Star Fox 64 3D hands-on preview

[Requisite barrel roll joke]

When you think of top-tier N64 games, Star Fox 64 sits right up there with Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye and Super Mario 64. To this day it remains the best Star Fox game in the series, and later this year (September 9, to be precise) it's receiving a 3D makeover complete with new motion controls and multiplayer features. And don't worry - those motion controls are totally optional.

For those unfamliar with the original, Star Fox 64 sends space ace Fox McCloud flying through a series of branching levels, eachfilled with projectile-spewing baddies and titanic bosses. Fox's angular ship, the Arwing, can deflect most incoming bullets by performing the world famous"barrel roll,"as well as charge up for a homing shot that damages its target as well as any other enemies in its blast radius. Ships destroyed in groups are worth more to your kill count than if they were destroyed alone, so the game quickly becomes more than just shooting - it evolves into a skill-based combo extravaganza. It's a pure-gameplay experience that entranced millions in 1997, and is just as fun today.

However, if you wanted to try besting your score on a given level, you would have to replay the entire game and get back to that point. This required the obvious time investment of replaying the stage, but also the possibility of missing one of the branches necessary to reach certain areas again. In 64 3D, you can jump into a Score Attack mode that opens any completed level for further combo chaining. It's a small touch, but one longtime fans will undoubtedly enjoy; I personally played Star Fox 64 dozens, if not a hundred times through solely to improve a score, so being able to skip to a specific level is appreciated.

But what's new? For starters, the visuals are notably prettier. The Arwings themselves received a modest bump in clarity, but the real improvements lie in the environments. One level that takes place over an ocean looks immensely better on 3DS, complete with excellent lighting effects as the Arwing's laser blasts hum across the surface of the water. I wouldn't say the visuals are pumped up as much as Ocarina of Time 3D, but there are definitely areas that show great improvement. Additionally, the radio chatter between Fox and his pals (Slippy, Peppy and Falco) has been re-recorded, mostly with the original cast from Star Fox 64. I can confirm Slippy is as annoyingly shrill as ever.

The major change for 64 3D is its multiplayer, which ditches the Landmaster Tank and on-foot modes of the original in favor of all-Arwing action. I was initially upset about losing the tank and foot modes (the air/land/foot rivalry was intensely fun and unlike other multiplayer of the day), but the new maps and Mario Kart-style power-ups make the existing, flight-only experience a blast to play. Power-ups include a massive supernova that burns anything in its path, a transponder that teleports you behind an opponent and sticky things called slowburzz that cling to ships and slow 'em down. There are nine power-ups total, and they really help flesh out the multiplayer that shipped with the original game. As a final note, the game does constantly display your face (via the 3DS camera) above your ship; it seems like a silly inclusion, but I gotta say, being able to see someone's face as they're about to pop is pretty cool. Bonus - the multiplayer only requires one card for four people to play.

The single playerseems strong as ever, and the multiplayer (which is local only, sadly) is sufficiently beefed up to make this an attractive package despite it being yet another re-release of an N64 game. Again, it's set to launch on 9/9, which is a Friday, a possible first for a Nintendo game.

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