25 years later, Nintendo's most innovative shooter still holds up
Nintendo has created some of the most beloved games of all time, with titles like Ocarina of Time and Super Mario Galaxy becoming instant classics. Yet, there’s another game that deserves to be honored in the hallowed halls of Nintendo’s best, one that nearly perfected replayability. Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Star Fox 64 still holds up as one of the very best games Nintendo has ever created, and one of the most engaging shooters of all time.
Star Fox 64 is technically the second game in the series, after the canceled Star Fox 2, but it functions as more of a reboot of the franchise. As the series moved on it could never really escape the shadow of Star Fox 64, as every new entry tried to recapture the magic.
At its core, Star Fox 64 is a simple game separated into two gameplay segments, on-rails shooting and full 3D dogfighting. Where the brilliance of the game really shines through is in its tight controls and incredibly inventive mission design.
Flying and shooting feel silky smooth, and Star Fox 64 shines by keeping things simple. You have a fire button, bomb button, the iconic barrel roll, and that’s basically it. Instead of layering in complex mechanics, the game focuses on throwing unique enemies at players and challenging your movement and dodging skills. Immersive is a word that is often overused when talking about video games, but it’s truly applicable to Star Fox 64, which strives to keep you constantly invested in the action.
Most of the story is delivered through environmental storytelling and dialogue that chimes in from both your squadmates and enemies during missions. Everything about Star Fox 64 is impeccably designed around that idea of immersion, from the flashy visuals that constantly keep things on-screen, to the rollicking soundtrack that helps build tension.
The idea of keeping things fresh and interesting is at the core of Star Fox 64’s philosophy, and that’s best represented in the mission design. Each and every mission feels wildly unique, presenting unique obstacles and objectives.
In one, you’re piloting the Landmaster tank to destroy a supply train, while another has you participating in a massive dogfight filled with dozens of fighters. Of course, there’s also the iconic final boss battle that sees you racing through a winding tunnel system to escape a massive explosion. Every mission in Star Fox 64 feels like its own set piece, creating an adrenaline-fueled experience right up until the very end. In many ways, Star Fox 64 feels like it was far ahead of its time in terms of providing varied and dynamic mission design.
A playthrough of Star Fox 64 takes roughly 4-5 hours, but there are multiple routes you can take through the game. There are 16 different missions that can be combined in multiple ways, meaning there are literally dozens of different routes. It creates incredible replay value for Star Fox 64, as it’s each time you play the game it feels a little different. Missions might also get harder based on if one of your teammates was shot down, which makes them have to sit out the mission.
It’s unfortunate that Star Fox, as a series, simply can’t recapture how the vibrancy and uniqueness of Star Fox 64. Countless other rail-shooters and space combat games have taken inspiration from it. Although it may not get mentioned as much as games like Ocarina of Time, all these years later Star Fox 64 absolutely deserves to stand head-and-shoulders with the best Nintendo has to offer.