Star Fox 64 set a high water mark back in 1997, both for Nintendo's rare dabblings in the shmupping genre and for the Star Fox series itself. Neither ever approached that standard again, and with subsequent games farmed out to developers including Namco and Rare, it seemed as though Nintendo had washed their hands of the whole business.
Q Games, the hired hands behind the most recent instalment, Star Fox Command, count among their number Dylan Cuthbert, who worked on the original SNES version, and they're also the team charged with updating the classic N64 game for 3DS. They have the skill and the history, but does Star Fox 64 still have what it takes? There is, essentially, no tangible gameplay difference between this remastered 3D edition and the original. Even the button layout can be changed to match the N64 controls - the default setting swaps around the location of some buttons.
So it's a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot remake of a game that was once the state of the art but is now more than 14 years old. And we remember it like it was yesterday. The enemy formations, the ever-changing route to the bad guy's lair, the cries for help when Slippy or Peppy just can't shake off an attacker. We don't recall it being quite so difficult, but that's probably a combination of the 3DS circle pad being harder to move as precisely as the N64 analogue stick plus 14 years of increasingly rose-tinted memory.
For the benefit of anyone who hasn't played it before or has simply forgotten what it's all about, the game is the story of a team of mercenaries, led by Fox McCloud, who bring their private arsenal to bear on Andross, the villain who's destroying the peace of the entire galaxy and who also happens to be responsible for the death of Fox's father.
Forget for a moment that the protagonists are all cuddly animals (except for Andross, who's an enormous disembodied monkey head floating in space). While it's not going to blow anyone away with the emotional impact of its plot, there's not a massive difference in quality between this and a middling sort of Hollywood sci-fi flick (think Star Wars). Nintendo knew it, and the storytelling is pushed to the fore in a manner no other game of this genre has ever done.
Instead of this being a straight-up battle through a set of increasingly difficult levels, your performance determines whether you'll move on to a harder level next time or drop back down to something easier. The original Star Fox on SNES pioneered this mission structure but here it's integrated much better with the story. Different things happen if you save certain characters in certain areas, and with a single hour-long run to the final boss taking in just seven of 15 possible levels, it's a game that demands to be replayed.
Finding the obscure requirements to gain entry to the upper branch of the mission tree and becoming sufficiently familiar with it all to be able to recognise when something unusual is taking place - these are things that won't begin clicking into place until you've gone through and beaten Andross several times over.
Your best scores for each level are recorded, and there's a bonus medal if you beat the target while keeping wingmen Peppy, Slippy and Falco alive until the end. They may repay the favour in the following mission, and a combination of a high score and medal is often part of the requirement for getting to choose which area you visit next.
The hate eagle
Helping Falco, though, is something we only did under duress. If it didn't mean we'd miss out on half the game, we'd happily leave him to bail out after getting shot up by Star Wolf. He's possibly the most annoying character in Nintendo history, and the strange thing is that we don't remember him being quite as irritating on N64.