameplay in story mode, and StreetPass functionality are all missing, but I guess that’s why they say that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Although two of the biggest 3DS titles of 2011 are coming out in the next couple of weeks, I highly recommend that owners of the handheld go out and find a copy of Starfox 64 3D. It’s truly one of the best 3DS games on the market right now. If you were a fan of the N64 game, you enjoy flight combat titles, or you just want to re-live some of the classic moments of Nintendo’s past, look no further.