The first game you play on a system can have a real lasting impression on a person. I’m still starry-eyed over Kirby’s Dream Land 2 and I remember renting a GameCube to have a Super Smash Bros. Melee party for my birthday the year it came out. Call it “just nostalgia” all you want, the instilled sensation of getting your hands on the controller and experiencing something on a brand new platform isn’t limited to being young. Anyone who picked up Breath of the Wild day one on the Switch can attest to that. With Star Fox 2 finally getting to take flight later this year thanks to the SNES Classic, it’s only fitting that I talk about the game that would have been its followup, my first N64 experience.
20 years ago today four pilots took on the Lylat System in a way no one had ever seen, heard or felt before. The original Star Fox felt great and had a style all its own, but it’s Star Fox 64 that’s defined the franchise since. The presentation was astounding, having homages to the likes of Star Wars and Independence Day, and featuring fully voiced characters replacing the garbled (yet charming) effects of the Super Nintendo. Hearing the team banter with each other was a means to provide hints and story, sure, but more importantly, it gave these characters personalities. This is a game I can practically recite from memory while playing and it’s not from dedication to learning the routes or optimal strategies. The truth is the game is just so entertaining that I’d easily be able to throw it on and play for a while.
This replayability may’ve been made easier by the presentation, but it wasn’t defined by it. Maintaining what the original game had and expanding on it, SF64 offered varying difficulty in the form of its routes. The hardest levels were behind some pretty specific requirements as well, making this a game I loved talking about with friends at school back in the day. Space is a big place, and while the Landmaster comes along in the course of the story, it took a lot of convincing before I accepted Aquas, and the Blue Marine existed. That may be more a sign of the times than Star Fox 64 itself, but that kind of discussion and “see for yourself” nature were a big part of why I kept coming back to it.
It wasn’t a terribly difficult game, but Star Fox 64 has one of my favorite “boss” type encounters that made the most of its unique aspects. Dogfighting with Star Wolf in All-Range Mode captures everything special about Star Fox 64 to me. It’s a free flying encounter with four, advanced enemies that engage you just as much as your wingmen, and if you’re unable to defeat them in time there are shown circumstances that impact which route you’re able to progress along. Maybe it’s just the way Wolf himself says “Can’t let you do that, Star Fox!” or how their theme music kicks in, but once these rival mercenaries enter the airspace things get interesting and (by this game’s standards) harrowing.
Now and then
Last but not least, dipping back to how a first game on a system can be so impactful, Star Fox 64 shook things up in a big way for me. While it hurts not being able to say I had a N64 on day one due to how old I was at the time, experiencing the Rumble Pak with the game made up for it. Explosions, enemy fire and my less-than-stellar flying weren’t just sights and losses to some meter. My controller made them more real in a way that’s now an expected standard of controller design. With HD Rumble via the Switch, it’s important to look back at where it all started for Nintendo and how it made Star Fox not just something you played, but something you experienced.
Fox McCloud may not be standing shoulder to shoulder with Mario and Link, but it’s very telling that most of his appearances borrow from his design in Star Fox 64. When Star Fox Zero came out on the Wii U it may’ve borrowed from the original in many ways, but people weren’t asking how it measures up to that game or any other. It’s always placed next to Star Fox 64 as a means of measuring its greatness. For now, I feel 64 represents the peak of the series, and this is coming from someone who enjoyed Zero. Even if Star Fox 2 can supplant it, 64’s legacy is cemented as one of the finest titles of its generation and any other time.Leave a Comment