With Wii sales in steep decline, a surprisingly slow launch for the Nintendo 3DS, and the Wii U still a year or more away, Nintendo is in the middle of a very hard slog. Some bright spots should come this fall by way of a handful of highly anticipated games, but even this source of hope isn't guaranteed relief, as evidenced by the fun but disappointing Star Fox 64 3D, the latest first-party game for Nintendo’s struggling stereoscopic handheld.
Star Fox 64 3D—a space shooter that sees an anthropomorphized canid and his cadre of elite animal fliers thrust into aerial battle to save their star system from an invading force—is quite close to the similarly named game people played on Nintendo 64 some 14 years ago, which means it’s also nearly the same game that Wii owners can currently download through the Wii Shop for about $10, or $30 less than the 3DS edition.
Of course, this new version does have some perks, the most obvious being its titular depth effects, though I didn’t feel the stereoscopic graphics added much to the experience aside from providing a pleasantly believable three-dimensional targeting system.
More impressive is the graphical upgrade, which has resulted in environments and backgrounds that are far more detailed than they once were, ships, asteroids, and structures that are much crisper than those in the original, and modern visual effects that include some lovely reflections seen while flying over the surface of a watery planet.
A motion-enhanced control mode, which uses the 3DS’ built-in gyroscope to allow players to make subtle navigational shifts by moving the device, may appeal to younger players, but this old gamer was better served using the classic control scheme, which closely resembles that of the original.
The most laudable of all the new edition’s enhancements is local, four-player multiplayer. This mode uses the 3DS' camera to provide live images of your friends' reactions during combat (check the sidebar video to see what I mean).
Multiplayer becomes especially valuable—assuming you have a few 3DS-owning friends with whom to play—given that skilled players can finish the brief campaign in around an hour.
Indeed, its short length is just one of the elements that make Star Fox 64 3D recognizable as a game from another era. Though pretty, the environments feel small and cramped and have low ceilings that place limitations on aerial maneuvering, and the story feels notably threadbare and filled with simple, one-dimensional characters. More than once I was struck that it shares more in common with a $5 game for a phone than a modern, full-priced game for a dedicated gaming machine.
Though, to be fair, you’ll be hard pressed to find many phone apps that are as polished or as much fun as Star Fox 64 3D. There’s no denying that, like the original, it has wonderfully tight controls, some memorable and very challenging bosses, and excellent level design that allows rookies to zoom through fairly safely but beckons experts to play and replay each level in an effort to find new paths through the campaign and better their scores.
No one would contest that Star Fox 64 3D is deserving of its status as a classic. However, it hasn’t anything close to the level of depth or historical distinction enjoyed by this summer’s other 3DS remake, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D , and it shouldn't have a parallel price. Asking fans to pay $40 for this game merely serves as a reminder that the Star Fox license is long overdue for a brand new adventure, and, moreover, that original 3DS games—such as the new Kid Icarus, Mario, and Luigi titles slated for the coming months—can’t arrive soon enough.
Star Fox 64 3D
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB: Everyone 10+