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Starfox 64 Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Nintendo
Platform - N64
Type - Flying
Score - 8/10

Starfox 64 is without a doubt the most anticipated game of 1997. It's also been plugged and hyped more than any other title in the N64 library. Does Starfox live up to all the rumors and hype? Is it as good as the original Starfox? Was it worth the wait? All good questions. The answer to all of them is... yes.

Starfox 64 is a totally unique experience. In the game you assume the role of Fox McCloud, the leader of a mercenary squadron called Starfox. The Starfox team consists of four other members: Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and ROB 64. The Starfox squadron you head is actually the second squadron- the original Starfox was comprised of Peppy Hare, Pigma Dengar, and your father, James McCloud. They battled a villain called Andross.

During a mission against Andross, the original Starfox squadron was captured. Pigma switched sides and handed Peppy and your father over to the villain. Peppy escaped alive, but your father was killed. That was the last time anyone heard from Andross... until now.

Attacking from his home planet of Venom, Andross has invaded most of the Lylat star system, and the new Starfox team is hired to help take the system back.

That's the set up for the game. Essentially you blow things up, but you've got lots of reasons to do it: you're getting paid to do it, people will die if you don't, and _REVENGE_. What more do you want in a video game?

Starfox 64 is very similar to the 16 bit Super Nintendo version. It builds upon the original and takes gameplay one step further. Like the original game, Starfox 64 is basically a 3D scroller. While you have control over your position on the screen, you are essentially stuck on a forward moving track during most of the game. Other times you play in "all-range mode", which is 360 degree combat similar to many simulation games. While 3D forward scrolling is odd enough, Starfox is designed to be finished in one sitting. During the course of one game, you should be able to start at the first mission and shoot your way to the big finish at Venom seven levels later. This is done because Starfox does everything in its power to be like a movie. I have to admit, it's a little weird, but it works. Don't be surprised when you get to the end and defeat Andross. It seems a little short, but it is incredibly cinematic.

Of course, just because you finish the game, doesn't mean that you've beaten it. A game of Starfox should take you through 7 levels... assuming you last that long. While each game is only seven levels long, there are 15 levels available in the game. Certain levels are easy and some are hard. If you do poorly on a level and still manage to beat it, you continue on an easy path. If you excel in a level, you are thrust into the hard path. If you fight your way to Venom on the hard path, the ending differs from the easy path.

Also depending on which path you take, the story changes. The plot is still to beat Andross, but the cast changes. Depending on which levels you play, you meet different allies and encounter different enemies. Another difference is what vehicles you get to use. Your primary vehicle is the Arwing fighter. It is used on almost every level. If you continue on the easier paths, you'll get to use the Landmaster Tank. The tank handles in a similar way to the Arwing, but it is a decidedly different experience. If you attack on the harder path, you get to pilot the Blue Marine Submarine. Again, this vehicle is similar to the Arwing, but the underwater mission is unlike every other level in the game.

Even with harder and easier pathways through the game, it still doesn't take long to become skilled enough to fly through on the hardest level... but that still doesn't mean that you've defeated the game. If you can shoot down enough enemies and ensure that your teammates aren't shot down, you can acquire a medal for that level. Once you've acquired medals on every level, something will happen then...

Well that's enough about the plot. Let's talk about graphics. Starfox 64 pulls off some incredible effects. There are things you'll see in the game that you won't see anywhere else. Not on Saturn, Playstation, or PC. Starfox takes that capabilities of the N64 and flaunts them. This game uses transparencies, and reflections, and fog on top of that. It's also lightning fast, even when there are tons of enemies on the screen. Not only are the effects stunning, but the patterns and flight paths of the enemies are ascetically pleasing. Check out the "Meteo" level and you'll know what I'm talking about. Nintendo has orchestrated a magical ballet of airborne carnage.

The best part about the graphics in Starfox is the fact that it hardly ever slows down. I've only noticed slow down in two places and I'm not convinced it wasn't there on purpose- to make things seem more dramatic. Unlike Mario Kart 64, Starfox doesn't low down in 2, 3, or 4-player mode.

The sound in Starfox is also incredible. As you've probably heard, all the dialogue in Starfox is spoken. The dialogue doesn't slow down the game or the action. In fact it works. Yes it actually works. Nintendo found some decent voice actors who took their fuzzy, woodland characters just seriously enough to record believable speech. Somehow, the "puny" space available on a cartridge was enough to store enough samples to keep the dialogue fresh and non repetitive. Starfox does not give you the option to turn the voices off and frankly, there's no reason you'd want to turn them off.

In addition to terrific voice samples, Starfox has nifty explosion noises and laser blasts. Even more important than that is the music. If you're a Nintendo fanatic like I am, then you'll recognize the name Koji Kondo. This is the man who did the music in Starfox. He's also responsible for the scores in Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. He's one of the best composers of video game music and Starfox benefits greatly from his evolvement.

Starfox is almost a perfect game. The controls sit easily on the N64 controller. In the 3D scrolling mode, there's almost nothing you can't do. When you get used to the tilt buttons, you can zip from one side of the screen to the other in a fraction of a second. Aiming is also a breeze and I like the fact that you can play with or without the aiming cursors. The Rumble Pak enhances the controls- the shaking makes the player aware of the highly accurate collision detection. Unfortunately, the controls are not nearly as good when the player switches to all-range mode.

The controls in Starfox 64 are designed for the 3D scrolling mode. When the action switches to 360 degrees, it becomes difficult to put the Arwing where you want it. The root of the problem is the fact that you can't control your speed. The Arwing always travels at a constant velocity- no matter what. You do have the ability to brake or grab a boost of speed, but these affects do not last long enough. Also, to use these abilities, you have to have a full "boost meter." Once you take a short brake or boost, you have to wait a few seconds until it recharges. This makes performing repeated boosts or brakes impossible.

Another problem with the all-range controls is performing somersaults and U-turns. These maneuvers are performed by holding down the control stick and pressing either boost or brake respectively. The special combinations for these stunts are needed because the controls are not sufficient to produce these maneuvers. There is no way you could do a U-turn or a somersault on your own. Also, while it doesn't happen frequently, it's possible to trigger these stunts unintentionally.

Starfox manages multi-player games more gracefully than Mario Kart. It handles four players with no slow down whatsoever. There are three different versions for vs. games, but the idea is always to kill your opponent(s). Overall, multi-player mode is a blast, but it is not without failings.

One problem is that there are only 3 battle fields to play in. There are a few levels in the one player game that could have been salvaged for multi-player games. Another problem is control. Since multi-player games always occur in all-range mode it inherits all the problems previously discussed. Multi-player dogfights are fun, but they're dogfights with the kid gloves on. The final problem with multi-player games is the radar. The radar display is simply all wrong. It's the same display form the Mario Kart battle mode. A 3D flying game shouldn't have a radar that is centered on the course instead of the player and only displays one plane of action. The radar should give more detailed, 3D positional information. Without accurate detail, you spend too much of your time searching for someone to shoot or trying to figure out what the radar's trying to tell you.

In spite of it's flaws, Starfox is a fun game and an outstanding example of what the Nintendo 64 can do. This game has a great story and non-stop action. Starfox is the must have game of the Summer and the fact that it's only $60 U.S. (and this includes the Rumble Pak and batteries) makes it affordable.