EMERGENCY!! EMERGENCY!! Be prepared for one wild ride! So many good titles came out during this time that it was hard to give full attention to them all. Yet anyone who experienced Star Fox in all its glory can tell you that it was impossible to avert your gaze. It was proof positive that the sky is the limit when it came to this system. But I’m getting ahead of myself …
The story of how Fox came to be is an interesting one. After developing Pilotwings, Nintendo began researching ways to do a similar game in 3D. In order to do this, a British company called Argonaut was contracted because of its work on the NES with the same technology. The problem was that the SNES itself did not contain the tech needed to fulfill Argonaut’s vision. Without the permission to design custom hardware, it was a dead end.
Luckily Nintendo wanted it bad! Permission was granted and thus SuperFX and Star Fox was born!
Let us begin by getting the elephant in the room out of the way: This game DID NOT age well graphically. What blew minds and shattered precedents in 1993 would get rolled eyes and laughter from gamers new to the hobby. The polygonal graphics are crude, with only the ability to show the most blocky and angular shapes. And the draw distances are tiny, with pop-ins appearing out of thin air sometimes. I have always stated that the early 3D games have not aged well in comparison to most of the SNES’ sprite-based library and this is no exception.
Try to get beyond that because there is one hell of a game here! At its heart Star Fox is a on-rail shooter that gives you much more control than the genre is known for. You play as Fox McCloud, an ace pilot that must work with his four man team to defeat an alien attack on their home of Corneria from the planet Venom. In order to accomplish this feat, your squadron is equipped with state-of-the-art warships known as the Arwings. The Star Wars influence is strong with this one, and that is by no means a bad thing.
You’ll get the first taste of what this Wondership can do in the game’s main menu. A small window displays Fox’s Arwing flying in space, and next to it is a choice of three different control schemes. Controls are simple and responsive, allowing you to shoot, accelerate and decelerate, and allowing you to do a shot deflecting barrel roll! But the best thing about this menu is that you can play with the controls and get a feel for how the craft handles, or even access a training course that you can play around in. Just be warned that staying in formation is frigging IMPOSSIBLE! Thank goodness this is never required in the real game! Overall, this is a pretty innovative and thoughtful way to prepare people for what was at the time a brand new experience for SNES enthusiasts.
Once you get to the world map, it is time to choose your route to the enemy home world. This is done via an absolutely brilliant difficulty system that other games should have stolen. Essentially each “Path” corresponds to a difficulty level. Yes, that means that you will get a new gameplay experience every time you pick a different difficulty! And to think that most games just give you more or stronger enemies …
The levels themselves offer some, if not the system’s greatest WOW moments of the generation. One level has you battling a gigantic space armada and destroying massive capital ships from the inside! Another has you up against what appears to be huge space fish from some surreal Darius crossover! Every level has unique enemies and obstacles. No matter which path you take, you will always have to fly through the cities of Corneria, but after that there are asteroid fields, canyons, space station debris, and more.
Luckily, you’re not alone in this mission! You are joined by the aforementioned team consisting of Falco, Slippy, and Peppy. Their job is to watch your back and eliminate any enemies that you miss. This is done through a support system. The way it works is sometimes you’ll see one of your teammates in trouble (Usually Slippy), and helping them results in extra points and the possibility of a helping hand later. Failing to help them results in the teammate in question losing some health. Enough failures and they WILL get shot down! Keep in mind that even though you don’t always see it , these guys ARE helping you, and without them the game can become almost impossible in the later levels. So resist the urge to let Slippy crash and burn, and keep saving his ass!
Boss encounters are a wonder to behold, as every boss acts differently, with various weak points, attacks, and patterns. You will have to exploit all of this in order to survive, and believe me when I say that some of the later bosses are epic in their intensity. You’ll be having so much fun blowing these destructible colossi apart bit by bit! Personal highlights include a spider ship that must be de-legged before destroying and a mech that goes through transformations as your battle wears on. It is also important to note that the bosses do change with the difficulty level, so even the level ends are different.
Be on the lookout for secrets as well! During this time period Nintendo loved to give us a wealth of secrets to uncover in its games, and Star Fox is no exception. If you manage to find the Black Hole, you can literally JUMP to another difficulty path, thus allowing you to chart your way through the system in any way you desire!
This amazing package is all tied together by some of the best music ever recorded. Star Fox’s music resembles an orchestra in scope and function, perfectly giving Star Fox the sweeping sci-fi score it needs. From the ubiquitous Corneria music to the awesome space battle music it is almost a guarantee that you’ll be hearing it in your head long after you play.
In the end, the one word that repeatedly come to mind in regards to Star Fox is “ambitious”. It has all the hallmarks of classic Nintendo, offering an easy to learn yet difficult to master formula. It’s a polished and ambitious direction that only the Big N could deliver. Just as Mario reinvented the platformer and Zelda reinvented the action/adventure genre, Star Fox forever changed the landscape of the rail shooter.
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