If there's one important thing I learned from reviewing Star Fox 64 3D for the Nintendo 3DS it's that I am just as bad at shooters as I had remembered being. Of course, the game works for all skill levels, thankfully, so my review won't be about how frustrating I found it.
Also, right off the bat, I need to admit that I never played the original Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 64, so for me, this was a relatively new experience. If you're a fan of the original, your reaction might be different. You might think it's awesome to have this game with improved graphics and 3D effects. Or you might be frustrated that it's the same game all over again with prettier window dressing, and not a proper sequel. So as always, YMMV!
As a remake of Star Fox 64, the main gameplay remains the same, but with a graphical upgrade and the addition of 3D effects. I thought it was cute that the developers retained the marionette mouths for the characters when they talk, and while the character models are improved, the actual animation still looks as stiff as before. As Star Fox, you lead your (sometimes irritating) team of squadmates into battles, working your way through a half dozen levels to reach the boss. Each level splinters off depending on certain conditions, so there are multiple pathways through the game. This is good, because one playthrough doesn't take very long, so the challenges of opening the other paths offers some replayability. Although I found it rather irritating that after finishing a level and failing to meet the conditions to open up a different pathway, if you want to go back and retry the level, you have to forfeit one ship. That's just rude. Although once you have played through a level, you can tackle it in Score Attack Mode to try and beat your previous scores.
In addition, there is also a Battle Mode where you can face off against up to three AI opponents or three of your friends. There are three games: Survival (last man standing), Point Battle (reach the set number of points) and Time Battle (most points when time runs out). Within each, you can tweak various settings such as arena, point count and whatnot. Unfortunately, while it's great you only need one game card to do it, multiplayer remains local only, with no online play at all. Nintendo continues to be backwards on that front. I understand that they want you to be in the same room to play with your buddies, but they need to realize that while that might be good for kids to play together at recess, it's harder for adults to coordinate that sort of thing. And adults do play these games, Nintendo. Online play is more important than ever. And it makes no sense that it's local only because one of the fun features of multiplayer is the use of the 3DS inward-facing camera to stream live images of your opponents that float above their ships. So you know who you're shooting at with just a glance. I mean, the windows are really tiny, and the image quality is a bit crap, but it's still a neat feature. Of course, if you're playing in the same room with your friends, you can just look at their actual grimace when you beat them instead of their little screen grab.
Graphics look terrific, with a great deal of detail added to everything, and some nice effects, too. The 3D effects are a bit hit or miss. Flying through obstacles is obviously awesome, but during some scenes, the backgrounds look awful flat. Like a planet in a star field, it's just a flat background that the 3D ships fly in front of. There's no roundness to the planet or anything. It's a small quibble, but it kind of ruins the 3D in the cutscenes.
Controls are pretty customizable. You can choose to use the same configuration as on the N64 version, or the layout for 3DS, and then add on gyro controls if you choose. This means you can actually control your Arwing by tilting your 3DS up, down, left and right. It's a neat feature, and you can use it alongside the circle pad, but I tended to turn it off because I was playing on the train mostly and didn't want to accidentally elbow the people next to me when I got into a particularly twisty course! Oh, and the controls also change for the level when you're playing on the ground in the hover tank. And it's awful. The tank is nowhere near as much fun as flying through the air/space. Worst level of the game.
As I said at the start, I'm not particularly good at shooters, and when playing against the AI opponents in Battle Mode, I did horribly. I also took the Path of Greatest Suckitude when doing my first playthrough of the game. But that said, it was still an enjoyable experience. It's a solid game. It looks great and plays great, even if I'm not that great at playing it. The multiple paths and Battle Modes add quite a bit of replayability as you try to beat your scores and gain medals to unlock more options and show your friends who's boss. Although, again, as I said at the start, if you're looking for a brand new Star Fox experience, you're kind of out of luck!
A copy of Star Fox 64 3D was provided by Nintendo for the purposes of this review. Story Mode was completed once and multiple rounds of Battle Mode were played, both against AI and friends.