Starwing – Overview

Version Played – Star Fox (SNES – ROM)

Starwing Box ArtWhen we look at the original Star Fox (titled Starwing over on European soil) we might not expect much from it. Polygons fighting polygons on bare settings with very little textures to distinguish one triangle from one cube; considered graphical breakthrough in its day, Starwing might not look so appealing today. However to judge this game on its looks would be to miss out on one of Nintendo’s most engaging experiences on the SNES. After playing through the first couple of levels, it draws you into this wonderful world so that even the lack of textures doesn’t matter anymore. In fact we begin to appreciate just how expressive these polygons can be, and they only get more alive and interesting as the game continues. This game proves that, while 3D gaming on the SNES was short lived, it certainly wasn’t a wasted venture to have produced something that is still so fun and enjoyable today.

Falco, Peppy and Slippy have distintictive characters despite limited lines of text each.
Falco, Peppy and Slippy have distintictive characters despite limited lines of text each.

The game puts you in control of Fox McCloud, who along with his teammates Falco, Peppy and Slippy, have been tasked with defeating the evil Emperor Andross and restoring peace to the Lylat System. Piloting the special Arwing spacecraft, team Star Fox travel across various planets and special phenomenon to reach Venom where Andross lies in waiting. Each stage is an on-rail shooter where the path is pre-determined and we must defeat everything that comes out way until facing a boss encounter. The game works an Arcade style framework with points awarded for the percentage of enemies blasted throughout each stage. The stages themselves manage to vary themselves enough and last just the right amount of time that we never really get bored whilst playing through them despite the on-rails action. The planets in particular may seem barren but they certainly surprise us along the way. This is helped by the addition of the Star Fox team who, despite their actions being somewhat limited, prevent the game from ever feeling so empty and without charm.

Plasma Hydra
Who said Polygons couldn’t be imaginative… and very, very painful!

However it’s the boss battles that truly shine here. Every boss has a discernible weak spot however we must figure out how best to hit it, which is where the challenge comes into play. Later bosses especially force us to think about what we’re doing and can even punish us for lack of care by spamming the laser button. Highlights include a craft with giant spinning deflectors, a lively yet angry alien lifeform with two heads and a spinning ship with long tentacle like arms whose only weakness is to fire our lasers down those arms and watching the energy travel into its core. Because these bosses prove so imaginative in gameplay design it really helps us build the world of the game away from the bare polygons that might initially turn people away.

The game hosts three level courses for us to choose from on our way to Venom, each one consisting of six to seven different stages which increase in difficulty the higher the path we choose. What the game does really well here is that no matter which path we choose we don’t feel let down for the arcade like run we’re invited on. Despite the difficulty differences the stages are again varied and interesting enough that even experienced players will still be playing through level one for the sheer enjoyment of it all.

There are a total of 21 individual stages in game. That's plenty of space battles to sink our teeth into.
There are a total of 21 individual stages in game. That’s plenty of space battles to sink our teeth into.
Kid you not, this is Fox fighting a Slot Machine in on of the more eerie parts of the game.
Kid you not, this is Fox fighting a Slot Machine in on of the more eerie parts of the game.

Finally there are mysterious hidden within the Lylat System which makes this specific quadrant of space feel a realm of infinite possibilities. On our journey we may encounter a Giant Friendly Whale, travel through an Awesome Black Hole or face-off a giant Slot Machine. This kind of charm is a welcome addition to the already established sci-fi genre which helps Starwing stand out all the more. With a great soundtrack to boot, indeed Starwing is still a memorable ride to play today.

Sadly due to legal disputes it seems unlikely this game will see light on any of Nintendo’s modern day consoles any time soon. It’s a shame to see such a game lose out on the attention it deserves but despite this I hope we all might consider giving this game another play through. With charm, variety and the right amount of challenge, Starwing is a ride not to be missed on the SNES.

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