Never give up.
Star Fox 64 is the epitome of an arcade shooter experience translated to the home console. Everything about its gameplay hearkens back to a time when quick reflexes were requisite and high scores were all that mattered. Move your ship, fire at enemies, dodge incoming shots; an entire genre of games boiled down to one premise. It's the trappings around this core experience that elevate Star Fox 64 to a seminal Nintendo 64 offering. It's no secret that this is one of the best games you can find on the platform. It's also no secret that the game and all games for the system shipped on cartridges that paled in comparison to the burgeoning competition in regards to storage. The fact that Nintendo EAD were able to pack this perfect shooter into 9.6 MB astounds me.
The art style for Star Fox 64 meshes perfectly with the theme of the game. The chunky polygons of Super FX were impressive for its time but the sequel makes short work in showcasing the new 3D hardware. From the opening seconds of gameplay, you have the ability to glide the more defined Arwing fighter over water. Reflecting the ship with water spray cascading into the camera, the developers knew exactly how to make a first impression. Thematically, every level conveys a sense of immersion and tangibility. The universe of Star Fox has never felt so realized. Gone are the sparse and confined levels of the original. Now each level seems like a sweeping thrill ride with varied set pieces. The enemy and boss designs are clever polygonal creations that form different mechanical robots and crafts and are convincingly animated. It's almost a shame that taking the time to appreciate the finer details will most likely cost you damage to your Arwing.
The action in Star Fox 64 starts immediately and ramps up with precise execution. The sense of speed and control over your ship are fine tuned for the hardware provided. The control stick translates to the tight control needed flawlessly. Flying the Arwing just feels right. There are times when the action can get too hectic, too white knuckle to focus; but practice and quick thinking will prevail. The tools at your disposal like the famous barrel roll, somersaults, lock on targeting, and super bombs combine to make your craft a swift and deadly instrument. Open flying segments can get particularly intense; some with timers, others with enemy squadrons focused on your quick destruction. I struggled with later levels on the 'good path' quite a bit before gaining the skills needed to see the game to the end.
It's that pathing that makes Star Fox 64 stand out among its peers with a similar feature. Rather than allowing you to choose your next destination at will, the game requires you to discern specific objectives in levels that will present you with a "Mission Accomplised" screen rather than just "Mission Complete". These objectives are not always immediately clear, but aren't cryptic either. A couple runs through any level should be plenty to learn how to proceed through the 'good path'. This extends replayability immensely, with various combinations of levels and exciting locales to explore. The grand finale of it all is either a unique boss encounter, or an incredibly intense dog fight, with the latter leading to the true final boss and very rewarding end sequence.
Rounding out the experience is the sound and haptic feedback, and these are no slouches in their regard. The sound that was compressed into this cartridge is down right impressive. The sweeping orchestrated MIDI score that fits each level perfectly is accompanied by an astounding amount of voice acting. In fact, the voice samples take up almost half of the entire storage budget of the cartridge itself, weighing in at around 4 MB of the 9.6 total. While they are compressed and presented at a much lower bitrate compared to CD based games, the voice samples sound extremely clean and precise when stacked up against other cartridge based games with voice acting. Most cartridge games with voices are limited to a very small number of samples that are used throughout the campaign. Star Fox 64 uses it's myriad of spoken lines to sell the story and provide much needed personality behind the faces that fans have grown to recognize. The haptic feedback provided by the revolutionary and included Rumble Pak truly adds a sense of immersion that was missing previously. Taking damage, using bombs, speeding through space, riding the shockwaves of massive explosions; everything you see and experience on screen is translated through the controller with sharp feedback. It's a small addition that adds one more ingredient to this perfect blend of gaming.
Star Fox 64 is a classic game with lasting influence. There's no other way to sum up its impact on the space shooter and action game genre. A purely simple arcade style video game with exacting standards, it's a literal joyride from start to finish. The polish and extra care that exudes from every moment is exactly the kind of experience that makes the Nintendo 64 a special console to me. You can tell that Nintendo EAD put their heart into this project, a team that knows exactly how to trust their instincts.