Starfox, released in 1993, is an on-rails outer space shooting game released for the Super Nintendo system. The story of the game is a science fiction/fantasy wherein a squad of talking animal fighter pilots must go out across the solar system in their space craft and fight the evil forces of an overlord named â€œAndross.â€ In terms of gameplay, this translates into flying around in a X-wing like spaceship and shooting stuff.
The thing that makes this game different from other Super Nintendo games is its graphics. Specifically, the Starfox game cartridge has a sort of special microchip inside of it called the â€œSuper FXâ€ chip. This is supposed to be an extra processor that makes the SNES able to do 3D graphics. The gameplay of Starfox is in full 3D, with boxy environments, enemies, and other such things. In this graphical experiment, you, Fox McCloud, a vulpine ace fighter pilot, have to fly around on a predetermined path through alien planets, asteroid fields, dodging obstacles, shooting enemies, and ultimately meeting up with the diabolical Andross, a creature who looks like an anthropomorphic ape in the instruction manual but looks more like the Master Control Program from the movie â€œTRONâ€ when you get around to fighting him.
First I list the good things:
This game must have rocked in so many ways back in 1993. Sadly, the technologically desensitized gamer of now might be more compelled to liken Starfox's graphics more to realtime origami than 3D. Cynicism and technological novelties aside, at any rate, Starfox definitely has unconventional and fairly impressive graphics. No matter how you look at it, 3D stuff on the Super Nintendo is pretty weird and esoteric, and it's quite unlike anything else you'll find on Nintendo's much loved 16-bit machine.
Starfox has sweet music. Aside from being juiced with 16-bit spiffy-sounding goodness, Starfox's tunes add a certain atmospheric tone of coolness to the missions that simply wouldn't be there if they hadn't done this good of a job. I daresay that the music sort of makes me feel like I'm a member of some great and important space squad team. Or something. Or maybe I'm just weird. I don't know. Whatever the case, the music is good to the extent that I had to mention it.
I've heard people say this game is bland and generic. That just isn't true. There are neat things in this game that show signs of creativity on the end of the developers.
Precluding any sort of linear, flat, â€œjust shoot and fly aroundâ€ sort of game, there are several power ups you can get to enhance your arwing (shield upgrades, laser upgrades...) The laser upgrades are particularly sweet, as you get a true feeling of compounded destructive power from your weapon. You have a special bomb-weapon, something called a â€œnova bombâ€, the likes of which basically serves the purpose of blowing everything to smithereens within a certain thermonuclear vicinity. These come in finite quantities, so you can pick up extras (and you will need them.) Extra health can be grabbed as well (you'll be needing this, too â€“ big time.) Power ups are usually placed in situations that compel you to make a daring move to reach out and grab them, usually at the risk of your own neck. I appreciated this; it was challenging.
I like the parts where you have to weave through a labyrinth of closely situated obstacles, resulting in some very hair-raising evasive maneuvers. There's also this one part I particularly liked where you actually had to fly inside of one of Andross's mother ships and blow up the reactor core. It reminded me of that thing from Star Wars, where they had to go inside the death star. Something I thought was somewhat funny is sometimes when you blow up an enemy ship, a disgruntled and disoriented-looking pilot can be seen whizzing past you in the rubble (he's a little 2D sprite of some blue creature.) It reminded me of that part from Star Wars Episode III, albeit in a considerably more comical light. All in all, the game has a good bit of stuff going for it. It is NOT just a â€œgenericâ€, â€œblandâ€ shooter.
In Starfox, the framerate is rather questionable. How can I put this...? I just get the feeling the Super Nintendo is working REALLY hard to make all this 3D stuff appear on the screen. Quantitatively speaking, I'd guess the framerate goes anywhere from 20 to 10 frames per second depending on how much is going on at a time. Basically this translates that Starfox's flying action isn't the most fluid, smooth thing in the world. Movement is kind of chunky.
In the levels where you're flying past buildings, blocky alien space ships, and walking robots, you can deal with low polygon blockiness. One doesn't need super-smooth-spiffy looking modern graphics for those things, because they're pretty rigid anyway. In some levels, though, where they try to render organic things, like native wildlife-themed enemies such as giant sea serpents, birds, and flowers with vines that shoot out of the ground (coughPlanetFortunahiccup), it looks pretty horrible. When you're working with this few polygons â€“ flat shaded ones, at that â€“ organic stuff is just a bad idea. They should have stuck to mechanical enemies, such as robots and space ships.
Generally, some levels are more memorable than others. Some felt classic. These include the planet Corneria level, the asteroid field, and the meteor base level, where you have to actually fly on the rocky surface of a meteor that's been tunneled through and turned into some kind of military installation. Some other levels, on the other hand, came across as being kind of corny. These would include planet Titania, an ice/snow themed level, and Fortuna, a jungle-like world with flowers, evil birds, and sea serpents. On the said ice planet, the â€œiceâ€ and snow just looked like cheesy blue polygons â€“ it looked like a virtual world from TRON or something. On Fortuna, the flowers and birds looked like evil origami artwork come to life â€“ really jerky, low framerate origami artwork. As I said earlier, there's just some things they shouldn't have tried to do with such low polygons.
Starfox is a nice game. It has unusual graphics, a nice amount of challenge and creativity, and sweet music. On the downside, the game's framerate is precariously choppy, some levels seem somewhat unpolished, and the 3D graphics, while novel, are pretty minimal. Starfox's sequel, Starfox 64, is what you really want to look out for: that one was a classic Nintendo 64 game.
In conclusion, I got this game for $5.50 off eBay. At this price, I think it was a worthwhile purchase.
Final grade: B