Star Fox 64 is a 3D on-rails shooter developed by Nintendo. Released in 1997, Star Fox 64 was an instant classic. I was one of the millions of kids who played it when it was first released. In fact, it was one of the first video games I ever played. Star Fox 64 might even be one of my most-played video games of all time.
Star Fox 64 was originally planned for the SNES as Star Fox 2, a direct sequel. Star Fox 2 was fully completed by 1995 but was shelved to move development to the N64. Nintendo feared a direct comparison between a Super FX chip-accelerated SNES game and the recent 32-bit showings of Sony and Sega.
Instead of Star Fox 2, Nintendo released Star Fox 64, a re-telling of the original game. In this telling, Fox’s dad, James Mcloud was the original Star Fox and perished protecting the Lylat system from the evil Andross.
The game starts on Cornera. Like all good rail shooters, the different routes branch from this first stage depending on how the player proceeds. Star Fox 64 features 3 branching routes of varying difficulty and surprising variety. Almost every stage ends with a unique boss fight.
With 25 routes in total, there’s a lot of ways to experience Star Fox 64. Several stages have sections that are “All-Range Mode,” which switch up the playstyle by allowing full 3D control. Two stages present you with the opportunity to use the Land Master tank, another stage even puts the player in the Blue Marine sub.
Players encounter allies and foes along the routes, including the meme-worthy Star Wolf team. Encounters with Star Wolf help break up the flow of the action and present a different challenge compared to the myriad one or two shot enemies.
Adding to the replayability, Star Fox 64 has multiple endings. The True Ending is accomplished by completing the hard route. The true final boss is the evil Andross as a horrifying floating brain and eyes, which really messed with me as a kid.
Nintendo’s compact rail shooter was a success because of its core gameplay concepts and it’s memorable cast and setting. As a first party Nintendo title, the extra love and marketing it received certainly didn’t hurt either. While this is one of my personal favorites, I readily admit it isn’t a perfect game.
The playtime is short— which for me is a plus, but for others that’s not always the case. Graphically, Star Fox 64 accomplishes what it needs to do, but doesn’t do the best job at showing off what the N64 can do. Sega’s Panzer Dragoon Zwei looks flat out better, on a system supposedly not built for 3D.
The game also suffers from the same draw distance fog issue that plagues many N64 titles. Since single player is a scripted on-rails shooter, the fog is hidden well, but multiplayer suffers immensely and feels tacked on.
Finally, beyond the barrel roll memes, force feedback might be this game’s biggest legacy. The pack-in addition of the Rumble Pak started a revolution in gaming. Originally dismissed as a novelty, within a generation force feedback became an industry standard.
Luckily, if you’re itching to try Star Fox 64, it’s still a relatively inexpensive and easy to find game and available on the WiiU virtual console. It’s a must-play at least once in your life for any Nintendo fan.