Nintendo really pushed the technological boundaries of the 16-Bit era when it released the original Star Fox. Coupled with the FX chip (a software coprocessor enabling the usage of 3D polygons on the SNES), Star Fox was a console game that looked like no other at the time. While the polygon-look was very primitive compared to the ones on computer and arcade games, it was still extremely cutting edge for the console market (whose processors lacked the muscle to create convincing 3D worlds) and garnered much praise from fans for its uniqueness.
Cut to the present day of next generation systems, where the videogame market is vastly different since Star Fox's debut. 3D is now the trend and Nintendo is going to have to apply a few new tricks if it wants to surprise gamers with the sequel, Star Fox 64. Luckily for them, the man behind the first Star Fox, the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, is back on the job for the 64-Bit version. Can lightning strike twice?
Defying (if not shattering) the laws of physics, Star Fox 64is the proverbial second lightning strike. While pretty much following the original's format of being a rail-shooter, Star Fox 64 still manages to present itself with a fresh new style and energy. Star Fox 64is not a game with any particular strengths or weaknesses. Instead, it is a game so equally complete in virtually every aspect (from graphics to gameplay), it is simply a thing of beauty.
Gamers are once again thrust into the role of mercenary pilot, Fox McCloud, in his battles against the forces of Andross. While mission levels are structured well around the ongoing plot, there's nothing groundbreaking in the 'kid-friendly' story. However, what is particularly exciting are the many sci-fi pop culture references made throughout the game. Star Fox 64 pays tribute to films like Star Wars, Aliens, Independence Day, and even the anime classic, Mobile Suit Gundam, by either intellectually stealing elements or comically parodying them.
Examining the game from a more traditional view reveals that it is heavily sculpted in an arcade fashion. The action is quick and frantic and I found playing the game's dynamically routed 8 levels to be a rather short experience. Another flaw that bothered me was the limited arsenal of weapons (just a laser and a lock-on laser). However, Nintendo alleviates both of these preceding problems by injecting many other elements of substance in the game.
For example, the game may be short, but the ride is a wild one. Playing out like a festival for the senses, it assures you won't feel slighted at the end. The graphics are amazing, the sound/music is on target, and the control (enhanced by the mildly stimulating and entertaining rumble pak) is tight. Offering alternate routes and goals throughout the levels also gives a more dynamic feel to the game. A workable 4-player competitive mode was also added to ensure play-life. Initially, I thought the simplistic arcade controls and features would detract from a true dogfighting experience, but I was proven wrong. Once the fight gets going, the arcade qualities prove to focus more on the flying skills of the pilot by not letting too much technology interfere with the competition.
In the case of its limited weapons, Star Fox 64draws attention away from that by giving the Arwing more capabilities like barrel rolls, somersaults, and U-turns (in some levels). Players are also offered either a mini-tank or submarine in certain levels. The inclusion of the "team" element, in which comrades fly around offering you their assistance and, more often, requesting for yours, also helps to draw attention away from the lack of weapons. In other words, it's not how many weapons the player is given that's important, but the many uses and situations you are afforded with them that keeps things interesting.
Ultimately, Star Fox 64is pure harmony. Its minor flaws are more than proportionally corrected by its many great features and almost all of the elements (story, graphics, gameplay) come together to form one of the most artistically cohesive videogames in recent times.