At first, it is as if scales are falling from your eyes. Fourteen years ago, no little imagination and faith were required to picture Star Fox 64’s rough polygons as an approximation of 3D, but now it is a reality: Fox McCloud and chums really are flying into the screen.
As with the recent Ocarina Of Time remake, Star Fox 64 3D has been given a graphical overhaul, the original’s jaggy textures replaced with smoother, higher-resolution equivalents. Audio, too, has been refined, Koji Kondo’s soundtrack clearer, those fuzzy 1997 speech samples cleaned up – though the latter serve as a reminder of why Nintendo games so rarely feature voice acting. Fox’s stilted delivery is especially jarring, and the extra clarity renders the eminently punchable Slippy Toad’s hyperactive, shrill blathering more annoying than ever.
Joint developers Nintendo EAD and PixelJunk studio Q-Games have made use of the 3DS gyroscope to allow players to control Fox’s Arwing by tilting the system itself. It works as you’d expect, but may be a source of too much embarrassment to suit the commute, and the subsequent pitch, roll and yaw of the 3DS hardware is, at first, a headache waiting to happen. Once your eyes become accustomed to the shifting 3D sweet spot, it plays the role of the right stick: fly the Arwing with the circle pad and make minor adjustments to the aiming reticule with gentle tilts of the system.
Most striking of all is the realisation that this is a game perfectly suited to portable play. Levels last minutes, a complete playthrough barely an hour, and the branching map requires players to fulfil certain conditions – save a teammate, fly through a series of rings – to unlock different routes. When completed, these often change the rest of the level and its boss, and working out which route yields the highest score encourages repeated play.
It’s not perfect: with 3D on, your reticule is too often obscured by the Arwing itself, and a slavish faithfulness to the source material means 1997’s occasional pop-in and clipping returns. The brand-new multiplayer mode offers only local fourplayer battles via Download Play, with no online component at all, a lamentable omission in a game so heavily based on high scores.
As with Ocarina, at first there is a rush of nostalgia. As it fades, it’s replaced by the realisation that, in many ways, the original was the playable prototype and this is the true final product, a fantastic fit both for the hardware’s portability and feature set. No cash-in or release schedule stop-gap, this is an excellent update of Nintendo’s classic space opera.