Review by MTLH

Reviewed: 08/02/10

The best Star Fox game by far.

The original Starwing was a revolutionary game when it was released in 1993. It contained the Super FX chip which allowed it to use 3D graphics on the SNES. The game was also the start of a major franchises for Nintendo although naturally it would never reach the same popularity Mario and Zelda have achieved.

The sequels can be found on the Nintendo 64, Game Cube and Nintendo DS with their quality differing greatly. Star Fox Adventures is a great Zelda clone but has actually very little to do with the traditional Star Fox gameplay. Star Fox Assault was more traditional but placed Fox outside of his Arwing more times than was comfortable. Finally, Star Fox Command featured a more tactical approach but unfortunately didn’t take it far enough resulting in a solid title full of unfulfilled potential.

The second game in the series however, the one under scrutiny in this review, is arguably the best of the bunch. This was Lylat Wars released for the Nintendo 64. Read further to find out why this game ranks so highly.

To begin on a positive note, Lylat Wars still runs very smoothly. There is practically no slowdown if at all and animation is also quite fluid. Furthermore, objects and environments are well defined and show a fair degree of variation. End of level guardians also tend to look big and impressive. As such, the game can look very pretty.

The flipside is rather predictably that the technology running Lylat Wars is rather dated. It is of course thirteen years old, which places it a few generations back in time. The age shows in the blurry textures and the rough and angular lines on the objects and landmarks. Lylat Wars also has the mild fog effect that a lot of Nintendo 64 games had to various degrees. It furthermore becomes apparent in the few cut scenes where Fox and his team-mates are shown in person, which feature stiff animation and decidedly blocky character models. The game also tends to look a little grainy at times.

Luckily, this doesn’t make Lylat Wars an ugly game by any means. The game is still very atmospheric and during play the deficiencies aren’t that noticeable. More importantly, because it also still runs fluidly the visuals don’t ruin the gameplay. Lylat Wars’ graphics just aren’t as cutting edge as they used to be but that only was to be expected.

The score is very good. It’s energetic and atmospheric and is appropriately futuristic. Sound effects are good too with well implemented explosions, laser fire and other more minor effects. The voice acting is hit and miss but generally quite reasonable. The quips and taunts the team shoot at each other and their enemies is nicely done and the spoken introduction is quite good. The mission briefings between Fox and Pepper on the other hand are too short and unconvincing. The voices in general could also have been delivered a little less enthusiastic.

Like the overall game itself, Lylat Wars’ plot is somewhat of an extended remake of it’s predecessor on the SNES. A megalomaniac scientist named Andross was banished after his failed attempt to take over the Lylat system. When he decides to have a second go, it comes down to the mercenary team known as Star Fox to foil his plans.

At it’s core the game remains a rail shooter where Fox is guided along a path to his primary target at the end of the level. The gameplay still revolves around shooting enemies, dodging incoming fire and obstacles and then shoot some more. It may sound simple but the action is glorious.

The structure in which this takes place is quite different however. Like Starwing, Lylat Wars uses a map to show the team’s progress. Whereas in it’s predecessor the player chose one of the three paths available and thus the difficulty setting, this game is much more flexible. Most levels have some sort of hidden objectives which are usually completed by simply playing well and occasionally acting on a hint given by a team-mate. The very first level, for example, leads to a different guardian when Fox rescues a team-mate and subsequently flies through some arches. Successfully completing such objectives leads to a different path on the map. Experimentation and acting on instinct are thus encouraged to get the most out of the game.

The levels themselves are surprisingly varied despite the premise and core gameplay. They range from Lylat’s sun where the intense heat slowly damages the ships to dodging the debris of a destroyed base to aiding the Cornerian fleet against Andross’ forces to avoiding searchlights for an easier assault on a garbage dump. Together with the new structure, this variation also acts as an encouragement to try out everything in order see all the game has to offer.

Lylat Wars does shake the traditional gameplay up a bit. One of these alterations is that Fox actually leaves his Arwing for a few levels in order to take command of a tank or submarine. The submarine controls much the same as his spacecraft only for the bombs to be replaced by an infinite amount of torpedoes. These aren’t only used to destroy enemies but also to light the way in the darkness. The tank fires both lasers and bombs and is capable of hovering above the ground for a few seconds. A Starfox game is at it’s best when it involves an Arwing but even so, these levels form a nice diversion. The underwater level’s gimmick of using torpedoes to light the way is a good idea that is unfortunately hindered by the Nintendo 64’s limitations. The tank sections fare better, with the train chase on Macbeth even being one of the game’s highlights.

Another novelty is that Lylat Wars also offers several free roaming levels where Fox and his team are set loose in an enclosed space. These feature a slightly different kind of gameplay based more on dogfighting. Compared to the switch to different vehicles, this alteration fits better within the traditional framework and these levels are amongst the game’s better ones.

The Nintendo 64’s controller isn’t a particular favourite of mine. I personally find it to be a bit too bulky to be truly comfortable. Still, the controls are sharp and responsive and that is what counts in an action game. As a side note, Lylat Wars was the first Nintendo 64 game to use the rumble pack, a device that could be slotted into the controller and gave out vibrations.

Lylat Wars’ difficulty is linked to the map. Naturally, the challenge increases as the player progresses through the game yet with the different routes on offer that challenge can vary quite a bit. Lylat Wars can be vicious when it wants to be but generally the difficulty is set just right. The main point is that the game is almost never unfair, shying away from cheap shots and unavoidable threats. The only exception being the submarine level where due to the machine’s limitations it is hard to see what and who is trying to kill you and where they’re shooting from. Lylat Wars also offers a multiplayer component which is a mild distraction but doesn’t even come close to the one of Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye.

The presentation is updated but suffers from some mixed results. The game can s look quite pretty and the soundtrack and sound effects are very good. At the same time the presentation is also quite dated. It doesn’t interfere with the gameplay though and it certainly didn’t bother me.

When it comes to the gameplay, Lylat Wars takes the basics of Starwing and greatly expands upon them. This means that the game plays a lot like it’s predecessor. The biggest improvement is that the gameplay runs more smoothly due to stronger hardware. Of the additions to the gameplay, the free roaming levels are the best. They fit perfectly in the traditional structure. The tank and submarine are more troubling additions. The tank levels are fun enough to be acceptable but the submarine level is just a bridge too far. The new map and accompanying level structure is a welcome addition that adds a lot of replayability and invites the player to be inventive.

What makes Lylat Wars the best entry in the series is that it is the purest of them all. Starwing was hampered by it’s hardware. The others either added things to the gameplay that they shouldn’t have, Assault’s on foot missions for example, or changed it completely, like Adventures blatantly being a Zelda clone. Lylat Wars took everything that made Starwing great and perfected it. A single misguided underwater level and a relatively dated presentation don’t detract from that.

OVERALL: a perfect 10!

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Lylat Wars (EU, 10/20/97)

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