I thought I knew a comprehensive list of the big-name video games involving Shigeru Miyamoto. But it wasn't until recently that I learned he was the driving creative force behind Star Fox 64. Learn a little bit every day, I guess. I suppose this development shouldn't really come as a huge shock. Miyamoto's stamp on Star Fox 64 is all over the place when you think about it a little. You control a fox in a SHOOTER, instead of a fox in a kiddie platformer or a grizzled air force guy in a shooter. You have wingmen consisting of a donkey, a falcon, and a toad, and you fight dopplegangers who include a wolf, an iguana, a pig, and I can never remember the fourth member of their team.
Of course, there are a handful of shooter genre standards which simply never change. The unchanging force in this shooter is a gang of bad guys out to take over the planet with a possible motive of demolition. The only variations Shigs could come up with are that the planet is called Corneria, the bad guys want the whole star system instead of a single planet, the bad guys are headed by a mad scientist instead of an alien leader, and there's a backstory featuring a betrayal thrown in just for good measure. It still doesn't change anything. Saving the place you live from the malevolent force of baddies can't be varied much by this time. It's just another one of those silly cliches we've come to know and if not love, then at least tolerate. Besides, it's not like Miyamoto's strong suit was ever the creation of original storylines. For all the brilliance of the Mario games, you were still just rescuing the damned Princess in almost every game.
Anyway, the basic gist of the storyline is that the mad scientist Andross is launching a massive full-scale assault against the Lylat Star System. Team Star Fox, consisting of Falco Lombardi, Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare, and Fox McCloud - that would be you - are charged with flying from planet to planet, space station to space station, and sun to gas cloud to stave it off. Along the way, you'll get to pilot the standard shooting game spacecraft, called the Arwing in this game. If you play your cards right you'll also have access to the Landmaster, a tank which is usable in two levels, and the Blue Marine, a submarine accessible only on the underwater world of Aquas.
Play your cards right?! Yes, play your cards right. While Star Fox 64 is your basic rail shooter, your path from the planet Corneria to the final planet, Venom, is non-linear provided you accomplish certain objectives in the levels. The objectives are written down in the manuel, so don't worry about the game dropping some kind of obscure hint once and leaving you to decipher the hint yourself. This is actually one of my favorite things about Star Fox 64. It's a very realized and complete video game which breaks the standard mold of the genre. Complaints that Star Fox 64 is too easy are fairly rampant, but this is only true of you cluelessly drift your way through the game, doing the bare minimum required by the level, and basing you technique on simple survival. To get up into the more difficult paths and worlds, you have to be aggressive and take chances. If you manage to climb your way onto the red-colored path, the levels prove to be far more difficult with bosses you have to fight in far trickier sequences and patterns.
Sticking with the easy blue path will also deprive you of the more interesting levels in the game. Every level in the game is well-designed, but the blue path is still the most generic of the three. Among the levels the blue path doesn't take you through are a battle against a flying saucer like the good guys fought in the movie Independence Day, a flight across the surface of a sun complete with solar flares, and a ride alongside a giant train which you have to shoot at and destroy. It's only along the hard red path on which you will be able to access the Blue Marine, though I wouldn't blame you if you are daunted by the potential difficulty of an underwater level in a shooting game. The red path is also the only way to access the true final form of Andross and the good ending. Once you're done exploring everything, you can try to earn medals by shooting down certain numbers of enemies. The numbers are also listed in the manuel, but earning the medals is the hardest task in the game because the staggering body count required contains absolutely no room for error.
Adding three wingmen was a thoughtful touch. It makes you feel like you really are part of a team... Until you realize much of the artificial intelligence you would assume they have is actually staged. Peppy, Slippy, and Falco all say the same thing and perform the same maneuvers in every playthrough. While this is good in allowing you to memorize what you have to do to keep your enemies' bearings off them, some of the level objectives revolve around keeping this wingman or that wingman from getting shot down. When those objectives appear, you have rudimentary escort missions. You don't have to worry about them too much, but if you're trying to keep them in the air, you have to change your playing style in ways that go against common sense. You have to quit worrying about the enemies chasing you to rescue whoever is under attack this time. The most common offender is the useless Slippy, who is almost a sucker punch expert. He flies in, takes a few shots, then begs for help in a very whiny voice as he takes to the back of your small pack.
Sometimes the rail style switches to an open-world style which the game calls all-range mode. In this mode, you can move around freely and use a radar to locate your opponents. You have a limited battlefield to move around on, and if you accidentally fly off the battlefield, the game performs a quick U-turn. Sometimes there are whole levels that are fought like this, and other times you just fight the level boss in all-range mode. Now I happen to like being on rails in shooters, but the switch to all-range mode brings a welcome variety in the game's design. The only real problem with it is that you can sometimes really lose track of where you are when you're in all-range mode in a space level.
The weapon system in Star Fox 64 is hardly the most original one you'll run into. You get two laser power-ups before your laser is at its most powerful. You can also use the standard bomb, which blows up a lot of things in a huge blast radius. If an enemy is really giving you a lot of trouble, the game gives you a lock-on targeting mode with which your shot will hone in on an enemy. The trouble with the targeting mode is the homing shots are considerably weaker than standard shots and not really effective against certain bosses. The aspect of damaged wings adds a bit more depth to the weapon system; you lose your laser power-ups if your wings get shot off, as well as some of your Arwing's speed and maneuverability. Grabbing a wing repair power-up repairs you.
The graphics in Star Fox 64 are very good. The polygon building blocks from the Super NES are long gone, and nearly everything has a streamlined look to it. Backgrounds are very colorful and the animation is smooth. Bosses are some of the most brilliantly designed in any video game I've ever played. The sounds aren't nearly as good. The music is weak and barely audible. But the way to tell if the sound boys have screwed up on the soundtrack in a shooter is to listen to the explosions. If they're big, loud, and sound like a large deafening crusher, you know they've done their jobs well. Star Fox 64 has some of the weakest explosions barely heard. But the real sound offenses are the voices of your wingmen. Falco and Peppy aren't too bad for the most part, but Slippy sounds whiny and is always the one begging for Fox's help. Rare are moments when he's not broadcasting his thoughts to the rest of the team. Fortunately, the game appears to actually let your wingmen get damaged should they be hit with one of your stray shots. So if Slippy gets too annoying, a few well-placed shots may give you the sweet sound of silence for the next level.
The gameplay is simply incredible. You can use either a chase cam or a first-person view for the Arwing and switch between them on the fly. Loops and barrel rolls are very easy to perform, and the movement is just very tight in general for the Arwing. The Landmaster is almost as smooth, but the controls for hovering with it take a bit too long to work. The Blue Marine can be a real nightmare. I understand the water is supposed to hamper your movement, but the Blue Marine is just slow and clunky and if you want to use your laser as the primary attack, it's very tough to aim because the Blue Marine always seems to be angled. You get unlimited torpedoes to use in the Blue Marine, and that's good because they're the only halfway effective weapons, plus they have a slight homing effect which is a huge help.
The Nintendo 64 was a failure for Nintendo, but it did have a very select handful of outstanding games. I hope Nintendo gives does what it did with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and re-releases it in time for a big Star Fox game on the Wii.
The Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64 by it's side, but for the longest time it seemed like that was the only game worth getting on the system. Until 1997 where, early on, we were all treated to a little game called Star Fox 64. At the time, most gamers couldn't remember the original Star Fox on the Super Nintendo--an on rails shooter that had you flying through space and blasting down the bad guys along with your wingmen. The Super Nintendo game was known for being … more
It was also the first Nintendo 64 game to include support for the Rumble Pak, with which it initially came bundled. The game received positive ratings from reviewers and critics who praised its smooth animation, detailed visuals, voice acting, and use of multiple gameplay paths