Version tested: 3DS
In the absence of genuinely new games, this one was always going to work pretty well. Not only is 3D uniquely suited to rendering Lylat War's angular Arwings and chunky extra-terrestrial battlefields, but Star Fox 64 3D - it sounds, just for a minute, as if he's been shipped off to prison and assigned a number - as been helped onto Nintendo's handheld by Q-Games, the outfit that created the wonderful and quietly unappreciated Star Fox Command.
Remember that one? It took the farmyard sci-fi dogfighting template and rubbed some funk on it in the form of a light coating of turn-based strategy. It's almost sad to see the developer retreating to a remake for the follow-up. Thankfully, the team has handed in another lovely piece of work.
Sharing development duties with Nintendo, Q-Games hasn't just cleared up the audio and messed around with the Z-buffer to make Fox's classic N64 adventure output in 3D. The developer's gone much further, adding new backdrops, loads of fresh environmental detailing and textures, and - as far as I can tell - comprehensively reworking all the lighting and models.
The game still looks the part, but it's Star Fox 64 as you remember it rather than as it actually was - and that's a huge distinction. It's the same adventure, but it's been lovingly rebuilt strut by strut, and Q has managed to restore that elusive new car smell. If only they'd gotten rid of Falco while they were at it.
The effort on display makes for a nice surprise, as does the fact that the original design, which is now 15 years old, holds up really well. The world map offers a range of paths from Corneria to the toxic planet Venom where the villainous Andross has been exiled (if you're going to exile a villain, incidentally, sending them somewhere named Venom probably isn't the best idea), and a lot of the fun of the game is found in blasting through the campaign again and again, trying to remember the different criteria that will alter your journey.
How do you get from Corneria to Sector Y, rather than Meteo? Can you avoid stopping off on Titania to rescue Slippy? It's an ingenious and thrifty structure, and it feels very Nintendo. It's the Game Boy hardware design philosophy applied to software.
Away from the world map, Star Fox's adventures still have a frantic pace to them whether you're racing through space corridors and accidentally blasting Falco, or battling in all-range mode's arena sequences. The sky is dense with enemies, while attack waves have a kind of 3D Galaga elegance to them, and are filled with fleeting opportunities for multi-target kills.
The levels look beautiful, too: coming in low over Corneria you'll skim past translucent oceans and around jagged mountain ranges that weren't half as nice before, while Kitana is now a landscape of glinting lakes above which flutter huge clouds of enemy craft and that hovering mother ship.
Titania, further down the line, is a wonderfully atmospheric Mars rip-off, built of rusting sand dunes and the spars of collapsing temples, while the skeletal boss at the end of it has been transformed into a spindly and swift-moving horror. The frame-rate never judders, backgrounds never blur, and the metallic textures in particular are really excellent as they glint and shimmer under the light from alien suns.
The 3D effect is rather understated on the whole, but the depth it provides is particularly helpful in busy deep-space sections like Sector Y, where you're ducking space junk and boosting through the gaps that open up in between space hulks. And nudging Falco into passing debris, obviously.
There are still medals to be won for completing a set number of kills on each level, and there's a score attack option that lets you replay any of the levels you've already unlocked. Elsewhere, multiplayer is taken care of with a battle mode that allows up to four players to get together for dogfighting deathmatches.
It's not online, sadly, but you only need one cartridge between you to play, and it does some neat stuff with the 3DS camera, too, highlighting each person in the arena with a live feed of their face. It's another thoughtful touch, and it was enough to make me realise that my new beard probably has to go. If you don't have any friends, incidentally, you can battle against AI. You can also set up fake Facebook accounts and invite yourself to imaginary parties, but it gets a bit sad after a while. That's what Falco told me, anyway.
When it comes to control, you're choosing between two very similar set-ups that simply switch laser and break on the face buttons, and gyro control, which lets you handle basic steering by shifting the 3DS around in the air. If you're playing in full 3D, I simply couldn't get this option to work properly without the screen splitting into separate images, but it's responsive enough in 2D, and you can use it in concert with the circle pad. Elsewhere, you can play the games in 3DS or N64 mode - the latter is as hard as it used to be and locks out motion control, and the former is for idiots like me who can't tackle anything with a faster pace than Farmville anymore.
It's another carefully crafted package in the manner of Ocarina 3D, then, yet the ancient quality that Star Fox 64 3D exudes only makes you wish that Nintendo was releasing a few more, you know, entirely new games. Luigi, Mario and Kid Icarus are still a few months off, for the time being. Until then, I'll be hanging out with Slippy, Peppy, and Falco - that jerk.
8 / 10