Star Fox

I would pay good money for a new Star Fox game. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to experience partial freedom while moving continuously in a single direction. “Purposeful gameplay” is what they call that, I think. Game designers have forgotten the extent to which their audience loves to be controlled. I’m certain that, though the gaming community consistently demands “open worlds” and “open minds,” they wouldn’t pass up a good spanking or two, as long as it leads somewhere fun. I miss the games where it was like you had your big brother playing with you the whole time, going, “Shoot that! Oh, you missed it… Shoot that! Oh, you’re dead.” Most arguments for on-rails gameplay centre on the importance of the story. But that’s missing the point. The point is, people like to pay to be told what to do. With our individualistic western society that seems almost sinful, but games like House of the Dead and, especially, Star Fox prove that it’s possible to have fun with limited freedom.  And not just a little fun, a ton of fun. Star Fox is ballin-ass shit, and anyone that doesn’t think so is stupid. Hell, I could take any old kid, some kid born after the death of the Dreamcast, some kid who has never heard of the Game Cube. I could take this kid, sit him down with Star Fox and he’d be all talkin’ about how this was a revolution. That might be a stretch, but I’m pretty certain he wouldn’t trash my apartment.

So that’s all to tell you that Star Fox is still fun. Now I’m going to tell you why. It comes down to two things: characters and imagination. The first is the easier to describe, so I’ll go for that. The characters in Star Fox expect something from you. Right from the first training mission, Falco will rag on your ass if you ain’t doin’ it right, Slippy will encourage you, and that rabbit thing will say something insane. Probably something about carrots. I know how much he likes those. Anyway, this sets up a situation where you actually want to impress these characters. Hell, the characters don’t even have voices. They just say “bip bip bip bip” or “slurp slurp slurp” or something, and you’re still saying, “Oh shit, sorry” if you steal their kills. Except Falco; he’s a douche and I’ll steal his kills when I want to. But this game is perhaps the only game that successfully captures the magic of Top Gun and the last 14 minutes of Star Wars. Banter and shooting planes. That’s about as good as it gets.

The second point begins with an acknowledgement of the graphical limitations of this game. To be fair, the graphics are certainly better than anything else on the Super Nintendo, but that’s saying very little at this point. Let’s face it, you’re shooting geometric shapes. But what makes this game amazing is that it forces you to imagine the object behind the geometric shapes, and does it quite successfully. Let’s take, for example, this screen shot.

That’s like a frickin’ abstract painting man! Do what you want with it! It’s pretty apparent that it’s supposed to be some sort of walking thing, but the specifics are hazy. And that’s the beauty of it. For me, this guy was a giant robot carrying an equally giant piece of plywood. Maybe he’s building a cottage. Maybe he’s rehearsing some slapstick comedy. Either way, I killed him dead. All of the enemies and buildings in Star Fox are like this. They force you to invent the parts that the engine isn’t capable of rendering. You might say this is pretty similar to the argument against gratuitous CGI, and it is. It’s the same thing. Congratulations. And to make a quick analogy to the film industry: watching Star Wars: Episode 1, it’s hard not to notice how dated the CGI is. That was made 11 years ago, and it shows it. A New Hope, made in 1977, holds up because there’s a reliance on the imagination of the viewer.

The point is, Star Fox is an incredible game. Easily as incredible as the version for Nintendo 64. It probably one of the only games on this list that people will still play in ten years. It goes beyond nostalgia.

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