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Star Fox

We live in an era right now where, through the wonders of modern gaming technology, we can create any possible game world you can imagine in 3d.  From fantasy to hard sci-fi if you can picture it you can create it, and quite beautifully I might add.  But things weren’t always like this.  There was a time when the concept of making actual video games with real 3d was a foreign concept.  Some companies had dabbled with it, mostly on the PC side and especially in the arcade.  So it came as quite a surprise when Star Fox was announced for the SNES.

Star Fox was not even on my radar back in 1993 although the marketing for it was everywhere.  The commercials for the game were pretty awesome; in a rare move Nintendo took direct pot shots at Sega.  Even if you didn’t like the game you would still remember that advertisement.  I completely wrote it off and even arrogantly chalked up all the praise the game received as everyone falling over something new just for the sake of it.  It also didn’t help that whenever I would go to a store with a demo unit the controller was broken.    All of these factors contributed to my not giving a damn.  My epiphany came when a friend’s older brother bragged that I had probably beaten the game already, not knowing that I had never even given the game a chance to that point.  With my reputation on the line I gave it a shot.

Star Fox was created as a collaboration between UK based Argonaut and Nintendo with the latter creating the characters and gameplay while Argonaut assisted with programming.  The Super-FX chip used in the game to power the 3d visuals was revolutionary for the time.  It’s crude to look at now but for its time this was ground breaking.  You control Fox McCloud, leader of the Star Fox team as you travel through various planets with your crew to defeat Andross on his home planet of Venom.  Gameplay takes the form of a rail shooter switches between first and third person view.

Right away the game impresses.  The intro still manages to bring a smile to my face.  In fact all of the “cut scenes” in the game are very well done, making excellent use of different camera angles for dramatic effect.  You are presented with a map at the start with a choice of 3 different paths to Venom.  It’s not stated outright but each one represents another difficulty level.  What’s even more awesome about this is each has their own unique levels and is a huge replay value incentive.   Although you are on a straight path through the levels you can obviously move in any direction and on the space levels even pan the camera up and down, which does come in handy to locate enemies that are hitting you off screen.  It never dawned on me as odd back then but the addition of a life bar was huge.   Most shooters at the time and even now are 1 shot and you’re dead.  That model would not have worked here as the game would be impossible.

At the end of every level you are graded on the percentage of enemies shot down and while I generally don’t give care about scoring something compelled me to get 100% on every stage.  You contend with just as many stage hazards as enemies such as sliding doors, pillars that spawn from behind, above and even from the sides,and asteroids to switch things up.  The scenarios read like a sci-fi greatest hits and are awesome.  Flying through an asteroid belt?  Check.  Attacking a space armada?  Hell yeah.  Hell if you’re good enough you can even explore a black hole.

Your crew members are with you throughout the entire game unless you let them get killed; if this happens they’ll be absent for 1 level before returning.  I liked having them with me even though they are off screen for the most part.  Your primary interactions with them come from them asking for help when in trouble.  These moments will keep you on your toes as they can come at any given moment, usually when you’re dealing with enemy fire of your own.  It does start to get annoying when they occur 2 or 3 times in a row.  It’s weird, you don’t even see them 90% of the time but it still feels like a team effort.  Part of this comes from their personalities.  You’ll hear their radio chatter constantly, some of it relating to the current situation, some of it just for fun.  Falco is arrogant and will never directly ask for your help, even going as far as chiding you for “butting into his business.  Peppy is a font of knowledge, being the senior member of the crew and will be the one to give you helpful hints when needed.  Slippy is……………………a useless nutsack.   The majority of the time someone needs help?  F*cking Slippy.  But you know what?  You still can’t help but love the little bastard regardless.

F*cking Slippy.

The 3d visuals haven’t aged so gracefully but you can still see how they worked within the limitations they had to execute their vision.  Everything is made up of simple flat shaded polygons but I love the way they use varying shades of color to add detail.  It’s a simple detail but in a way that sums up the graphic style.  The design of the Arwings are the graphical highlight of the game.  They work perfectly with the simplified style and cut scenes in between levels show off many angles of the ships.  The biggest detriment to the graphics would be the frame rate which by today’s standards is atrocious.  This will sound strange after that last comment but it doesn’t really matter in the end.  I feel the low frame rate was taken into account and it doesn’t detract from the gameplay too much.  The draw distance as well is not very far, with large objects appearing seconds in front of you.

The varying camera angles to a degree are self indulgent and show the designers going nuts and playing around with a new toy.  I mean that in a good way.  They create these awesome cinematic moments that will remind you of great sci-fi films from the past.  The quality and amount of speech in the game was and still is impressive.  I think only Joe Montana Sports Talk Football had more at the time, unless you want to count Awesome Possum.  But you shouldn’t.  Because Awesome Possum can eat my ass for all I care.  And it’s the good kind of speech, not that phlegm in the throat stuff prevalent during that era (alright mostly in Genesis games).  Especially the ending.

This was mindblowing back in 1993 and still is today.

Does it still hold up?  Definitely.  The frame rate puts a little dirt on its sheen but the gameplay is what truly matters, and it doesn’t hamper that.  You’ll wonder why more games like this aren’t made.  I wonder why Nintendo doesn’t just make a real god damn sequel instead of all the experimental shit they’ve done since .  But that’s a discussion for another time.

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