Star Fox, or Starwing as we know it on these shores, is Nintendo’s answer to 3D 16-bit shoot em ups. Say what? Yup. 3D. Shoot em up. Fully packed with their (developed with UK dev team Argonaut) Super FX chip, this SNES cart will cost you more than others on the market. Is it worth it?
From the moment you load the cart, when the fighter jets fly in from behind you, the game is breath-taking. I don’t think I’ve ever used that term in a review before so it’d be a shame if it all went downhill from here… You’re seeing 3D polygons on your 16-bit console and that’s no trick. Well, it is, but you get the gist.
Every shoot em up needs a plot and so the evil Andross has waged war on the planet Corneria after being banished, er, for some reason. He’s hiding out in the planet Venom of course so it’s up to our main protagonist Fox McCloud and his team to battle their way over there and defeat the cad. Give him the old one two if you will. You can head to Venom one of three different ways, all with their own quirks. The most straightforward being the default route where you can avoid the other planets (Titania, Fortuna and Macbeth) in the Lylat System but have to circumnavigate a Space Armada which is easier said than done. So choose your route and away you go.
Star Fox makes a point of ensuring that you’re fit to fly before you tackle the main storyline. It gives you the choice of four control options, some with inverted flight controls and buttons in different places. The default setting here is to head to the training area, a rather nice flight through some rings which you can actually use to challenge your mates (think I’m still king of the Arcade Attack household at that). Trained up, away you go.
The game starts off viewing your jets from above, scrambling from their base to protect Corneria. The jets themselves are made up of around ten polygons, but my, are they pretty! This isn’t a PC game, certain sacrifices had to be made. The sky and ground barely have a texture between them but that’s fine. Like early virtual reality this is a clear step up for the console. Does everything move with the smoothness of a PC 3D shooter? Well, no. And it’s far less smooth than any Gradius title or Axelay. The way Fox’s jet moves is more like you’re actually using physics to apply force to the polygons, which is much more realistic. Everything has a gorgeous simplicity about it. Towers, enemies, any kind of destroyable scenery never seems to exceed this ten polygon limit.
Star Fox has an amazing soundtrack to boot. It’s grand at the beginning and adrenaline fuelled throughout. It defines polished. The sound effects too have an arcade realism about them. Occasional sound bites guide you through and the “chatter” between the home forces still puts a smile on my face thinking about it now.
So I’ve spoken a little bit about how the jet moves, how does Star Fox actually play? I love it. I think the manoeuvrability of the fighter is spot on, I especially like the way you can roll left and right, meaning it’s easy to dodge oncoming traffic/a whole lotta trouble. There is a satisfying crunch about destroying everything in the game. Yes there are a lot of obstacles you can’t blow up, hoops, arches, layaway rocks, but everything else is fodder. The boss fights are epic and you really have to see the final boss to believe it. Star Fox tears everything 16-bit a new one.
Flaws? Route One is probably a little easy but I think it’s meant to be. Trying out the other two routes adds challenge and longevity. There is slow down at certain points but it’s totally forgiven. The game has sections where you are in the cockpit view as opposed to behind the jet. These are fun but it’s easy to miss things as you’re so intent on locking on to every enemy you see. Again, easily forgiven because it’s so much fun. You get bonus points for protecting your team which is great but, seeing them perish is extremely demoralising. You grow attached to Peppy, Falco (not he from Rock Me Amadeus fame) and Slippy. Could the game be longer? Even with the three routes we’d love to see more. With all three completed you have just under two hours of gameplay. If it wasn’t so darn impressive I’d have been annoyed.
Final word on Star Fox/Starwing? This shouldn’t have been possible. Treat yourself to what is truly a piece of gaming history.