When the galaxy is in danger, its leader calls on a team of animal fighter pilots to put an end to the threat. That’s essentially a Cliff Notes version of the plot found in Star Fox 64 3D – the revamped, three-dimensionalized re-release of one of Nintendo‘s most popular classic titles.
The re-introduction of the title brings one of gaming’s most talked about franchises back to the forefront. Using the modern power of the Nintendo 3DS handheld, Fox and the gang plan to reconnect with old friends, but the team behind this revamp is also hoping that the game will appeal to an all-new generation of gamers. As a business plan, this makes sense. Being a longtime fan of the series and someone who spent hours with the originally released version back in 1997, this idea makes me very happy.
Originally revered for his great scientific pursuits and accomplishments, the Lylat Galaxy’s most prolific scientist, Andross, has essentially lost his marbles. After utilizing biological weaponry to destroy his home planet of Corneria, he’s exiled to the remote planet of Venom, where the hope is that he will be unable to continue his devious pursuits. Though, we all know that didn’t end up becoming fact, or else there wouldn’t be a reason to fly through space with lasers zinging. Andross has found a way to get back to work on mean spirited plans, which means nothing but bad things for the galaxy.
After monitoring the planet’s activities for several years, the galactic overseers determined that something wasn’t right on the remote planet in the distant part of the system’s reaches. Due to this reconnaissance report, immediate action was taken with a hotshot group of fighters led by James McCloud sent in to clean up the mess.
Unfortunately, the mission became a quick failure as one of the team’s main members defected and betrayed his allies upon their descent into the planet’s atmosphere. Battle quickly ensued though, being the consummate hero that he is, McCloud sacrificed himself in order to allow his ally Peppy to escape. His orders were to inform his son of his fate, causing young hotshot Fox McCloud to take up where his father and his fallen comrades left off.
It’s at the conclusion of those events where the game’s story picks-up, allowing fledgling digital fighter pilots to assume the role of star pilot Fox McCloud. He’s quickly summoned to meet with General Pepper for a briefing, where it’s announced that his team (consisting of Slippy the frog, Peppy the hare and Falco the bird) has been enlisted into immediate action. Their goal, as you’d expect, is to bring Andross to justice by putting an end to his torment of the galaxy.
However, it’s not going to be easy. There are quite a few planets along the way to Venom, each with their own unique elemental qualities, flight conditions and baddies to contend with. The player gets a hand in picking the route which is taken, though a lot of it is dependent on performance at key times, involving the discovery of secret passageways.
Taking the form of a three-dimensional space shooter, Star Fox 64 3D is an action-packed affair where lasers, bombs and thrusters are the means of mechanical warfare. Players control Fox while the rest of the crew assists using artificially programmed intelligence, sometimes doing good though they have a penchant of getting into trouble.
The core experience is one full of flight combat and travel through unique and colourful planets. Barrel rolls and evasive maneuvers are a must at times, in order to shake tails or deflect incoming lasers when moving out of the way is not an option. It’s relatively fast-paced and has a lot of segments which feature on-rails movement mechanics in the form of an ever-progressing camera.
Star Fox 64 3D retains the classic campaign which we all fell in love with almost fourteen years ago. It’s fun, exciting and something different from most of the other digital offerings out there. Essentially, what you’ll be getting with a purchase is an hour-long arcade experience, which has a lot of replayability due to different routes being available. Seven different planets must be completed before the final battle, though it’s up to your discretion and ability as to which ones those are.
Its brevity may be an issue to those looking for a very lengthy game to play on the go, but I feel it’s more of a plus in this case. Each playthrough can be different if you let it, so it’s not like the game will get overly repetitive quickly. Plus, being that it’s now available on a handheld, the game is perfectly suited for an hour long session while you travel somewhere on a plane, an eco-friendly train or in the back of a car. Lengthy games are great, but so are arcade experiences which allow for a great amount of fun in a convenient amount of time.
What’s new here is the option to choose from a couple of different modes: 3DS and N64. I didn’t notice a huge difference, other than the fact that the N64 version was a bit more difficult. It’s also true to the original game, while its co-listed option is refined for the device which the interactive experience now finds itself on. If you choose the revamped and newer mode, you’re in for an experience tuned for use with the circle pad and gyro-sensor motion controls. Otherwise, you can jump into the original version of the game which we all played for hours on end, back in the late 1990s.
Scoreboards are shown after each campaign completion, ranking playthroughs based on the amount of hits performed. Additional metallic awards are also doled out for extra-special accomplishments such as beating the game with no continues used. Those who love to upgrade personal bests can check out the score attack mode, adding replay value by letting handheld pilots jump into specific missions to attempt to outdo themselves.
The well-used health bar system is utilized to let those in virtual command know what the status of each team member is. Letting an ally’s ship health drop to zero will mean that they will have to return to the docking bay, in order to be partially repaired. As a result, the character will be forced to sit out at least part of a mission.
Fox can pick up health in the form of rings, though his teammates are seemingly unable to replenish their health at all. Even during the waiting period between missions, they only receive a partial replenishment of vitality. Bosses also use health bar mechanics, with sweet spots to shoot at to cause damage. This game has a lot of pretty cool boss fights to contend with, adding to the fun.
The Arwing flight mechanics are quite well-refined, with the nice thing being that they’re accessible for newcomers while still allowing for complexity if the player decides to live out a fantasy of being a badass jet pilot. The circle pad controls flight, shoulder buttons aid turns or perform barrel rolls and face buttons are used for utilizing speed bursts, brakes and weaponry.
It’s this simple yet complete set of core control mechanics which allows for Star Fox 64 3D to be such a fun arcade experience. A tutorial section is utilized to let players test out two separate control options, which alter the assignments regarding which button does what.
However, those who are in love with the new motion-controlled elements which are being added into a lot of games, will be happy to know that flight can be controlled without the use of the device’s circle pad. Instead of pushing a direction to fly the ship, let your physical movements determine the flight path, by tilting the system. Both control systems can be turned on in unison, though I ended up turning off the tilt controls after a while.
It’s not that they were terrible or anything, but I found that they lacked the precision which came with using the circle pad. Growing up using directional pads, joysticks and the like, I’m much more inclined to use the more traditional control schemes in games whenever an option is presented. It feels more natural. Plus, I found that I’d unintentionally move the 3DS a bit during gameplay, which would throw my ship’s placement and aiming off for a moment.
The only other real issue I had with the controls came during the land-based missions, where Fox takes to the planet’s landmass using a tank contraption instead of its skies. Aiming didn’t feel as tight as I remember it being on the original N64 cartridge, as it seemed less effortless this time around.
Using the tank wasn’t too difficult, but I could notice a difference in the control precision after switching from the tight-controlling Arwing. Aiming upwards from below meant a big change in the game’s mechanics, limiting the amount of freedom and area of approach players have. However, I applaud these missions for introducing something new to the mix to give us something different than flight from point A to point B. They just needed a bit more precision added into their aiming mechanics.
Multiplayer is the biggest gameplay addition to be found here, allowing for four players to battle it out on several different maps. It plays a lot like the core single player experience does, except there are only three other players to shoot at, meaning smart maneuvers are required. The radar works quite well in helping to locate enemies, but the aerial depth allowed can make it a bit more difficult than just turning around.
This mode is pretty fun, though it’s too bad that the human competition is limited to the 3DS download and play system, as opposed to allowing for wireless interaction with players around the world. You can play against three computer-controlled pilots with adjustable settings, but it’s not as entertaining as playing with others. That is especially true since the device’s cameras capture a victorious gamer’s facial expression, sending it to their opponents’ screens. This allows he or she to virtually gloat in outer space.
Visually speaking, the transition from 1997’s colourful console to 2011’s technologically impressive handheld is an impressive one. Star Fox 64 3D looks great on the dual-screened device. The game world pops with vibrant colours appearing on well-defined characters, enemies and creatively designed locations.
It really pops on the 3DS, which impressed me a lot. Gameplay action shows exclusively on the top screen, while the bottom screen is used for messages and the like. It basically acts as a bit of a command centre for story elements and prompts. To hear an audible message, a tap of the touchscreen is required. I like what they did with this system other than the latter aspect, involving taking time out to tap the screen, as it becomes a bit cumbersome and feels unnecessary.
Gamers who are using the game’s 3D visual depth quality as a reason to pass or purchase, should certainly pick this one up. It’s an excellent tech demo for the system’s capabilities, showing off some great three-dimensional space and pop-out effects. I found that having the slider fully on made a noticeable difference, creating a bit more depth in the world, with some great moments where things really seemed to pop out of the screen.
Seeing the Arwing jump out at me as it turned during cinematics and having things come outward sometimes during gameplay, were both very impressive. It’s not always an evident factor, but when it’s there, it’s a very nice touch. In comparison to the other system exclusive titles I’ve played thus far, Star Fox 64 3D uses the handheld’s unique visual capabilities the best.
If you’ve played Star Fox 64 before, then you most-likely remember its cheesiness. The storyline is quite basic, though I give them commendation for expanding it more than they needed to. Its accompanying voice acting really isn’t anything to write home about, with some less than stellar performances.
Being that the game isn’t supposed to be known for having a great storyline or intricately written dialogue, it’s not a big deal or a large detraction. The important aspects of the audio are worth noting, as the effects and music both sound very good on the 3DS. Its speakers’ power is well-utilized and the game is better for it. Playing it on a handheld forces you to be close to the system and its two screens. With good audio, it not only sounds more explosive close-up, but also adds an extra level of immersion into the experience.
Being a huge fan of the original game, I was looking forward to the day when I could play Star Fox 64 3D on my new portable system. After playing through its engaging and very enjoyable campaign, witnessing the stunning visual fidelity and great 3D effects which have been added, I must applaud Q-Software. They have created a truly must-play title.
Do a barrel roll, Fox! You’ve earned it.
This review is based on a copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Whether you're a new recruit or an expert Arwing pilot from years back, I highly recommend picking this one up.