Star Fox a.k.a Starwing (1993)
By: Argonaut Software / Nintendo EAD Genre: Shooting Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Nintendo SNES First Day Score: 15,100
Also Available For: Nothing
I don’t know about you but I thought the 16-bit console era was a fantastic time to be a gamer. Both Sega and Nintendo’s offerings each had some unique and desirable software and each continued to push their hardware further and further. Then, at around the mid-way point of their war with Sega, Nintendo decided to up the ante with their ‘Super FX’ chip. Created by British developer, Argonaut Software, the chip was essentially a graphics accelerator which could be incorporated into a standard SNES game cartridge but allowed far superior graphics to be used. Specifically, for the first time the painfully slow SNES CPU could produce in-game polygon graphics and throw them around at a pretty decent speed. This would surely give Nintendo’s machine a crucial advantage over Sega’s powerhouse and also allow games that the MD couldn’t hope to rival. But did it?
In order to showcase their new technology, the alliance of Argonaut and Nintendo not only created a new game from scratch but an entire new franchise, and on paper it sounded promising. Centering around the star-faring Lylat solar-system, a mad scientist named Doctor Andross has been banished from the peaceful planet of Corneria (populated by anthropomorphic animals, of course). After fleeing to Planet Venom (also in the Lylat system), he declares war on Corneria and unleashes a huge army to that end. General Pepper of the Corneria Defense Force consequently summons the mercenary Star Fox unit to combat Andross and outfits them with state-of-the-art prototype combat fighters called Arwings (why are they always ‘prototypes’, isn’t there ever any ‘tried-and-trusted’ ships in the game world?). The leader of the unit is Fox McCloud, and joining him are teammates, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad.
The gameplay takes the form of a 3D polygonal shoot ’em up and sees you and your teammates flying across various planets and through intervening sections of open space until you reach Planet Venom and ultimately destroy the ‘Core Brain’. There are three differing routes to your destination representing different difficulty levels and each features unique stages. You always start on Corneria and end up at Venom but even they have some differences depending on which route you take. You are always accompanied by your teammates who generally fly in formation behind you, but they occasionally break formation to pursue an enemy or if they are being pursued by one, and they often need your help (except the ultra-lairy Falco), but while you try you’ll have to be careful not to inflict friendly fire upon them (pay special attention, American gamers – hee hee!).
Whilst not exactly an ‘on rails’ shooter, your forward motion through all the stages is fixed, much like Space Harrier, for example, affording you a limited degree of movement within them. That said, most stages also feature numerous obstacles in addition the many enemies which must be avoided. The Arwing does possess thrusters and retro-rockets though, which allow a limited increase or decrease in speed, and it can also turn ninety degrees to the left or right to sneak through narrow gaps too. The game also switches between first and third-person perspectives with the former preferred for space stages and the latter generally used when flying over a planet or landscape of some sort. The enemies are all polygon-based too and range from small fighters and gun emplacements to huge battleships armed with various guns and missiles, and as well as taking as many of these out as possible you’ll also need to avoid the aforementioned obstacles which include buildings, asteroids, falling towers, floating debris of numerous types, as well as destroy the boss at the end of each stage.
To take on the forces of Andross your team’s Arwing fighters have been fitting with Laser Blasters, a limited supply of Nova Bombs, and an Energy Shield. It is possible to upgrade your blasters and replenish your supply of bombs by collecting the relevant icons you’ll occasionally encounter, and there’s also two types of ring. Flying through one kind will replenish some of your shield energy while the other acts as a restart point if you die. Your Arwing fighter can also be damaged if you fly into (or get flown into by) building or large enemies which can break off part of its wings, reducing its maneuverability in the process. Luckily these can also be replaced by collecting the relevant icon, which certainly helps the already tricky gameplay! That said, the difference between the three ‘routes’ to Planet Venom is noticeable, but you’re bound to want to see all the stages so you’ll have to battle on through the easy levels and hard levels alike! One tip to making the game easier is to protect your teammates – they take damage like you do and once they’re gone, they’re gone!
As the first Super FX-powered game, Star Fox certainly does its job of showing off the capabilities of the new hardware. I imagine certain sections of this game could be replicated by a standard SNES or MD but there’s no way either would be able to run everything so smoothly. Obviously things look pretty basic by today’s standards, and smooth or not the game has a pretty slow pace, but this is still a pretty impressive technical achievement, with enemies whizzing around, bullets and missiles flying back and forth, etc. The music is less impressive but still not bad and your teammates (who blabber on constantly – see the screenshots!) have amusing ‘talking’ noises. They’re a nice touch actually and add a lot of charm to the already distinctive gamplay. Once the novelty wears off though, it can be very a frustrating game, and replaying levels can get very choresome.
To be honest, prior to this review I hadn’t played this game much and I didn’t like it at all. I was intending to play it for a bit, confirm it sucked, then rip into it here, but I was surprised to find that it’s actually not bad! It plays like a cross between Amiga and ST classic, Starglider (also by Argonaut, probably not coincidentally) and After Burner, but brings a lot of uniqueness and character to the table as well. I still think it’s overrated and doesn’t warrant the adulation it received and apparently still receives, but neither is it a flashy hardware demo with no gameplay as I
RKS Score: 6/10