Look at it. I mean, just look at it. It’s beautiful. It’s incredible. It’s really 3D. Star Fox was the first game to utilize the Super FX chip, allowing the SNES to achieve amazing graphics beyond what had previously been seen on the console. Mode 7 was nice, but Super FX? Now that was something incredible. At the time of its release, you simply had to see Star Fox in action to believe it. At a time when 3D polygons were still in their infancy, particularly on consoles, there was simply nothing like it.
You play as Fox McCloud, leader of the originally named ‘Star Fox’ squadron, trying to save his native planet, Corneria, and the whole Lylat System from the forces of the evil Andross – a big, evil monkey. He isn’t alone in his struggle, of course, and fights with his four anthropomorphic wingmen, Peppy, Slippy and Falco. Flying alongside you in battle, they can be just as much of a hindrance as they can be helpful. For every time Peppy tells you to use the breaks just before you smash the Arwing (Fox’s ship of choice) into an asteroid, you will have to help him out in a dogfight before he goes down in flames. It sounds simple--and it is--but it plays a huge part in making you feel like you are part of an elite flight crew.
A New Hope…
That’s a big part of Star Fox’s charm – the atmosphere. An epic orchestral score provides the perfect backdrop for the intergalactic combat that makes up the game. Every planet has its own style and name. All the characters speak their own language. Its Nintendo’s attempt at Star Wars and, in many ways, they pulled it off. Seeing gigantic motherships flying overhead whilst hundreds of spacecraft pour out of them like gigantic evil Pez dispensers, boosting along the surface of a planet between the trees and shooting the legs of a gigantic arachnid tank is all the stuff of George Lucas’s wet dreams.
Of course, all of this would be for nothing if the gameplay itself was utterly abysmal. It’s a good thing, then, that it is one of the best shoot 'em ups developed for any system, ever. It’s tough to approach at first, as there is simply nothing else like it on the SNES, but due to its on rails nature, it’s easily comparable to classic shooters such as Panzer Dragoon, Sin and Punishment and, to a lesser extent, even Ikaruga. The closest competition on the Super Nintendo would be Axelay, and that title’s Mode 7 loveliness is made to look archaic by the Super FX magic on display here.
A brief tutorial is all you will need to pick up the intuitive controls and before long you’ll find yourself shooting down enemies and sneaking between chunks of debris. As well as the genre staples of shooting and smart bombs, you also have the ability to accelerate and decelerate to avoid your enemies, and for those moments when you simply can’t avoid their laser fire, a sweet timed barrel roll can deflect their shots away from you.
The difficulty is set in a unique way. Unlike most scrolling shooters, which offer changeable difficulty options in their menus, here the difficulty curve of the game is split across three different "routes" to the final stage, each with their own unique levels and challenges. The simplicity of the controls allows you to jump right in to the hard route, so you can hone your skills over time and aim for that illustrious 100% rating at the end of each stage, achieved by getting through the level with full energy for you and your teammates, and eventually playing that "perfect" game.
Set Phasers to Stunning
It is possible to criticize Star Fox for a few things – it’s too short, for starters, despite the hard route providing a healthy challenge initially, after a few plays it will become second nature. The stages also aren’t selectable, even after completion. Unfortunately, if you want to play the excellent level set on the planet Macbeth; a volcanic landscape with an intense run to the core, you have to go through the four levels beforehand. A password system or a save game would make things a little bit more user-friendly, although this old school approach adds weight to a recurring theme throughout this review – this is a classic shooter, and the one thing that genre offers over most others is simple, unpretentious fun. No complex plots, no need for fancy graphics – just pure fun. Some may say that this lacks originality, but it is more accurately described as traditional. The excellent setting and revolutionary graphics are icing on the cake made of pure gameplay, and why Star Fox will, despite its flaws, be remembered as one of the best.