I have another gaming confession to admit: I’ve never played a Starfox game before. Thankfully I was able to recify this situation when I got my hands on a preview code for the upcoming 3DS remake of Starfox 64, originally released as Lylat Wars in Europe and Australia. And even with no prior attachment to the franchise, I can say that I will be getting this as soon as it’s released in September.
The game has received a graphical overhaul, and gameplay and control has been customised to take advantage of the hardware of the 3DS. With the updated visuals the game is a treat to behold, and perfectly demonstrates the 3D capabilities of the device. Judging the distance between buildings, enemies and other obstacles is made easy with this enhanced depth of vision, but the effects of 3D can be much more subtle as well; the crosshair is layered, and feels more precise, and the scores after a multiplayer match recede into the background, so the player in first place seems closer. The inventive use of 3D for these kinds of little things makes the effect feel better intergrated.
Despite the improved graphics, the choice to have the characters retain their Muppet-like “flapping heads” animations while speaking adds a surprising amount of charm.
The top screen displays the 3D aerial action, and remains fairly uncluttered. Vital information like your health and special weapons are still communicated on the top screen, but the regular mesages from your teammates and enemies will now pop up unintrusively on the bottom screen.
Control has been customised to best utilise the device’s capabilities, and streamline problems that players of the original game may have encountered. The aerial maneuvers have been assigned to the D-pad, rather than the reportedly confusing techniques in the original. Now, pressing down on the D-pad will perform a U-Turn, to quickly turn 180 degrees. Pressing up will send the player into a somersault, to quickly get behind and attack enemies on their tail. The improved ease of execution makes them very useful in a dogfight. Players can also now invert the Y-axis if they prefer, which I found much easier to use.
The 3DS’s built-in gyroscope can also be used to control your movements, but from my limited time with this control scheme, I’m not sure of its practicality. It took a bit of getting used to, particularly for turning left and right, but I did only play like this for 10 minutes or so. The potential is there, so perhaps with practise it will become easier. I’m inclined to try it again sometime. Of course, moving around like that constantly gets you out of the narrow 3D sweet spot, so the 3D will invariably have to be turned off.
Multiplayer is included, and only requires one game card between up to four players, which is always nice. Expecting each player to own a copy is a bit too much. Players also have the very cool option to use the forward-facing camera to transmit a live video feed of themselves in place of a static avatar image. In action, this works really well, helping identify your opponents in battle, and rub it in when you shoot them down.
It still looks to be a short game, apparently rushable in only a few hours, but replayability is added in the form of a new score attack mode, and multiple paths through the world map. Players can replay levels to receive medals for reaching certain scores, improved over the original by allowing players to jump to any previously played level. There are also alternate exits, revealed by finding hidden warps, or achieving secondary goals. These will send the player off on a different journey through the Lylat system, influencing the levels reached and gameplay difficulty. Replaying a level to find a different way through will unlock new locations.
Whether you’ve played the original or are coming to it fresh, Starfox 64 3D looks like a strong pillar of Nintendo’s upcoming first party lineup for the modestly performing handheld. And with the recently announced price drop, there’s no better time to get your hands on a 3DS, if you haven’t already.