Review: StarFox 64 Flies High Again In 3D

There's no better time for the return of Fox McCloud and company.

Around ten years ago or so, Fox McCloud and his ragtag team of StarFox pilots put a hurt on Andross' grasp of the universe with the amazing StarFox 64, one of the most memorable games for the Nintendo 64.  Since that time, the game has seen a re-release on the Virtual Console service for the Wii, and now it arrives on the Nintendo 3DS under a new coat of third dimensional polish.  But is this game all looks, or does it fly high in the gameplay department as well?

When you first start up StarFox 64, you'll be introduced to an optional first stage where you get a hang of the game's controls, including turning your flight vehicle, doing a barrel roll to deflect incoming gunfire, dropping bombs and gunfire on enemies, and using boosting and braking.  All of these abilities prove useful over the course of the game's stages, as you'll need to keep your energy bar as filled as possible for the boss encounters that wait at the end.  Once you finish the training stage, you'll head right into the world map, where several planets are in peril, thanks to the evil forces of the warlord Andross.  It's up to Fox and his crew to fly through each planet, cleaning house and earning as many points as possible from destroyed vehicles.

These worlds vary, and quite well, in fact.  You've got planetsides loaded with threats on both land and in the air, huge galactic playfields where you can take down legions of enemies and get the jump on someone in the free-flight "all range mode", there's a lava planet where the hot substance is just as dangerous as the enemies you face, and there are additional LandMaster (tank) and underwater stages that test your shooting skills.  All of these have been remastered in beautiful new graphical polish, and actually bring something to the table with awesome 3D effects as well.  Watching ships fly at you and enemies sneak up from behind add a new degree thanks to this additional perspective.  (If it makes you dizzy, though, the game looks just as good in 2D with the slider.)

What's more, Nintendo has also remixed the soundtrack for StarFox 64.  The battle themes are excellent, sounding even better than when they were first introduced on Nintendo 64.  The sound effects are on the money too, like the firing effects that come from your lasers and bomb explosions.  And, of course, the voicework is classic StarFox, complete with a snippy Falco ("You worry about your own hide!") and the ever-whiny Slippy ("AHHHHHHH!").  Some of it is even improved, so it's not entirely as annoying as the original.  Still...we can't help but want to shoot Slippy.  (It's an impulse thing.)

As for gameplay, it feels wonderful.  The classic controls for StarFox 64 are present and accounted for, and you can change inverted pitch however you please.  A new feature for this portable edition is being able to control your ship using gyroscopic controls.  It's kinda neat, but trying to maneuver this way while keeping the game in 3-D is impossible, thanks to the way the screen shifts.  You need to decide if you want visual flair or motion controls.

Give it to him, StarFox!

The game puts up quite a challenge, especially in later stages of the game, and it's worth playing through them again to earn medals and unlock new routes that you missed the first time around.  Sometimes you'll run into near-impossible tasks, like trying to take down Star Wolf's team with a bomb countdown ticking behind you or trying to survive an encounter with a lava boss who has too many advantages.  But the more you play, the better you get.

Once you're done with single player, you can find a few local friends and go at it in some really engaging multiplayer.  There are a variety of missions here, both on land and in the air, and fighting to the last man remains a blast -- even if the old split-screen effect is gone.  It's been replaced by a cool video feature where players' faces appear right behind their vehicles, thanks to the 3DS cameras, and they can taunt any way they please once they win a match.  The only downside to multiplayer is that you can't go online with it -- but that would've involved those bothersome Friend Codes anyway.

StarFox 64 was a great game when it first came out, and now it's even better on the Nintendo 3DS.  The new visuals look fantastic, especially in 3D, and the classic gameplay remains intact, with a few new features to play around with if you're curious.  And the multiplayer, though local only, adds a new degree of challenge to the game.  No matter how much you may hate Slippy (and boy, do we), StarFox is well worth taking flight with.