Retro Sunday: Lylat Wars // VC

January 24, 2010

Five years before Rare took him out of his Arwing, gave him a staff and plonked him into an unlikely 3rd-person action adventure game, Fox McCloud landed on the Nintendo 64 in a remake of the original SNES classic Starwing, bundling the Rumble Pak in the box for good measure. Now available for Virtual Console in all its original glory, I took Star Fox for a spin against big baddie Andross to see if my fond memories of this space shooter held up after all these years.

Heading up the Star Fox team as Fox McCloud in the gaming landscape of 2010 is still a fun, but admittedly brief, affair. Control mechanics of your little starship are tight but fluid, allowing barrel rolls and somersaults, and the point-scoring system which awards bonuses for defeating several enemies at once with a charged-up laser shot is the key to unlocking the harder route through the game’s singleplayer mode. This takes place over 7 missions, the final hurrah being an assault on Venom, the homeworld of a giant, floating monkey head (aka Andross) with a penchant for sucking in loose space debris and spitting it back out at you. Charming.

Alongside you for this mission – ostensibly a vengeance vendetta for the betrayal of your father James – are your fellow animal cohorts, in the form of falcon Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare (guess the animal) and Slippy Toad (guess the animal, again). One of Lylat Wars’ major draws for me upon its original release was the inclusion of actual speech, and hearing the over-egged delivery and hammy screams of your fellow pilots throughout is grin-inducing. But don’t rely on your friends for any great support or nuggets of wisdom; every one of them is prone to being chased by enemies and screeching at you over the intercom to help them out, or in the case of Peppy, barking such helpful remarks as ‘Just shoot it, Fox.’

In counterpoint to the Star Fox team, Lylat Wars (the game’s European title, Star Fox 64 in the US) introduced the Star Wolf team, another group of animals, this time with a villainous bent. Enter Wolf O’Donnell, Leon Polawski (a chameleon), Pigma Dengar and Andrew (ooh scary) Oikonny – a team of adversaries usually faced in missions requiring ‘all-range mode’ where the action switches from flying straight forward to a 360-degree battlefield, where u-turns enable you to switch directions and judicious use of the somersault is required to shake the ‘bogeys’ off your tail. Watch out for Leon’s posh drawl; another great example of over-enthusiastic voice acting that brings back warm memories.

It only took me an hour to complete the game from start to finish, but the replay value in Lylat Wars is substantial, considering that achieving a certain score threshold, or activating some other special criteria, unlocks a different route through the various planets in the Lylat system. Theoretically, you could take a different route through the game each time it’s played, and a cursory glance at the Wikipedia entry for the title suggests that there are 25 possible routes to take, a number which makes the paltry game-time of one hour easier to swallow. Throw in the fact that certain missions involve the Blue Marine (an aquatic, underwater vehicle) and my favourite, the Landmaster (an armoured tank), and there are certainly plenty of reasons to fire up Lylat Wars again. My favourite mission, The Forever Train, in which you chase a locomotive with the Landmaster before it reaches the depot, is as fun today as it was in 1997, and a reason in itself for giving Lylat Wars a second spin.

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, trusting nostalgia is a tricky business. Many games don’t age well, often disappointing when revisiting them many years later to recapture the fun gaming moments of your childhood. Lylat Wars isn’t one of those, and whilst the 1000 points Nintendo are asking for on the Virtual Console service is a little steep for such a short game, you won’t begrudge spending them on this solid shooter, which turned out to be the last great adventure of Fox McCloud before he was sent off on a more bizarre tangent.

Comical bonus: the archive of the official Star Fox 64 website.


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