Super NES Retro Review: Star Fox

Super NES Retro Review: Star Fox

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When I heard the original Star Fox is included on the SNES Classic Edition, I was surprised. Then I was elated. Then my heart shattered when I realized "There is no way on God's green Corneria that Star Fox has aged well."

Yeeeeeah. It hasn't.

Here's the thing, though. Star Fox is blameless for its frayed seams. Its level design is solid. Its characters are iconic, and its worlds are imaginative. Its soundtrack is sublime; one of the SNES' very best. Even the spartan graphics don't bother me, as Star Fox's low-res polygons still manage to construct interesting enemies and bosses.

The issue here is the SNES' hardware. It was never meant to handle anything like Star Fox, FX Chip or no FX Chip. I'm not a stickler for frame rates, but wading through Star Fox at 15 frames per second – or lower – is not something I can easily do in this age of blazing 60 FPS games. It's weird to say "Star Fox is just too slow for my old bones," yet here we are.

Look out for the planet-sized paper fortune telling game! It's has a vomiting problem.

But Star Fox's choppiness isn't as hard to get used to as the game's inconsistencies. There are times when you rocket down corridors at a steady 25 – 30 FPS, only to have the action immediately sink to less than half that rate when a single enemy shows up. Its jarring, to say the least.

I adored Star Fox as a kid, but I've come to realize the game's a lot more fun when you have the time and patience necessary to memorize every boss pattern, anticipate every instance of slowdown, and observe every cue that the background is about to swing into your face. My days of conquering Star Fox's third (read: hardest) path without suffering a single death are behind me, but I have huge chunks of the game committed to muscle memory, regardless – and I still find it hard to get through.

Those cell phone towers mean business.

I wonder how people who never played the game are going to fare. I especially wonder about people who are big fans of Star Fox 64, and are eager to see where it all started. Going from Star Fox to Star Fox 64 isn't like jumping from Super Mario Bros to Super Mario Bros 3. Mario's response time is basically the same across most of his 2D games, whereas Fox McCloud's original Arwing is a real clunker.

I hate dumping on Star Fox because, again, this game is a gem in so many important ways. The space-shooting levels are still a joy, especially the famous "Armada" level. Near the end of that gauntlet, you get to fire on huge transport ships that spew parts before they collapse into a graveyard dive. That still feels amazing. There's another level populated by space-faring aquatic creatures, complete with schools of small "fish" that flee at your approach. There's an apocalyptic highway where you fight for the road with space-bikers who creep up behind you. There are secrets that range from practical (a Black Hole level that functions as a warp zone) to the bizarre (an "out-of-dimension" level populated by origami foes and a slot machine boss).

DEEE-NIED, LAGOMORPH.

Nintendo and Argonaut Software clearly put a great deal of effort into Star Fox's enemies, level design, and soundtrack. There's nothing either studio could possibly have done about the game's inevitable, swift aging, but it's undeniably an issue.

Now, Nintendo might surprise us all by beefing up the game for its SNES Classic re-release. It's shown no indication it plans to do so, even though it's possible for emulators to "overclock" Star Fox and make it run at a consistent 25 – 30 FPS. It's not likely Nintendo will alter Fox McCloud's maiden flight in any significant way, but hey, stranger things have happened in the far reaches of space.

"Let's destroy Andross! ...Does anyone need to use the washroom before we go? Looking at you, Slippy."

That's a nice dream, admittedly: it's almost a certainty Nintendo dumped vanilla Star Fox onto the SNES Classic. That being the case, I still think you ought to play it. If it's at all possible, dedicate the time and effort necessary to sink into every nook and cranny of the game. I already plan to sit down and re-discover Star Fox; I want to absorb each hitch, each instance of jank, back into the marrow of my bones. I want to get good enough to explore the far reaches of the Lylat system again, from the poisoned skies of Venom to the blood-colored core of Macbeth.

That's all for the sake of my pride and childhood, though. If you're unable to commit to Star Fox and simply find it unplayable, your feelings are justified. I just want you to give it a try. It's worth that much.

Star Fox is the tragic tale of a great shooter that's aged poorly. If you have the time and patience to work with its dismal frame rates, however, you'll discover (or re-discover) an imaginative game that's worthy of an HD remake. Cough, cough.

3.5/5

Tagged with argonaut, Nintendo, Retro, Retro Reviews, Reviews, Shooters, Star Fox, Super Nintendo Entertainment System: Classic Edition.

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