Game Review: Starfox 64 3D

Fast on the heels of the most successful 3DS game to date, Nintendo has released another remake of a Nintendo 64 classic: "Starfox 64 3D." On paper, this remake should lend itself, even more so than Zelda, to the 3DS' capabilities, but in practice, poorly thought out gimmicks mar what could have been a top-notch game all over again.

Like every good Starfox, this one is an action-oriented shooter. You're Fox McCloud, leading your team of space mercenaries across the Lylat solar system to quell the threat of the evil Andross. Starfox is all about fast-paced, well timed-out aeriel combat. You?re flying toward the center of the screen, into the depths, so unlike with Zelda, I found myself turning up the depth slider all the way to gain the biggest possible benefit.

And, visually, there's a lot that benefited. Gone are the sharp edges, onion-like explosions and most of the massive frame-rate stutters that plagued the original. This remake looks even better than Zelda did. Animations and character models are much smoother. The takeaway is every level fills a lot more alive than in the prior version. The game's controls map extremely well to the 3DS, as well. The touch screen displays ship status info and the small d-pad makes for a very handy shortcut area for aerial moves.

Developer Q-games, who partnered with Nintendo on this remake, wanted to offer both an enhanced 3DS version and classic style. Right from the get go, the game asks which mode you'd like to play: 3DS mode or classic mode. This is well intentioned, but it's definitely where my feelings about the game started to split. 3DS Mode offers the ability to control with the 3DS's gyroscope and uses the bottom touch screen to display additional info. Kept totally separate score-wise is Classic mode, which is the same game, sans the offer for the gyroscope.

Anyone who spent two minutes playing around with the gyroscope-to-see idea in the Zelda remake knows it's a neat gimmick, and anyone who spent three seconds trying to aim with that gimmick knows it's a bad idea. Why split your game -- and more importantly, high scores, which unlock later features in the game -- over a feature that every player will turn off?

I'll bring up Zelda again for another reason: it had right approach to remakes and audio. Mainly because it didn't change a thing. When it comes to classics, for the love of Lylat, please don't mess with the audio. Sadly, all of the voice samples have been re-done throughout Starfox 64. I'm sure it's well intentioned -- back in 1997, we were right at the start of the voice in-game era, and concepts like "second takes" were clearly not widespread. But if you're going to re-record the lines to take the cheesy deliveries out, you might as well make the lines themselves not so cheesy -- otherwise you're just ruining the nastalgia. And if you're already splitting your game into two modes, why not leave in the original dialogue in the Classic mode?

Multiplayer also gets a fresh approach in this version. Gone, of course, is split screen. In, is local 4-player multiplayer over Wi-Fi. This is also one of the first Nintendo-published titles to support single-card downloadable multiplayer, similar to a lot of regular DS titles. Again, however, fresh ideas fall short in comparison to bad execution. All of the multiplayer levels re-imagined or new, and allow players to fly might farther out and much higher than in the old game. While this might seem nice on paper, in reality it makes for fleeting action. In the original, I was a master at cornering and taking out my friends, but I found myself lost in the vastness of these newer levels.

This version also adds the ability to have bots to play against -- again, a concept better in theory than execution. Even on the easiest setting, bots will mercilessly destroy each other in combat that's hard to keep up with. I hate to brag, but I really was that guy who beat everyone in StarFox 64. I can hardly win a match in the 3DS version, however --the computer players all beat me to the winning tally by constantly taking each other down.

Overall, "Starfox 64 3D" is a game that suffers from lack of determination. Did you want this to be a true remake, or an re-imagining, Q-games? In the end, they opted for both, and both sides fell short. It's easy to enjoy the updated graphics, better frame-rate and numerous bug fixes. But old-school fans will cringe every time they hear the character's voices, and the multiplayer improvements hit like a dud.

Bottom line: The positives outweigh the negatives here, but just barely. This isn't a reason to pick up a 3DS like the re-done Zelda is, but if you already own one and you're itching for a shooter to hold you over before Kid Icarus, this will do.

Grade: C+

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