Platform: Nintendo 3DS
We really, really want a new Star Fox game.
Two entire console generations have passed without Nintendo resurrecting the beloved aerial combat franchise, featuring only a couple of disappointing ground based adventures (including Assault, just to be clear) and a WiiWare port to satisfy the faithful and patient fanbase. It's been far too long since Fox McCloud, Falco, Peppy and Slippy took to their Arwings, and we're delighted that Nintendo have decided to completely revamp Lylat Wars for the 3DS. Star Fox 3D is just as brilliant as you remember, but does it offer enough beyond nostalgia value to warrant a pricey purchase?
In case you don't know, Star Fox 64 3D is a port of the classic N64 rail shooter Lylat Wars that casts players as Fox McCloud: the wingleader of an anthropomorphic group of mercenaries who are tasked with saving the galaxy from an evil scientist. You'll hurtle through a number of corridor-like stages, engaging a selection of aerial and ground units with your lock on laser and powerful bombs. On top of manipulating the aiming reticule, you'll also need to steer your Arwing fighter through an intricate array of obstacles - facilitated by simple velocity controls and the infamous barrel roll. Your wingmen occasionally stray onto the screen, requiring you to take down their pursuers and rewarding prompt assistance with an array of gameplay benefits. The core action is instantly accessible, brilliantly fast and utterly engaging; a classic and seminal experience that feels just as exciting and relevant as it ever did. The multi-stage boss battles are especially enjoyable and put many of their modern ilk to shame.
It's clear that the vast bulk of the development time has been leveraged into the graphics. Star Fox 3D looks absolutely incredible for a handheld game, especially when you activate the 3D mode that balances an impressive level of detail with a genuine sense of depth and speed. The quality is admittedly slightly inconsistent as the team have obviously lavished a lot more attention on certain enemies and bosses than others, though the experience is incredibly vibrant, sharp and even occasionally beautiful. It's by far the most graphically gorgeous game on the platform, and pushes the boundaries of what we can expect from the console.
The N64 controls have been faithfully replicated and as are responsive as you'd expect (if slightly cramp-inducing). An optional gyroscopic tilt mode offers a surprisingly engaging control scheme that augments rather than replaces the circle pad and buttons - although 3DS fans will doubtlessly be aware that the tight viewing angle makes it incompatible with 3D. Most players will be unwilling to part with the painstakingly enhanced visuals in order to take advantage of the gyro... and quite right too.
Every once in a while, the action enters All Range Mode, which lets you take direct control of your Arwing in a cramped arena. The slick controls make light work of the proceedings as well as facilitating a tactical U-Turn manoeuvre (a must for some of the bosses), but an annoyingly small flight ceiling means that foes will frequently fly over your crosshairs. I can't help wishing that these sections had been revamped with a larger area and the ability to fully manipulate your fighter in three dimensions.
The campaign itself is short and sweet, typically lasting about 45 minutes depending on how long you spend in the All Range Mode sections and on some of the bosses. Gratifyingly, you can leap into and out of a campaign in progress,and let your friends try it out using the 'Guest' mode that won't overwrite your saved game. However, replayability is significantly enhanced by a couple of branching routes and alternate endings that can be accessed by helping out your wingmen in battle (hint: look after Falco) and/or flying through optional arches. You'll need a fair few playthroughs to see everything Star Fox has to offer - not to mention the unlockable expert mode.
A local multiplayer mode allows you and three friends (who don't need to own the game) to throw down in some basic and forgettable All Range dogfights. This is all well and good as far as it goes. Regular readers will know that we frequently extol the virtues of local multiplayer, but it's also incredibly galling to see yet another 3DS title completely ignore the console's online functionality. Online multiplayer would have been a lot of fun as well as adding more inherent value to the package, and friend leaderboards would have also been a considerate addition that's conspicuous in its absence.
On a personal level, I can't help but wish that Star Fox 3D offered more. Just a few new additions to the formula; just a little nod to the fans that demonstrates that Nintendo are willing to reward them with more than just a shiny version of an ancient game on their under-supported handheld. A new bonus level, perhaps, or unlockable challenges and concept art. Hell, even an emulation of the original Starwing would have been nice (though yes, I know the bespoke chipset makes it incredibly difficult to do that). Star Fox 3D is clearly a labour of love, but it's also an unquestionably lazy way of bringing a much-needed 'new' game to the 3DS.
The decision about whether to buy, therefore, is a lot more difficult than it ought to be. On the one hand, you've got an exceptional port of a thoroughly exceptional game, and the quality and length of the original certainly isn't in dispute. But Star Fox 3D offers little beyond its short, polished campaign and much less than you'd rightfully expect from a full-priced retail release... especially considering that Lylat Wars is readily available on WiiWare for a bargain price. The lack of competition will make this an essential purchase for most 3DS owners, but it's a shame that there isn't a massive volume of value-packed titles with which to compare it. If there were, the final judgement may have been very different indeed.
- Exceptionally capable graphics
- Slick controls
- Pick up and play
- No online multiplayer, no online functionality
- Questionable value at RRP
- Lack of improvements, upgrades or platform-specific innovations
The Short Version: Star Fox 3D is an perfect port of an outstanding classic, exhibiting an incredible level of polish in both its visuals and controls. There's no denying that Nintendo could - and probably should - have offered more for our money, but it's still an exciting and relevant experience that'll provide you with hours of slick accessible fun.
If the 3DS had a well-supported games lineup to provide some context, things might have been very different.