Starfox turns 20

I spotted this on twitter just now, and I just had to put up a little blog commenting that I can’t quite believe that Star Fox as a series is 20 years old today.

Being born in 1989, it seems like a good chunk of the games that I grew up with are now turning ripe old ages. There’s the ones that pre-date me slightly like Mario, Zelda and Final Fantasy, where I jumped on board with the titles released in the mid 90s. They’re hitting around 25, while the franchises that launched not long after I was unleashed upon the world are now turning 20 – Sonic notably, and now Star Fox.

I actually didn’t play the original title – called Star Wing here in Europe – until the late-90s, years after its release. After the release of the N64, even – but even playing it then, I could tell how special and incredible this release must have been, with its ‘Super FX’ chip and crazy 3D graphics at a time when 3D was an emerging thing and for the most part the purview of crazy PC enthusiasts with expensive machines.

Because I was a SEGA kid for many years, and didn’t jump on the Nintendo wagon fully until the N64, I was behind on a lot of those games. After having an N64, my Grandparents, keen bargain hunters, helped me to picked up a SNES super cheap on clearance from a warehouse store. Starwing was one of those games I played because I loved the newer games on N64.

The game in this series that really grabbed me was Star Fox 64 – Lylat Wars here. I distinctly remember the magazine advert, that appeared repeatedly in issues of N64 Magazine and Official Nintendo Magazine. Even then – aged eight – I was an obsessive reader of games magazines. Unlike a lot of kids of that age, I loved to read, and games magazines more than anything else. I’d read every issue of those two magazines and ‘Sonic the Comic’ cover to cover, but something about the previews for Star Fox gripped me. The only thing I remember as more striking was how N64 Magazine elected to run their Ocarina of Time review over two issues, because the game was ‘too big’ to complete in time for their deadline. Bold old decision, that – you’d never see that now. Finish the bastard or find another job! A more innocent time.

starfox_adBut, Star Fox 64! That advert – pictured right. The whole thing about that game leading up to its release, I remember, was the boast of it being cinematic.

I remember quotes from Miyamoto, who even then I understood was vastly important, talking about matching movies. I remember a VHS tape that came with a magazine that featured footage of the opening of the game – ‘We need your help, Star Fox! Andross has declared war!’ I must have watched it until the tape began to wear out.

For some reason, I distinctly remember just staring at that advert after reading a preview and imagining the game. At the time, to my eight-year-old mind, that ad was the most powerful thing in the world. As an adult now, when I think about how pervasive and powerful advertising can be on children, it’s the obsession that particular print ad, that VHS and the print coverage caused that comes to my mind before any of the other crazes of my childhood.

The ad followed the rest of the campaign – it evoked movie posters. Eventually I got the game, in that big massive box that included the Rumble Pak. (Why Pak? Why did Nintendo always remove the C?) The good news is, it’s fantastic. I remember being blown away by the voices, the tension, and so much else.

Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars remains in my top three games of all time. I understand it’s no Ocarina of Time or Mario 64 or other game-changer, but to me it is incredibly special. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Katina, or Area 6, or the excitement of finally figuring out one of the criteria to make the mission path branch for the first time. It is a game that’s 40 minutes long that I somehow squeezed more enjoyment out of than many massive adventures. It’s arcadey, twitchy action at its best, bringing out the best in score-attacking, adrenaline-pumping excitement. More than anything, I just remember it as exciting.

It is a truly special game, and that makes it all the more heartbreaking that the series went astray – first with an okay-but-dubious adventure game, then a straight-up-bad shooter, then a pretty rocky and weird DS entry that took itself way too seriously. The 3DS edition of the N64 edition is a fantastic port, the perfect handheld game for short journeys and one of the best titles on the machine – and hopefully is a sign Star Fox has a future yet.

Happy Birthday, Fox, Falco, Peppy, Slippy. Here’s to better times.