Game Recs

You need to play Nintendo 64's greatest sci-fi game ever on Switch

“Do a barrel roll!”

One cannot underestimate the possibilities that were opened when Nintendo made the leap into three dimensions with the Nintendo 64. The company’s games were engrossing enough in just two dimensions, of course, but being able to spin a character or object around and examine it from every angle offered a new level of immersion. One of the N64’s greatest innovations, however, was a new adaptor that enhanced a classic franchise in exciting new ways.

Nintendo wanted to press the immersion, jumping on an idea that had intrigued the video game industry since the 1980s: haptic feedback, a touch-based interface. Most famously, Nintendo had heavily marketed the Power Glove as the future of gaming where players could move with their hands. When the Power Glove eventually failed, Nintendo scaled back. What if players could keep their same basic controller, but still have their games deliver a sensation in the real world?

A Nintendo 64 Transfer Pak and Rumble Pak.Retro Gamer Magazine/Future/Getty Images

The answer was the Rumble Pak. Plugged into the back of a controller, the Rumble Pak would vibrate the controller to correspond with action on screen. Get hit by an enemy? A little rumble. Crash your vehicle? A bigger rumble. A sudden jolt within the player’s hands made the experience so much more immersive. It’s standard in controllers today, but at the time, this was an innovative achievement.

When it came time to introduce the Rumble Pak to the gaming world, Nintendo chose a big name that would already be attracting loyal players from the SNES days: Star Fox 64. And right now, if you’ve subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, you can play Star Fox 64 and see what all the fuss was about.

For the hardcore gamer, there is still a way to get a Rumble Pak. The new N64 wireless controller for the Switch promises “rumble functionality,” specifically mentioning Star Fox 64. After all, seeing the game’s art on the Switch promises a Rumble Pak inside.

Give us the rumble!Nintendo

But the N64 wireless controller is sold out at the moment, and I don’t have one. So that means I’m playing a version of Star Fox that is incomplete. It’s sad, tragic, and upsetting. Yet we all must persevere!

Luckily, Star Fox 64 is still pretty fun.

The 3D Star Fox is very similar to the SNES game: The player is Fox McCloud, a red fox first developed by the game’s director Shigeru Miyamoto. Fox is the leader of the Star Fox team, which features three wingmen, also seen in the SNES game: Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare, and Falco Lombardi.

Yet unlike the SNES entry, these animals actually talk! Out loud. Verbally. With their mouths! For players and game devs in 1997, this was a big deal. Mitsuhiro Takano, the game’s scriptwriter, said in a retrospective hosted by Nintendo that “giving the characters voices was unprecedented for Nintendo at that time, so it was all trial and error.”

This trailer was originally for the 3D remaster of Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 3DS a decade ago.

Speaking characters in Star Fox 64 resemble puppets, their mouths flapping open and shut quickly. The game’s anthropomorphic animals make it work. They talk to you regularly, sometimes asking for help in shaking an enemy, or getting mad at you for taking down a target of theirs. Sometimes they offer up gameplay tips or even shriek that you need to do a barrel roll.

Star Fox 64 is not a beautiful game. It is boxy and filled with enemies that are interchangeable tiny ships. But it has tremendous pacing, especially when a player gets past the first levels. Like the SNES version, Star Fox 64 is a game on rails, meaning that the game pushes you forward at nearly all times, save for boss battles. The waves of enemies fill the screen, buildings collapse in front of Fox, and there’s a general sense of chaos.

Star Fox has always been all about acceleration and deceleration,” Miyamoto said in the Nintendo retrospective. “It's poor playing if you just recklessly plunge ahead even when a wall is coming up or you enter a meteor swarm because you'll just crash into things.” And he’s right. Finding strategy within the chaos is the true game within Star Fox 64, and it can be quite an enjoyable challenge.

A lot of what made Star Fox 64 so beloved in the late ‘90s were technical leaps that would quickly become industry standard, from talking team members in real-time to the rumbling vibrations of a crash landing. Gameplay is complex and challenging enough to keep even modern players coming back — especially if they’ve got a rumbling N64 controller on their hands.

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