Star Fox 64 is rail gun arcade shooting at its best.
Nintendo established the formula and premise for the franchise with this game's predecessor, the well regarded Star Fox for the Super Nintendo. You play as Fox McCloud, blasting your way through scores of enemy fighters (some robot, some animal, some alien), traveling with your Arwing wingmen through divergent level paths to reach a showdown with the evil Andross on the planet Venom.
But in many ways, the comparitively limited three dimensional capabilities of the Super NES meant that the hardware was not truly suited to implement the game's concept.
Utilizing the improved power of the N64, Nintendo was able to fully realize the gameplay elements that eluded them on the SNES: a silky smooth framerate, a target charge and lock-on feature, levels filled to the brim with enemy targets, the ability to perform "somersault" loops and to fly in "all-range" 360 degree mode, and the inclusion of the Landmaster Tank and Blue Marine vehicle types.
More than a decade after its release, Star Fox 64 still has the ability to impress visually, and its gameplay is still relentlessly fast and challenging.
Your mission is straightforward and simple enough if you merely complete each level without going for extra perks and rewards. But when you start trying for the game's fiendishly difficult medals, it opens up an addictive and exhilarating meta-game that can take a long, long time to master.
In order to achieve a medal, you must score a certain enemy kill count, AND all of your wingmen must make it to the end of the level without being taken out by the enemy. The most difficult level, Venom, requires no less than 300 kills, and it is quite difficult to keep your lovable but hapless buddies out of the fire.
Achieving the medals unlocks extras such as the ability to use the Landmaster Tank in versus mode, the very difficult "Expert Mode" wherein Fox wears aviator glasses like his father, and finally, the ability to fight on foot in versus mode with a rocket launcher.
I still have not come close to achieving the Herculean task of getting all the medals on the Standard difficulty, let alone the Expert Mode. I spent hours trying to come up with the best custom controller scheme for an Xbox 360 layout whilst running this game on an emulator.
(Cheating? Maybe so....Charlie Sheen would call it WINNING.)
Even with this ace-in-the-hole that wasn't available to late 90s gamers, I don't know if I'll ever be able to best this challenge.
But I will always be ready and eager to come back for another round.