The Nintendo 64 is a system of classics, there’s no really no debating that. It had fewer games than it’s biggest competitor, was less technically sophisticated and had a controller most gamers seem to hate (for some reason beyond my understanding), yet even some of its most minor games are celebrated as classics even today. Star Fox 64 is one of those oddly classic games. It’s not the most complex or advanced space-shooter of its day, yet it has a greater fan following and more notoriety than any of them. Even its creators haven’t been able to replicate its success, and they’ve definitely tried. So what is it about this game? What is it that makes Star Fox 64 so special even 22 years later?
There are any number of things one could say is the cause of Star Fox 64’s success. It’s awkward yet oddly-appealing early 3D aesthetic, its meme-able quotes, its secrets and mission structures, or even its unanswered questions. There’s so much that that I don’t think there really is any one thing that sets it apart from the rest. Rather, Star Fox 64’s defining characteristic is found in how all these elements meld together.
Video from YouTube channel: Fernando
The story of Star Fox 64 is quite basic. The evil Andross is attacking the Lylat System and a besieged Cornerian military calls in the Star Fox mercenary squad to turn the tide. That’s it. Everything past that is kind of up to the player. The threats one faces, the characters they meet, the battles they undertake, they’re all the result of the player’s actions. No matter the path one takes though, the game always implies that there’s more under the surface. Fox and crew meet other characters they have their own personal histories with, characters like Bill and Katt. We don’t know these people, but the Star Fox team does, and that makes the world seem bigger than it is. It really adds something.
Beyond that, there’s the voice-acting and the music. Somehow, just about all the music in this game compliments the missions quite well. Each scenario gets its own distinct gravitas and feel. It makes every mission feel important, even if one is playing along the beginner path. Post mission themes add to this. Getting a “Mission Accomplished” feel amazing, as if you just pulled off something incredible. Meanwhile, “Mission Complete” only feels okay. You did it, but it could have gone better. As for the voice-acting, it’s definitely hokey, but there’s real emotion in there too. You can feel Falco’s snippiness and Slippy’s earnestness. Peppy is absolutely the team’s veteran mentor, Fox sounds genuinely happy to see Bill and Falco is absolutely surprise when Katt shows up. In short, they’re real characters.
As for the gameplay, what’s really there to say? It’s fast and punchy. There are real consequences for poor flying and rewards for avoiding damage beyond simply getting blown up. Enemy weak-points aren’t highlighted with some sort of target reticle, optional objectives have to be figured out by the player, and all-range mode dog-fights are the best thanks to the wide range of moves one can pull off in the Arwing. It just feels good!
Many players would say the Star Fox series has had only one good game to its name, maybe two. Yet, it still has a loyal following today thanks to Star Fox 64. It’s not a perfect game, there are plenty of flaws for those who want to look for them. Who seriously wants to look for them though? This is a game that’s greater than the sum of its parts, and how those parts add up is going to be different for every fan. What is it about Star Fox 64? In my mind, it’s everything about it that makes it so special!
This is my take, but what is yours? What do you think makes this game so special? Alternatively, why do think it could be overrated?
Lede image captured from YouTube