Review: Star Fox 64 3D (3DS)
We need your help, Star Fox!
Here to save the 3DS’ fiscal year sales from total disaster is the Star Fox team, reprising their roles in this faithful remake of arguably one of Nintendo EAD’s top ten games, the timeless Star Fox 64.
Right off the bat, Star Fox 64 3D asserts that it’s going to satisfy die-hard fans of the original game. The re-mastered intro, with a much crisper soundtrack, took me back immediately to 1997.
For anyone who hasn’t played the original game, you’re in for a treat. Star Fox 64 is the very definition of a high-octane space shmup (shoot-em-up). Our hero is Fox McCloud, a famed mercenary and leader of the Star Fox team, joined by three allies: hotshot Falco Lombardi, old-timer/mentor Peppy Hare and bumbling mechanic Slippy Toad. General Pepper of the Cornerian army hires you to liberate the recently captured Lylat system from the invading Andross, an evil, hyper-intelligent simian whose closest relatives seem to reside on the Planet of the Apes. While some missions and boss battles allow you to fly around freely, most of the game is technically an rails-shooter, consisting of fifteen planets with varied challenges, multiple pathways, secret warps, hundreds of enemies apiece, a memorable soundtrack, great boss battles and a fantastic, complex scoring system that makes for endless replayability and has fueled a thriving competitive high score community for over a decade.
Check your G-Diffuser system! (A timeless classic reborn)
The game boasts three main single-player modes, 3DS, N64 and Expert, which is unlocked after getting all the medals in either of the other modes. As before, Expert mode is for the truly adventurous, as enemies are more numerous and more powerful, and one collision will take out a wing and leave your ship in a vulnerable state. In 3DS mode, you can experiment with the gyro controls, which are surprisingly usable. You wouldn’t know it at first, but 3DS mode is actually slightly easier – not only can you continue after running out of lives but you take less damage and the reticule movement has been made smoother, encouraging players to mix up analog slider movement and gyro controls. While the new motion controls were fun to mess around with, they weren’t for me, though I can see how younger players might enjoy them. I suggest turning off 3D mode if you use the gyro, however. Leaving the slider up while moving your head/eyes around – even just a bit – is a quick way to give yourself a massive headache.
The menu claims that Nintendo 64 Mode “Faithfully recreates the challenge of the original Star Fox 64”, and it does not disappoint. I’m happy to report that the re-recorded voice acting is almost entirely intact, with a few additions here and there - changes that are better left as a surprise to the faithful. Even with the same voice actors, Falco isn’t as annoying and somehow Slippy is even more androgynous.
FINAL BOSS SPOILER: The one disappointment in the game’s remastered voice work is that Andross’ creepy laughter (one of the coolest voice effects in the previous game) has been replaced by a lame ‘Ha ha’. In many ways it’s as jarring of a change as George Lucas adding ‘Nooo!’ to Darth Vader in his newest abuse towards Return of the Jedi. It seems like the decision was made by Nintendo of America so as not to terrify young children when they see the boss’ final form, but honestly it cheapens the game and kills whatever menace Andross might have had going for him.
I was delighted at the effect that 3D had on gameplay. It made judging the distances between enemies and timing smart bomb detonations much easier, and after a while, I couldn’t play the game without the 3D. I kept it cranked up almost all the way. This is completely unlike my experience with Ocarina of Time 3D, where I had to periodically switch from playing in 3D to 2D in order to stave off eyestrain. I think the difference is that in Ocarina you’re forced to alternate between gazing at the top and bottom screens often, and constantly re-adjusting your eyes between 3D and 2D gets exhausting after a while. In Star Fox 64 3D, you rarely have to deal with the bottom screen during gameplay, making for a much smoother experience.
The gameplay is surprisingly very intact, and probably the first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics and music are immensely improved. Some levels look better than others (Corneria got a major upgrade, but Macbeth got shortchanged), and often the graphical enhancements and increased draw distance allows you to see enemies you might not have seen before or that were harder to spot due to the innate blurriness of N64 games. At the infamous Area 6, for instance, you can now see much more clearly the fast-moving clusters of enemies at the beginning that give you the important first two laser upgrades. Another great new addition is the ability to skip the cinematic cut-scenes after seeing them the first time.
Do a barrel roll… until your wrist muscles cramp up (facing the dreaded ‘claw-hand’)
As for the controls, the 3DS circle slide pad surprisingly proves more than capable of mimicking the analog precision of the N64’s sensitive control stick. The only problem with the circle pad is that it’s much too easy to accidentally pull off a somersault or U-turn. That leads me to my biggest complaints about this game, which are regarding the control scheme, and are mostly just problems relating to the 3DS’ awkward design.
Firstly, you are unable to customize your controls beyond two basic control types. I think fully customizable controls should always be an available feature on complex handheld games in order to accommodate people with differently shaped hands. Between the two selectable button layouts, neither of them make it easy for you to shoot and brake at the same time.
On top of that, the awkward closeness of the face buttons to the shoulder buttons means that intense sessions will often result in the dreaded claw-hand. Trying to get a competitive-level high score in a level like Aquas (since you need to hit the bomb, shot and brake buttons often simultaneously), even while using your pointer finger to assist with the face buttons, is likely to leave you with carpal tunnel syndrome. It made me yearn for the N64 controller, where the buttons were larger, more responsive and better spaced. As a result, it’s hard to play this game intensely for more than a couple hours at a time, not something I could say about the original Star Fox 64.
Never give up! Trust your instincts! (Score Attack and Battle Mode)
The additional modes add a lot to the game. The unlockable Score Attack mode finally allows you to play through individual levels, and it saves the top ten scores for each mission.
My brother and I have been engaged in an epic battle for the top score in this game for the majority of our lives, and fellow fans looking to recreate past victories will find much to enjoy here. The mode issues out Bronze, Silver and Gold medals for each planet, with Silver being the standard medal count from the original game. Many will be surprised at how many hits you’ll need to get a Gold medal in some of the levels, but all it takes is some creative thinking, a lot of replaying, memorization, and patience. The only thing I really wish they had included in this mode is the ability to save replays, as there is always a great potential for a winning run that you might want to revisit. Why should we be able to save replays in Mario Kart, but not Star Fox? It makes little sense. Since the 3DS comes with a 2GB SD card, it shouldn’t even be an issue.
The Battle mode has been completely changed from the N64 version. Both cosmetically and gameplay-wise, it’s a complete redesign. The all-new levels look great, but perform completely different functions due to the faster physics and more vertical maps. The combat is faster-paced and the computers are more difficult.
Gone are the Landmaster tanks and Footmen from the original battle mode, which I really enjoyed and now miss a lot. Now that the battles are pure dogfights where Arwing goes up against Arwing, there are a few trade-offs. On the one hand, the maps are a lot larger and more complex than those in the N64 version. That makes for a much better straight-up dogfighter, with physics slightly different from the main game allowing acrobatics to really come into play. But gone is the ability to warp from one end of the map to the other by flying off the side, and as a result the bigger maps can make finding opponents after respawning a bit of a chore. Most interestingly, there are a few new items (turned off by default) that affect gameplay, such as the Transposer, which switches your place with an opponent’s, and can allow you to turn the tide if someone is hot on your tail. Playing with the CPUs is actually a viable option: they prove to be quite a challenge.
In a feature popularized by Mario Kart Arcade GP, you can see the faces of your opponents in a small window above their Arwings, and witness their rage-filled reactions after shooting them down. It’s a pretty fun system. The only downfall is that there’s no online play, which is a major disappointment especially considering that even the substandard Star Fox Command for the original DS had online multiplayer, and the recent Dead or Alive Dimensions was able to pull off online play on the 3DS quite flawlessly. For shame, Nintendo!
In an unfortunate but likely necessary change from the N64 version, Star Fox 64 3D suffers from not having rumble. The original game was bundled with the Rumble Pak, the first peripheral to feature vibration, and the powerful shakes it created proved to be central to the experience. A rumble told you how strong hits against your Arwing were, for example, and being able to feel the reverberations of smart-bomb explosions, activating your boost and the like added a lot to the game’s immersion. That said rumble is probably not advisable on the 3DS, for reasons like playing with 3D could easily cause an involuntary gag reflex from your eyes shaking around in your head.
If you own a 3DS and have never played the original Star Fox 64, then you have absolutely no excuse for not rushing out and picking this up right now. Q Games and Nintendo have crafted a superbly polished adaptation of one of the very best shmups (shoot-em-ups) ever made, as well as one of the most acclaimed Nintendo 64 games.
On the other hand, if you are a Star Fox 64 veteran and still own a playable copy of the original game on the N64 or the Wii’s Virtual Console, I would suggest that only diehard fans of the game, or those who spend more time on portables pick this one up for full price. While the new graphics and re-mastered soundtrack make for a beautiful presentation, Star Fox is still best played on the N64 controller with rumble.
Whether you’re new to the Star Fox series, an old-timer who bemoans the series’ many digressions over the years or have grown up enjoying the more recent games for the GameCube, this game is likely to get you hooked. The great Score Attack mode alone makes this game worthy of the price of admission.
- A faithful remake of the timeless classic
- 3D is well-incorporated into the gameplay
- Score Attack mode adds tons of replay value
- The new Battle Mode is fun and challenging
- No online Battle mode or rumble
- No ability to save replays
- Limited options for customizing the control scheme
- The 3DS’ clunky design can make competitive-level scoring difficult