As we've known since the platform's reveal, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time isn't the only Nintendo 64 game to get the stereoscopic treatment. Joining Ocarina of Time is Star Fox 64, another Nintendo 64 classic with a remarkable legacy, receiving overhauled visuals and presentation on the Nintendo 3DS. Ocarina of Time is out in the wild and available to play, but Star Fox 64 is still a couple of months away. To help the time pass a little easier (or perhaps make the wait all the more difficult), Nintendo of Australia kindly invited PALGN down to their offices to go hands-on with Star Fox 64 3D, giving us the opportunity play both the single player and multiplayer modes.
First up, we tried the single player, which old time Star Fox 64 fans will be very familiar with, even if they more appropriately remember the game as Lylat Wars 64. During our play time, all levels were unlocked, allowing us to chose whichever stages we pleased. In score attack mode, stage selection is a little more flexible than it was in the original game, which required players to complete an entire easy or hard path at once to earn medals. Now, with stage selection, players can focus on getting the medal for each planet individually, presumably making for less tedium in unlocking expert mode.
Starting with the basics, we booted up Corneria and were immediately greeted with the familiar introductory dialogue from General Pepper, Slippy, Peppy, Falco and, of course, Fox McCloud. Dialogue in Star Fox 64 3D is a mix of old and new, retaining the original script and screenplay, yet with all lines re-recorded for higher quality audio. The entire original cast has returned in full force, leading to a quirky sense of nostalgia for all dialogue, as lines are spoken in a way that seems oh-so-familiar, yet still a little different. We were very happy that the script remains unchanged, retaining all the rich, cheesy goodness most fans will happily remember.
Mechanically, Star Fox 64 3D remains virtually identical to the Nintendo 64 release. Enemy placement, level paths, and power-ups are all exactly as they were all those years ago. Much like Ocarina of Time 3DS, the sense of familiarity is one bonus, but another is seeing how well the core mechanics have held up over the years. Thankfully, Star Fox 64 3D plays just as well as it always has, and we're sure plenty of arcade fans will find themselves addicted to the score focused gameplay.
Even though the level paths remain the same, there are a handful of smaller changes to update the game to the new control scheme. Notably, the game features both traditional analogue controls as well as gyroscopic controls. The former plays exactly as you'd expect, with similar control functions to the Nintendo 64. One addition, for accessibility, is the mapping of the somersault to the d-pad, allowing the move to be performed with a single button. The touch pad is also used in small ways, mostly to activate incoming voice messages from Commander Pepper, as well as activating supply drops organised by ROB 64.
For players after something a little different, motion controls might be worth a look. The degree of sensitivity and responsiveness of the motion controls can be likened to Ocarina of Time 3D, allowing the Airwing to be maneuvered with slight body or wrist movements rather than waving the device around like a lunatic. Having become attuned to the motion controls in Ocarina of Time 3D, we found controlling the Airwing this way quite easy and very responsive, and much like the aforementioned game, the analogue nub still works even with the gyroscope enabled, allowing players to mix wider, analogue aiming with precise motion controls. The only downside to the motion controls is the same issue prevalent in any motion controlled Nintendo 3DS game - the stereoscopic 3D effect is easy to break while moving the device around, so for those players who enjoy the 3D effect, it might be better off to play with traditional controls.
As expected, Star Fox 64 3D features updated graphical effects. To get an idea of just how superior these visuals are, we made sure to pick a good selection of stages with striking visual differences. We played through Corneria, Meteo, Aquas and Solar, and afterwards, it is safe to say that Star Fox 64 3D makes some of the finest use of the Nintendo 3DS hardware to date. Though it is nothing against Ocarina of Time 3D, as gorgeous as that remake looked, it made minimal use of the Nintendo 3DS console's graphical processing capabilities, notably bump mapping. Star Fox 64 3D, on the other hand, has bump mapped surfaces as far as the eye can see.
These were most noticeable on Meteo and Solar. Each individual asteroid on Meteo featured a light rim shader as well as bump mapped surfaces and craters, setting the stage a million leagues apart from its original Nintendo 64 version. Meanwhile, Solar blew us away, the waves of lava rich with rippling, glowing textures and special effects. Though these stages were the most impressive of what we played, Corneria and Aquas looked great as well.
Interestingly, the stereoscopic 3D effect didn't seem as powerful as we had experienced in other titles, including Ocarina of Time 3D. The effect seemed a lot more subtle and, even at maximum, far less taxing on our eyes than other games. The effect is still there however, and adds a great sense of depth and volume to the stages, particularly in the larger, open environments with minimal horizons such as the Meteo asteroid field. The effect of seeing torpedoes fired from the Blue Marine, a trail of bubbles disappearing off into the distance, also looks quite nice in 3D.
As our play time was coming to an end, PR Representative for Nintendo of Australia Jamie Wilson whipped out a couple of Nintendo 3DS units for us to give the multiplayer a whirl. Just like the Nintendo 64 release, the versus mode features up to four player support. Sadly not online, but the local play does appear to have full support for download play, making it possible for four players to play the entire versus mode together with only one person owning the game.
We only played the basic point match, and it played just like we remembered, flying around stages blasting the hell out of one another. All standard weapons and features of the Airwing are available from the get go, while abilities and power-ups not unlike what you'd find in the Mario Kart series can be collected around the stages. The action leads to some intense dog fights and chases, with a certain thrill in trying to lose that expert pilot hot on your heels. Much to our shame, PALGN's resident Nintendo veteran came dead last in the multiplayer mode, shamefully losing to a PALGN representative who had never really played Star Fox 64 (but who does have an affinity for another iconic sci-fi game). The less said about that, the better.
The Star Fox 64 3D multiplayer also features a camera recording feature, as seen in the most recent trailers. This allows footage of each player to be recorded as they're playing, a little image of their face appearing next to their Airwing during battle. Though this might seem a little pointless considering Star Fox 64 3D does not feature online play, but it did make recognising who we were tailing very easy and their looks of frustration after each kill all the more satisfying.
When all was said and done, and the Nintendo 3DS units were packed away (someone being tired of having their behind whooped), we had a great time with Star Fox 64 3D. Without online, the longevity of the multiplayer is called into question, but solid mechanics and download play are likely to make it popular among friends. However, we expect most players to spend time with the single player. Though it doesn't really feature any truly new content, the Star Fox 64 formula has held up remarkably well in this day and age, and the extremely impressive new coat of paint to the visuals as well as the newly recorded dialogue go a long way in keeping an old game relevant to new audiences.
Star Fox fans disappointed at the lack of classic Star Fox love in more recent Star Fox titles will likely have a blast taking Slippy, Falco, Peppy and Fox out for one more flight in Star Fox 64 3D. Special thanks to Nintendo of Australia for inviting us down for the day.