Posted September 17th 2011 by Adam Grayson.
Ah... Good ole Star Fox. Ever since its debut back in 1993, the series has put players in control of furry pilot Fox McCloud and his crew of space animal pals. Four years later, Star Fox 64 was released on the Nintendo 64 and has since become widely regarded as the best game of the series. For more than a decade, gamers have been clamoring for another Star Fox game that plays and feels as good as Star Fox 64. While the GameCube and Nintendo DS sequels were fun in their own rights, they just weren't quite what fans were looking for. That said, what better way to give the fans what they want than a 3D remake of the series' best? While the bulk of Star Fox 64 3D is taken straight from the Nintendo 64 original, Nintendo EAD and co-developer Q-games (who also made Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS) made sure to stuff a whole slew of new features into this Nintendo 3DS remake such as updated graphics, updated controls, updated voice overs, and a brand new multiplayer experience. Oh yeah, and it's in 3D.
The Main Game (single player story mode) is nearly identical to its Nintendo 64 counterpart. We follow Fox McCloud and gang as they make their way through the Lylat System in order to defeat the evil genius, Andross. Gameplay-wise, the only difference is that there are now three difficulty levels instead of just the Normal and Expert modes from the original. The additional mode is called Nintendo 3DS mode, and it is the easiest of the three. Because Nintendo 3DS mode allows players to play with the new gyro controls, it balances the difficulty to accommodate for the often times less precise and slower nature of using the gyro controls. Both Normal (renamed Nintendo 64) and Expert mode are exactly the same as those in Star Fox 64—the number of enemies, the number of hits the Arwing's wings can take, etc. Also, neither Nintendo 64 nor Expert mode allow the use of gyro controls. The game still has all the same planets; the players can still find alternate routes leading to different worlds; the players can still control the Arwing, Blue-Marine, and Landmaster; and the game still rewards players with medals if enough enemies are destroyed. Nintendo 64 and Expert mode are quite literally simply a better looking and portable version of Star Fox 64's single player game as is Nintendo 3DS mode, just easier than the other two.
Again, while the gameplay and story are the same as they were back in 1997, there are a few cosmetic differences introduced in Star Fox 64 3D, the most noticeable of which is the updated graphics. Just like in the 3DS's other Nintendo 64 remake, Ocarina of Time 3D, all of the game's models and textures were redone along with a boost in frame rate, all of which give the game a fantastic new sheen and help to make it look great and run smoothly! Also, a smaller enhancement is that lasers and charge shots now have their own lighting effects, so whenever you shoot a laser/charge shot, you may notice that it lights up the areas around it similar to how the Blue-Marine's homing torpedoes light up the environment in the original (and this game as well). Again, a small improvement, but one that certainly adds delicious frosting on the already scrumptious graphical cake.
Solar from Star Fox 64...
...doesn't look nearly as good as Solar from Star Fox 64 3D.
As with any Nintendo 3DS game, Star Fox 64 3D also features glasses-free 3D. When I first played this game back in 2010 at Nintendo's E3 booth, I was blown away by the Star Fox's 3D. However, after picking it up at my local game store, I was less than impressed. Don't get me wrong, the 3D doesn't look bad; it's actually quite good. It's just that after playing something like Ocarina of Time 3D, Star Fox's 3D just doesn't compare. The 3D doesn't create the same sense of depth as does that of other 3DS games. Perhaps the most "dimensional" thing you'll be looking at is your vehicle, but since you can usually only see its backside, the 3D depth is pretty much lost on it. Also, the fact that you're moving through the environment so fast makes it hard to both pay attention to the environmental depth and to process it. By the time you look at something and think, "Wow, that really looks far away," you'll have rocketed past it. But like I've said in all of my 3DS reviews, and like I'll probably continue saying, the 3D isn't the reason to buy the games; it's just a new visual treat. The 3D does present a problem, however, when using the gyro controls, but I'll get to that in a bit. For now, just know that the 3D is better than that of the majority of the 3DS games', but it's not the best.
Perhaps the strangest "addition" to the game is the rerecorded voice overs. Anyone who knows Star Fox knows how big of a deal it was when Star Fox 64 released with completely spoken dialog. Regardless of whether or not players loved or hated the voices of the characters, it was still an amazing feat. Star Fox 64 3D, of course, brings back the game's fully spoken dialog. In fact, they even gave the Training mode raccoon/bear character (I could never really tell what kind of animal he is) a voice! Many people, myself included, have wondered why they didn't just reuse the audio from the original game. The most likely reason is because the game uses different buttons for the controls (or the gyro controls), and there are times during the game when the Star Fox team tells you how to perform certain actions. Players can't very well "Hold the A button to charge your laser," when they've set their laser button to B in the game's options. Thankfully, Nintendo and Q-Games managed to get back, what seems to be, all (or most) of the same voice actors from the original Nintendo 64 game. So even though some of the dialog is different, the audio sounds almost exactly the same. I say "almost" because it has been 14 years since the actors originally recorded these lines. For the most part, the voice actors did a remarkable job recreating the lines as they sounded back in 1997. I was very impressed to hear that even the inflection, pronunciation, and stress on syllables and words are eerily identical to the original game's speech, and being such a huge fan of the Nintendo 64 game (I have long since memorized every line and how each sounds when spoken), this was a very pleasant treat for me. There are, however, a few voices that do sound off. Andross, the game's main villain, is a prime example. Not only did they not redo a few of his grunts, moans, and fits of maniacal laughter, but he also sounds like a completely different voice actor (which is entirely possible). But for the most part, the dialog sounds exactly like it did in the original—no better, no worse—which is great considering that it is, in fact, not the same audio.
All of the game's dialog now appears on the bottom screen to help make room on the top screen for the more beautiful environments.
Not only was the game's dialog redone, but the music was as well. The score is the same, but some songs have a little more flair than they used to. Unfortunately, some of the songs just sound awful, almost as if they were redone with inferior MIDI software. Given both the excellently redone dialog and the good quality of the other songs, these few tracks really stuck out like a horribly mangled thumb. I have included clips of both the original versions of one of these songs along with the newer version for your listening (dis)pleasure.
Nintendo 64 version.
Nintendo 3DS version.
One of the game's main features is the addition of the gyro controls. Using the 3DS' built-in motion sensors, players can now control their vehicles by tilting and twisting their 3DS systems back and forth. Much to my surprise, the gyro controls actually work pretty well. Vehicle movement is just as smooth as using the circle pad (which, itself, feels as perfect as it should), and it's just as accurate. If, however, the accuracy is ever thrown off, players can simply move the system into a neutral position and quickly tap the brake button in order to recalibrate. Thankfully, doing so only takes a fraction of a second, and players are right back in the action. You don't want to be stuck flying to the left on your entire voyage through the Lylat System. Unfortunately, as good as the motion controls work in the game, they are hard to actually use while playing. Moving the 3DS around while playing in 3D is just impractical. The 3DS already has a very small window in which the 3D will actually work, and that window becomes even smaller and harder to stay inside when you start moving the system around in order to steer your vehicle. Being outside of the 3D window will obviously lead to the 3D image breaking, making it that much harder for the player to tell where things are onscreen. This issue is not new to motion controlled 3DS games, but what about using the motion controls without the 3D effect on? While that certainly makes things easier, it's still fairly difficult to keep your eyes on on-screen enemies while moving the system every which way, especially in all-range mode.
All-range Mode is when players are allowed to freely move the vehicles around the environment as opposed to the usual on-rails gameplay which only lets players move up, down, left, and right while automatically moving forward. The reason all-range mode doesn't play well with the motion controls is due to the fact that you can move in all directions. When the game is automatically moving the vehicles forward, there are only enemies ahead of you, so you don't really have to turn that quickly or move the system that much to move where you need to move or aim where you need to aim. However, in all-range mode, enemies are all around you, and you need to make much sharper turns much more quickly and more frequently in order to catch or escape your foes. Basically, all-range mode requires the player to move around more, leading to said player frantically waving his or her 3DS around while still tracking everything on screen. Frankly, it can be a little much to handle. Thankfully though, players are given the option to enable or disable gyro controls when they are available. On top of that, when gyro controls are enabled, players can still use the circle pad to control the vehicles. If the gyro controls are turned on, the circle pad takes priority over the motion controls, allowing players to use either the circle pad, the motion controls, or a combination of both.
What better way to show off the gyro controls than with a video?
Remember, the circle pad and gyro controls are only half of the equation—there are also the face buttons on the other side of the handheld (A, B, X, and Y). One button is used for shooting lasers, one is used for shooting bombs, one is used for boosting, and one is used for breaking (these controls can be customized in the game's options). This is all fine and dandy. There is even a configuration that mimics the location of the buttons on the Nintendo 64 controller to make players of the original feel right at home. The problem here is that the face buttons are just too small and too close together for a more aggressive type of play. For example, in many of the levels, it is much easier to get medals if you brake through the entire level. This allows you more time to shoot enemies and rack up points. The planet that immediately comes to mind is Aquas. Unlike in other levels, on Aquas, players are given an unlimited amount of bombs. On top of that, they're homing torpedoes. So in addition to using your normal lasers (which is one button), players will most likely spam the living daylights out of the bomb button (another button). Then, if you're like me, you're going to brake through the entire level to make gaining a medal easier (yet another button). "Easier" being a relative term in this case. That, folks, is three buttons being held and/or pressed simultaneously for an entire, finger-excruciating, wrist-pounding, nail-bleeding level. With the Nintendo 64 controller, you could move your fingers around so that you were using multiple fingers to press multiple buttons while maintaining a grip on the controller. On the 3DS, however, there is simply not enough space between the buttons to allow for more than a thumb and maybe half of another finger unless you're willing to bend your hand in ways that hands were not meant to be bent. Even then, using more than your thumb for the face buttons makes it much harder to keep a grip on the handheld and forces you to put more pressure on your poor gamer fingers. Seriously, by the time I 100%ed the game on the three difficulties (again, HUGE Star Fox fan here!), I could swear I saw the outline of the letter B on my thumb (which is worrisome because the letter B is just painted on the button)!
Perhaps the biggest additions to the game are the new single player Score Attack mode and the revamped multiplayer Battle mode. Score Attack allows players to replay missions one at a time and vie for high scores as well as medals that require a better score than medals in the Main Game. Just like the Main Game, Score Attack features all three difficulty modes. So now, in addition to Star Fox 64 3D already having players run through the game a third time in Nintendo 3DS mode, Score Attack adds even more replayability to the game, essentially doubling that available in the Main Game!
Welcome to Score Attack. Thought you were good with your 350 hits on Area 6? Well now you gotta get 400!
The multiplayer of the original Star Fox 64 was tons of fun, but it was very, very limited. It's a shame that, while it was so much fun, it only featured two, mostly barren, maps (three if you played Time Trial). Even the unlockable Landmaster and foot soldier weren't available on one of the maps. These unlockables, unfortunately, are the one thing the original game's multiplayer has over the new game's. Sadly, neither the Landmaster nor the foot soldier are playable in Star Fox 64 3D's multiplayer. However, what the new game's multiplayer does have is four new, very large, maps (that all have very different obstacles and geometry), new items, and optional AI-controlled opponents as well as the returning adjustable point/time limits, health bars, three different game types, and four-player support that were also available in the original. If playing against other humans, rather than three AI-controlled opponents, the 3DS uses its front-facing camera to capture the different players' faces and broadcasts a live video feed to the other 3DS handhelds in the match. These video feeds are used as players' video avatars during matches. Nintendo's big push for this feature is that you can see your friends' faces twist in agony as you victoriously fly through their defeated space ship rubble. Admittedly, it is pretty fun to see your friends' reactions, but because the game only features local wireless multiplayer (no online), you're going to be sitting right next to your friends anyway... But hey, now you don't actually have to look at them! You can continue staring at the screen, keeping your eye on the prize!
Again, the Battle mode maps are huge! That, folks, is the widest angle shot I could get, and that isn't half of the level you see there.
In Battle mode, there are a few changes to how the Arwings control that are different from both Star Fox 64 and even the new game's own single player mode. The first change players are likely to notice is that charge shots can only be held for a short period of time. Normally, players can hold down the laser button for as long as they want in order to store energy, lock on to enemies, and shoot a more powerful charge shot once the button is pressed again. However, in multiplayer, the held charge shot disappears after only a few seconds. This may result in players desperately trying to shoot their charge shot or lock on to enemies only to realize that, for some reason, they have no charge shot, even though they're holding down the laser button. Secondly, while players in both Star Fox 64 and Star Fox 64 3D's single player can barrel roll to their hearts' content, performing barrel rolls in the this game's multiplayer results in using up the boost meter. This means that after a few damage-escaping barrel rolls, players will be completely vulnerable to attack until their boost meter cools down. This can also be frustrating because if you've just performed a series of somersaults and U-turns and your opponent is still following you, not only will you be unable to outmaneuver them, but you will also be unable to shield yourself from their attacks. On the bright side though, everyone will have this same disadvantage, not just you!
The last difference is that the multiplayer maps are very large height-wise, and allow players a new degree of vertical movement. This is a very cool addition as players can end up flying over or under each other without even seeing each other, not to mention that the added height makes the already large maps even bigger. However, the downside is that Star Fox was not really made for this type of freedom of up and down movement. The Arwings are designed to move up and down relatively slowly since the players normally (in single player mode as well as in the entire original game) can only move from the top of the screen to the bottom of the screen; the camera does not move or rotate to allow players to go higher than what can be seen on screen. Even though players can now freely move up and down in Battle mode, the camera still doesn't really rotate. Because of this, players are often flying vertically without being able to see what's immediately above or below them, resulting in collisions with the environment or even other players. Again though, this is a problem for everyone, so don't get too frustrated when you're running into buildings; just remember that everyone else is too.
The most interesting feature of Battle mode is the new optional items. Before each match, players can choose whether to use just bombs or the new set of items (laser upgrades will appear regardless of this choice). If the new items are chosen, question mark boxes will appear around the map. Much like in Mario Kart, upon running into the boxes, players will find themselves with a random item out of a set of nine different items, both offensive and defensive. For example, one of my favorite new items is the Transposer which switches the position of the player who used it with that of a nearby opponent. If another player is chasing you and gunning you down from behind, simply use the Transposer to switch positions, and you'll be the one who's doing the chasing. Using the new items often results in a much more dynamic, and perhaps strategic, battle than those using just bombs, especially with four players.
Nintendo's Battle mode trailer does a surprisingly good job of showing off all of the mode's new features and levels.
Battle mode is great! It's refreshing to have a selection of large stages that are all very different from each other, and the new items add even more fun. Why oh why then does this game not have online multiplayer? Even Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS had online multiplayer! One would think that since this is an entirely new multiplayer experience, this is on a handheld that's a generation above the Nintendo DS, and the last Star Fox game not only had online, but was also made by the same developer (Q-Games), that online multiplayer would be a given. But no. For some reason, such a feature is painfully absent. The wireless multiplayer does, however, only require one game cartridge. That is nice, but how often will I be around three other 3DS owners? On top of that, three other 3DS owners who are willing and have the time to sit down and play a few matches of Star Fox? Sigh...
All in all, Star Fox 64 3D is a fantastic return to the classic Nintendo 64 game. It brings back everything good about the series and then adds even more to it! The controls feel perfect, the updated graphics look incredible, the new voice overs sound great, the new Score Attack mode adds even more replayability to the game, and the 3D isn't all that bad either. As with any motion-controlled 3DS game, though, the 3D effect and the gyro controls are next to impossible to use together. And while the new multiplayer Battle mode is tons of fun, it is sadly lacking online functionality. The game does have its flaws, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. For a shiny new remake of an amazing game with even more features and replayability, it's definitely worth your while to pay the $40 and get one of the 3DS' must-have games. And for Fox sake, readers, do a barrel roll!
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