Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Starfox 64: A Look Back

On a recent trip to visit some friends up north I stumbled across their N64 under a pile of Playstation and Xbox games. I rummaged through the games.

“Oooh, is that Starfox?” I asked my friends, who were stumbling around drunkenly, seeing as I arrived at their place around 2:30am on a Friday night.

“We’re outta nachos…” one friend mumbled. I took that as a yes, and proceed to jamb the cartridge into the system and wiggle it around. Ya know – to make it work.

I do pretty much assume we all know the plot of Starfox 64. Andross, who is an evil scientist, has decided to attack the Lylat System. Yup, the whole thing. I guess Andross never heard the phrase, “Never fight a space war in Lylat.” Reason being, he wasn’t too happy about being exiled. Anyways, Adross attacks all of Lylat and everyone is super surprised, even though he killed Fox’s dad several years ago during a recon mission and Peppy barely escaped with his life. Since the old Star Fox team was disbanded in that recon mission it’s up to Fox and the new and improved Star Fox team to gain back the Lylat System!

The music and sound effects nearly made me cry with it’s wonderful and catchy simplicity. “This,” I thought, “is the soundtrack of my early years.” After moving around the N64 logo for what had to be several minutes, and watching everyone’s face follow it around, I started the main game.

Now, I don’t know if old habits die hard, but I played through the game with such ease I had to wonder if, as a child, I had some sort of handicap I was unaware of at the time. Remember driving the Landmaster along side the supply train that creepy monkey was driving? To get an easy win you could hit all the switches, re-route the tracks, and blast that monkey at top speed into the supply depot. That was a bitch, right?

…not this time.

You tell em, Peppy.

I played through the whole game in under 2 hours. Including the credits. That said, it still was a fantastic walk down memory lane.

There’s not much to say besides explaining the shock I had playing through it again after so many years. I had vividly recalled hours upon hours of gameplay and storyline that just isn’t there if you play through the campaign only once. Characters pop up out of nowhere, and the relationships between the protagonists seem awkward at best.

Err... who are you, where are you from, and why are you here?

I mean, heck – because of the route I took I only encountered Wolf and the gang right before fighting Andross. That really diminishes the the significance of the battle. But that’s how games were played in 1997, I suppose. You played through it once, totally screwed everything up, and kept playing until things fell into place. THAT’S what made this game such a gem for 9-year-old Dan. Obviously – no matter the age – one doesn’t skip through levels using hidden passageways their first time through. It seems that nowadays instead of working a unique single player experience into a video game and adding multiplayer capabilities as an extra, most games plow through a several hour campaign, all the while urging you to play online instead.

Also, I didn’t get to play some of my favorite levels, because I simply couldn’t remember what route I needed to take to GET there. Being able to simply visit each level would’ve been a great option, but I suppose hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

So many choices.

Though it does amaze me how well the developers mapped out the galaxy. Although I whizzed through the “hard” route (I hesitate to call it hard… ‘final route’ would be more appropriate) during this replay I do remember the slope of progress I made throughout the galaxy during each new playthrough as a kid. It was like a new game each time I played it.

Then there’s the voice acting. I can’t count the number of times my brother and I would repeat the things ANY character said. (Namely, “Your daddy screamed REAL GOOD right before he DIED!”) Granted, there was some repetition, but all in all there were a great many different phrases each character kept up his sleeves.

Also, listening to the end game music while the Great Fox floats upwards on the horizon was the most content I’ve been in a long time. That means one of two things: that Star Fox 64 is a great game, or that I have a very, very depressing life.

Oh, you blocky heroes, you! *sniff*

Needless to say I attracted the attention of my drunken pals while playing the game. I was centered in the living room after all. This also brought back memories of my childhood.

Slurring, a friend approaches me, “Dude… dude, you should’ve been at the PARTY, man. There were… there… were, like, girls and drinks, dude.”

“Shh, man, quiet – can’t you see I’m playing Starfox?” I replied with much annoyance.

Now replace “the party” with “my parents’ house,” “girls” with “Magic: The Gathering cards,” and “drinks,” with “hot chocolate” and it’s 1997 all over again for me. Disregarding friends for 64-bit graphics.

As I said earlier I played through the “hard” route, marked in red two images above. After coming home from the trip I thought I’d play the game again and check out a different path… but I could only find an RF Adapter for my N64. Since this is no longer the 90′s and my TV – among other things – no longer has antennae and a dial to twist for the channels, I found myself out of luck. I’ll have to stick to only outlining the path I took.

By now super-geeked-out Starfox 64 fans are probably screaming, “Wait, wait just a moment my good sir! You said you took the hard path, but played the level with the supply train on Macbeth! Those two things are mutually exclusive! If you truly took the hard path then you would’ve played through Sector Z instead!” While this is true, 28-year-old guy who lives with his parents and works at K-Mart stocking shelves overnight, I would like to ask you to keep your outbursts to a minimum.

…I didn’t hit all the search lights in Zoness and was directed off the “hard” path for the next level.

Easier said than done, Falco.

But enough of that, let’s get to the planets I played!

Corneria: I think everyone begins this level by flying down to the water to watch hypnotically as your Arwing’s thrusters make neat waves behind you. Immediately, every character is aptly outlined by the first few words and/or actions they take. Peppy, always the adult figure, tries to keep Slippy in line. Slippy’s life is instantly threatened and he is unable to help himself. Fox states the obvious when entering the city. Finally, Falco does something stupid, is saved by Fox, and proceeds to bitch about how he could’ve done it himself.

Oh, good. I thought we were at the OTHER highly populated planet in the Lylat System.

I, of course, took the path through the waterfall, skipping the all-range mode boss and instead decided to brawl over the water. I also want to get this outta the way right now – whenever you complete a level the team gathers up and flies through the planet’s atmosphere (or just gathers up, if the mission already occurs in space) and back to the Great Fox. Words can’t describe it, and neither can a picture. After each level this happens, and it’s simply a great ending for every mission. The chatter between teammates differs depending on how much damage they take as well. If nothing else gets to you to play better next time, Slippy’s constant bitching after a bad mission certainly will.

Peppy, this is the ONLY situation where you can say that seriously. And just barely.

Sector Y: If you were disappointed by the lack of space battles after only the first level, don’t worry – you’re tossed into space regardless of how well you do on Corneria. In Sector Y it seems that Andross is trying to push past a blockade, and team Star Fox is literally asked by Sergeant Pepper (of the Cornerian Army), “Help us out here!” Long story short, I flew through dozens of freight-looking spaceships to fight two weak faux-Gundams followed by a single, stronger one. This fight utilizes the Arwing’s all-range mode, which really only gives me the ability to do a 180 flip. And really, what more do I need?

Aquas: Well, it’s underwater. Naturally. Why am I here? To find and destroy an enemy bio-weapon, of course. I really despise this level. Truly I do. Instead of flying, you’re piloting the Blue-Marine, an awkward submarine. It’s a fantastic concept, and I respect what the designers did to make it as interesting as possible to play. But it’s clear even they knew it was gonna suck. How do I know that? They gave the player an infinite amount of torpedoes. Sure, you can argue that it was a feature they planned – as the torpedos light the otherwise pitch dark ocean depths – but I say it’s because they wanted a water level, screwed it up, threw their hands up and said, “Fuck it! Just let ‘em shoot the shit out of everything!”

Thanks Slippy, that dulls the pain a little. Now go back to shutting the hell up.

As it turns out, the bio-weapon is a giant clam that shoots death-bubbles and lasers at you with tendons the color of rainbow sorbet.

I can't help but feel like I've killed the equivalent of a sea-unicorn. It's so majestic.

Zoness: A sludge planet. Awesome. Here we meet Katt, Falco’s… ex… or something. I really don’t care. All I know is that furry little annoyance didn’t shoot the lights she said she would, so I got screwed. Also, why am I here in the first place? Sergeant Pepper didn’t even know what was goin’ on. Fox is the one that ends up saying there’s an enemy base on the planet… how does HE know?

Ah, yes. Affirmative. There's a base there. Totally. It's not the planet where I stash my drugs, or anything like that.

The boss here ends up surfacing out of the sludge, and instead of shooting a ton of lasers at me like everyone else, he’s decided a ball and chain would work well as a weapon against a spacecraft. Ironically it DOES fair better since I can’t tap Z to ricochet a huge spiked ball off of my Arwing. It’s also worth noting that I had to have one of my drunken friends tell me to shoot off the damn crane the boss uses to lift parts up out of the sludge once I have blown them to pieces. All in all it’s a pretty sparse and VERY green level.

What am I doin' wrong?! Ohhhh...

Macbeth: Here you control the Landmaster, which is a tank that can roll around like a hyperactive 5-year-old and hover for short periods of time. I still prefer the Arwing, but the Landmaster has its moments. It certainly beats the hell outta the Blue-Marine. The purpose of this level is to decimate the enemy’s supplies. But why I have to do it via a land assault? Everyone else is in the air!

The big idea, Slippy? I dunno - whose idea was it to put me in this damn tank?

You’re following the boss the entire mission. Near its end, if you’ve not shot all the switches and redirected the tracks you have to fight a giant mechanical butterfly kite. One of its attacks scoops up the Landmaster and tosses it on the ground for damage. I’ve always found that particular battle to take far too long, so I hit the switches and forced that train into the depot, resulting in what I believe are seven incredibly awesome explosions.

The first of many.

Area 6: This area is much like Sector Y, except now WE’RE the ones busting through the front door into Venom. There’s not much to say about the level itself, as it’s only fighting through a generic space armada. The boss, however, is a giant Simon Says with tentacles.

Do I... do I push yellow?
Venom: Since I reached Venom via Area 6 and not Bosle, I immediately fight Wolf and the rest of his crew. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more battles against Wolf when taking this route, because it’s honestly one of my favorite features in the game. Mainly because it’s the only time when all-range mode seems to have a true purpose (that, and Katina, which is by far my favorite mission). Every all-range mode boss fight – including Andross’ final form – is just boring and repetitive. With Wolf it works brilliantly.

You can't stop me from doin' flips, Peppy.

Venom – Andross: After the dogfight (or foxfight… wolf-fight?) Fox weaves his way through a maze of tunnels and into an open area where you fight… THAT'S what happens when you exile an evil scientist to a gaseous planet on the other side of your star system...

...Andross’ disembodied head and hands?

Yeah. He can hit you, smash you, crush you, and… eat you. Oh, but don’t worry, it’s not actually him. If you enter Venom through Area 6, then you get to fight the REAL Andross, and not just this fake robotic thing.


…ok, that’s pretty much the creepiest thing I’ve ever seen. Well, at least I’m in all-range mode, right? I was pretty much screwed from the get-go here. The brain… tentacle… things… grabbed onto me and spat me out one wing less right away. Fun fact: it’s incredibly hard to outfly a brain when you only have one wing.

The room is wide open, square, lacking any type of detail, and the only objects in the room are you and Andross. It’s a pretty bland boss battle. Once you win, though, you’re sped through the maze of tunnels yet again, but this time shit is exploding all around you and one wrong turn means your death. It’s quite a contrast from the actual battle. Fox imagines his father is helping him through the destruction, and even hears him speak.

So many Star Wars quotes would work here.

That’s that. Fox meets up with the team, and the credits roll. I’d give my thoughts on the ending again, but they’re already up in “Initial Thoughts.” So, what else is there to mention?

The next day, once one of my friends sobered up, I goaded him into playing some multiplayer. As a kid I remember playing it with my brother. We never really tried to kill each other… just fly around, grab the bombs that spawn every so often, and shoot ‘em into the sky.

Trust me, it's entirely more epic when you're the one playing.

Now I know why. Playing with only two people is utterly pointless, and completely frustrating for whoever is unfortunate enough to NOT get the dual lasers at the beginning. Sure, you can do 180′s and flips, but it doesn’t matter when the guy chasing you can do the exact same move immediately after you. Oh, and yeah – there’s no places to hide. At all. Playing with more people adds to the fun, but there are better multiplayer games to wax nostalgic on.

Starfox 64 was the first game I really ever buckled down and powered my way through every possibly outcome I could get. It’s a game that will forever stick out in my mind as a favorite. I can’t say I have a concrete reason, but I think it’s mainly because of the expansive universe in which the game takes place. It doesn’t give you a story outright, and instead it forces you to work for one. That alone makes the ending sequence all the more enjoyable.


Written by Daniel Vidana


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