Fourteen years ago younger and brighter-eyed gamers such as myself were being mesmerized by what we considered one of the most accomplished and truly ‘next-gen’ cinematic experiences in gaming history. It’s almost impossible to exaggerate just how influential Nintendo’s hugely-popular sequel to their 3D space shooter was at the time on the Nintendo64, with its breath through visuals and rumble supported gameplay. But it was the gameplay that kept us coming back again and again, even in the face of games like Mario Kart64 and GoldenEye64, if only to experience its intuitive controls and fun dialogue (“Do a barrel roll!”). It’s not hard to see why a remake is an absolute must , and that’s exactly what we have in the excellent Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS.
Like fellow remake Ocarina of Time 3D earlier this year, Star Fox 64 3D makes mostly good use of your newly discounted handheld with updated visuals and audio that bring the original game’s presentation level into the modern era of gaming, with smoother visuals less muffled sound (admittedly). To get the job done Nintendo has recruited Q-Games (Star Fox Command, PixelJunk), a development studios headed by Dylan Cuthbert, who helped create the original StarFox and its unreleased sequel on the Super Nintendo. With newly remastered visuals, audio samples, and control options, there’s a lot more to the game than just gimmicky 3D effects.
The space fiction remains largely unchanged under its glossy new sheen, as intergalactic armies of anthropomorphic animals based on Japanese folklore battle across the Lylat System. The planet Corneria is under attack by the maniacal monkey scientist Andross and his swarms of minions, and its up to Fox McCloud and his faithful crew to return peace to the galaxy. Favorites like Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, and ROB 64 and all their classic one-liners (“Fox, get this guy off me!”) are back in one of the most finely-tuned shooters every constructed, and one that holds up better-than-expected on the 3DS’ smaller screen.
The core design and adaptive gameplay is as exceptional as ever, a feat that most modern games fail to achieve – or even strive for – in this day of glitzy graphics and online multiplayer. A single play-through can take less than an hour with each new game offering a unique challenge with the chance to earn a medal or explore another route altogether, yet the game’s difficulty and and level choices adapt themselves as you play, opening up new areas and vehicles if you take just the right path. This means you’ll have to play through several times to see and experience everything the game has to offer.
The controls (when played traditionally) are fluid and nearly as good as they were on the N64 controller thanks to smart placement of buttons and slider-pad, even offering slight customization for an even more comfortable fit. Too bad the same can’t be said of the badly implemented gyroscopic controls, which are hopelessly uncoordinated to the point of uselessness. Nintendo seems to know this and has made them (thankfully) completely optional, even going so far as to tone done the game’s difficulty when attempting to use them. if that’s not an admission of compromise then I don’t know what is. Having to grasp the tiny L+R triggers, especially during sequences that require pressing them together (i.e. the Landmaster) means slightly cramping that can’t be avoided, but otherwise the game controls wonderfully in its smaller state.
Star Fox 64 3D is a great game whether or not you decide to experience the 3D and looks pretty amazing on the 3DS’, with silky-smooth textures and vivid colors that really push the hardware to higher levels than we’ve seen before. It’s incredible what a new coat of paint can do for an older game like this and seeing it in action only makes me long for a proper sequel done in this style. As a fierce advocate of the third-dimension I really didn’t feel as immersed as Nintendo would have liked me to be, and actually found myself turning off the feature so I could actually beat the game like before. Ultimately, the effect is best and most effective during the real-time cinematics that play before and after levels and not much else.
The changes in presentation don’t end there as some longtime fans will notice the original game’s voice-overs have been re-recorded to imitate the original cast and play in higher-quality audio; an admirable effort but the changes were enough to get my skin crawling. The same goes for the soundtrack, which makes use of a more orchestrated flavor that does sound great (orchestrated Koji Kondo music always sounds great), yet they somehow manage to lack the original compositions spark and magic. Perhaps nostalgia is clouding my judgment, but I wish there was an option to switch between the classic and remastered samples.
Sadly, as with the Wii’s Virtual Console release from a few years back, the 3DS version lacks the industry-shaking rumble support of the original. It does offer in-game use of the 3DS browser and direct gameplay support from Nintendo’s online presence to help navigate through the branching levels, which almost feels like an interactive strategy guide.
The multiplayer mode is thankfully revamped and should make for a couple rounds of entertainment, just as long as you’ve got a few local friends handy, as there’s no online multiplayer. If your playing alone the CPU opponents are challenging and a couple of new power-ups such as cloaking is fresh, along with new arenas that are considerably more engaging that it ever was on the N64. Still, the entire experience is pretty basic to the point of being little more than a novelty.
Like the diligent remake of Ocarina of Time, there’s plenty to love about Star Fox 64 3D, especially those who consider it one of the greatest shooters of all-time. The adaptive gameplay and multi-branching level design still offers significant replay value, and being able to tag along with the Star Fox team of heroic space critters was a nice nostalgic treat. Its not a perfect remake, as the higher-quality audio samples (especially the voiceovers) don’t have the impact of the original game, and the multiplayer remains as disposable as ever with no online options. But none of this matters much as the core fundamentals, like many of Nintendo’s most timeless classics, are still rock-solid. If you have a 3DS and have been aching for something to play, there’s little reason not to add this one to your collection.