Star Fox 64 was released in 1997 for Nintendo’s fifth generation console, the Nintendo 64. It was, very much like its contemporaries Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64, a huge commercial success destined to be considered a classic among its generations’ young people and gamers past and present. Though it itself was meant to be a reboot of the original Star Fox game for the Super Nintendo, it has since received a newer revamping in the form of the Nintendo 3DS’s redundantly titled Star Fox 64 3D.
Of the games’ many features, perhaps one of the easiest to overlook is the title’s use of Corridor or On-Rails gameplay alongside All-Range gameplay and how successful both were in making Star Fox 64 not only thoroughly enjoyable and memorable, but a title with a huge replay value as well.
In Corridor mode, the player can maneuver the Arwing, the Landmaster, and the Blue Marine about the screen freely with the joystick according to each vehicles limitations (i.e.: without creative hovering, the Landmaster could not navigate from one upper corner of the screen to the other as the Landmaster is essentially a tank and therefore not as capable of navigating airspace as the Arwing). Each level within this mode of gameplay is explored on a fixed path that allows very few divergences depending on the level (i.e.: On Corneria, the player can choose to go straight and face Granga or unlock a second path leading under a waterfall to battle the Attack Carrier instead). Using her upgradable laser canons and smart bombs against oncoming enemies, the player is encouraged to destroy as many of the enemy’s ships as possible as the navigate the course. The player must also avoid oncoming enemy fire and occasionally enemy ships throughout play if they want to keep their Arwing intact. Perhaps the most helpful maneuver in deflecting enemy fire is the “Barrel Roll”, in which the player spins her vehicle rapidly by tapping R to deflect lasers.
The vehicle the player pilots is trapped in a state of perpetual motion on said fixed path throughout each level. That is to say, the player cannot come to a full stop during gameplay at any time. She can, however, use a number of techniques to counter this handicap. For instance, while a full stop is impossible, the “Brakes” can be used to slow down the player’s vehicle temporarily. The player can also speed up for a short time by using the “Boost”, used most often to speed past falling obstacles or fast-closing doors that could damage the player’s ship. Another handicap associated with the single-directional motion of each Corridor-type stage is an inability to change direction (i.e.: opting to go backwards to retrieve some missed item). Fortunately, the player is capable of temporarily looping back around using a “Somersault” maneuver in order to avoid enemies attacking from the rear or collect multiple items that would go missed without the use of this technique.
The player’s wingmates (of which you have three) can become a nuisance by pleading for assistance with airborne enemies (usually three at a time) assaulting them from behind, but they can also provide valuable advice, interesting dialogue, and occasionally drop off health rings, smart bombs, and laser upgrades throughout play, making them much more helpful here than in All-Range mode. Falco is inevitably the most helpful in this form of gameplay as he provides hints and helps the player in seeking the correct routes leading to more difficult levels / planets which would be otherwise nearly impossible to know about without out-of-game assistance.
Bosses appearing in Corridor gameplay are the only things that may cause the player’s vehicle to lose its apparent state of perpetual forward motion. Instead of worrying so much about flying past objects as in course exploration, Boss battles encourage the player to navigate the screen in order to avoid the Boss’s oncoming onslaughts while using brief openings to barrage her opponents’ weak spots with laser fire and bombs. This style of Boss battle is fairly straightforward, although challenging in that the Boss’s attacks often correspond with the Boss’s exposure of his weak points.
In All-Range mode, many of the rules that applied in Corridor mode still apply here. For instance, the player is still stuck in a perpetual state of motion. She is still encouraged to use lasers and smart bombs to destroy as many enemies as possible. Maneuvering is accomplished using the joystick as well as a series of button-implemented special maneuvers such as the Somersault or braking, techniques now accompanied by the ever-useful U-Turn capability. This new technique allows the player to quickly reverse their flight path by flying up and rolling the body of the player’s vehicle.
While many similarities remain, unlike Corridor mode, All-Range mode is not set on a fixed path. The player instead experiences the course as a fully-navigable open plain. Invisible barriers box in the course setting the play area, though unlike other titles featuring such walls, Star Fox 64‘s invisible barriers cause the player to automatically perform the All-Range mode exclusive U-Turn maneuver, sending her flying in the opposite direction. The single exception to this is the secret final Boss battle with Andross, in which the player can move around endlessly in any direction, but will be technically transported to the opposite end of the map as if space has been bent. This same space-bending type of All-Range mode is also featured in multiplayer mode.
As mentioned before, any degree of usefulness that might have once been associated with your wingmates completely slips away the moment the player enters all-range mode. Aside from Slippy’s convenient analysis and on-screen display of the enemy’s health bar, your wingmates will seemingly do nothing but get in your way and demand your assistance at vital points in gameplay. They even stop dropping off supplies like health rings, laser upgrades, and smart bombs, leaving the once shared task entirely up to ROB64 (the pilot of the Star Fox team’s mothership, the Great Fox). However, though the player’s wingmates are a gigantic nuisance (and with repetitive dialogue, a very annoying one at that), they add another level of difficulty to the gameplay, which makes these maps more challenging, and more fulfilling upon completion.
Bosses appearing in All-Range mode are often more difficult to defeat thanks to the aforementioned wingmate handicap. There is also the added challenge of looping back around multiple times to get a good shot on enemies that can only be attacked at specific intervals, as is the case with Saucerer on Katina. It is extremely easy to be caught on the far reaches of an All-Range stage just as a Boss becomes vulnerable and miss an opportunity to wipe out said Boss quickly and efficiently. And because time limits are a frequently featured challenge applied to All-Range levels and Bosses, these small mishaps can become deadly.
It is the use of both these forms of gameplay that make Star Fox 64 the most successful and memorable Rail-shooter of its generation, and what makes it so much more than just another shoot ’em up game.