There were some pretty great games that came out for the Nintendo 64. It was an era where we saw classics like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Ocarina of Time and pretty much anything with Mario in front of it. But we aren’t talking about those today in Retro or Remake?, today we’re revisiting a classic that perhaps has faded into obscurity in recent years, but at its height was a pretty successful franchise in its own right. I am of course talking about Star Fox and more specifically, Star Fox 64 (or as it’s commonly known in the PAL regions, Lylat Wars).
The title was released in 1997 across all regions and to say it was successful is probably an understatement. The game received critical acclaim from critics and gamers alike on release and was heavily praised for its control system and branching story paths. To date, it has one of the highest units sold counts (over 4 million) for the Nintendo 64. So it’s fair to say that it was one of the best games to come out of the N64.
The story follows a theme of betrayal and revenge. You play series protagonist Fox McCloud who, as the leader of the Star Fox team along with team member Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad, protects the Lylat system from the comfort of your trusty Arwing (a pretty neat looking space ship). The original Star Fox team was headed by none other than Fox’s dear old dad James McCloud but betrayal within the original team lost James his life at the hands of series big nasty Andross. Five years later, Andross is back to ruin the day for Fox and his friends.
So why was Star Fox 64 so successful? For a start, it had some pretty impressive voice acting and up to this point, that was still reasonably rare in games of the time. The game itself was a 3D scrolling shooter which meant for the most part that you were fixed to a set path in an almost corridor like fashion while enemies fired at you and generally tried to impede your progress while you set to destroying them, barrel-rolling across the screen every couple of seconds. That said, what made this one different from most was that at certain points (particular areas and boss fights) you’d transition into arenas and were able to fly freely as well as having access to a new move, the fabled U-Turn. If you haven’t ever played the game, I cannot express how cool it was to lay off some fire on a boss in drive-by fashion then pull off a slick U-Turn. Keep in mind that this too was in full 3D so it looked pretty stylish too (at least, for the time).
One of the game’s greatest elements was its ease of control. Considering the N64 controller was not known for being particularly intuitive when it comes to ease of use (it really wasn’t at all) the control mechanics were absolutely spot on, likely one of the best mappings that ever came out of an N64 game. Add to this some pretty fierce and fun multiplayer which allowed up to 4 players, and it’s easy to see why it was such a successful game.
Star Fox 64 also had branching level paths which could be unlocked by achieving certain conditions in your missions. These were fairly varied and it hoisted the replayability value of the game immensely. All routes started and ended in the same place, but the ability to take different paths to that end goal is one of the many things that made Star Fox 64 so much fun to replay. There was even the option to pilot a tank called the Landmaster or a submarine created by Slippy. Naturally, they were confined to particular levels and couldn’t be used on all, but it added variety to the game and was a welcome addition.
So why remake this beloved game if the original is so good? I can sum that up in one word.
We’re all aware of the capability of creation when it comes to modern titles. If we take a look at the sheer scale of games like No Man’s Sky or Elite Dangerous, it gives you an indication of what developers can do with a space theme. Now I’m not saying I want to see Star Fox remade in a procedurally generated universe. For me, that doesn’t fit the bill because it’s pretty hard to have a focused narrative with the level of scale. What I am highlighting is the capacity for potential.
Let’s explore an example. The original game is known for branching story paths, excellent controls, pretty neat multiplayer and great visuals and voice acting. All of these are great things to have on their own, but together they made Star Fox 64 a resounding success. By modern standards, that list isn’t all that impressive.
But let’s say we change that. Keep the branching story paths idea and memorable characters but instead of a 3D scrolling shooter we make it a fully flyable system with true freedom of movement. I’m not talking universe scale, but certainly something larger than we’ve seen in a Star Fox game before. Now, we throw in the ability to land on planets, attack bases on foot. Meld the game between space shooter and adventure. Now I hear you, ‘Kyle, didn’t they have a game called Star Fox Adventures’. And you’re right, they did. There was both an action adventure element and shooter element to that game.
But we’re talking changes of a modern standard here. Things that we have seen in other games like No Man’s Sky. There’s so much potential to remake and add variety to the game, when the game itself was built on taking an already successful formula and moulding it into something better. Give us the branching story paths but make it more choice based rather than just choosing a route, make the story play out across a system of planets on a grander scale. Keep the attention on the excellent controls, but build on it too by adding things that improve it without ruining it. Bring back multiplayer but make it bigger. Online, more players. True space dogfights in a cool looking, newly designed Arwing.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to have a modern Star Fox game with flash visuals and slick combat. Is it viable from a sales perspective? Absolutely. Star Fox has a lot of fans and everyone loves Fox. He’s one of my favourite characters in a long string of Smash Bros. appearances too. It’s a series that everyone remembers and loves, even if some of the more recent entries have been forgettable.
So the penultimate question, is this Retro or Remake?
I give it our seal of approval for Remake, because there’s simply so much to love in this game that it would be a shame for it to remain the last standing hurrah of a once great series. And to share with you some great wisdom that I’ve followed throughout my life, if your faced with something bad, ‘Try a Somersault’.
Title: Star Fox 64, Lylat Wars (PAL)
Platform: Nintendo 64
Developer: Nintendo EAD