Were the old days as good as I remember them? Was my 10th birthday party really that fun? Was my first girlfriend as pretty as I recall? And just how entertaining — really — was "Star Fox 64"?
I don't trust my long-term video game memory. I haven't since I replayed the original 1987 "Metroid" in 2004, as an unlockable bonus in the Game Boy Advance game "Metroid: Zero Mission." The old game was too hard, required too many restarts, and, well, why did I think it was fun to start a game with a laser beam that could only shoot halfway across the screen? The 2004 version of me preferred the remake.
On Wednesday, MTV News reporter James Montgomery complained to me about a similarly shattered memory. He had downloaded the late-'80s football classic "Tecmo Bowl" on his Nintendo Wii. " 'Tecmo Bowl,' " he declared. "Not as fun as it was when I was 12 years old."
I was thinking about this Wednesday night when I logged onto the Wii's old-games virtual shop and browsed the lineup. Should I download "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" and see how it really compares to "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess"? (I remember "Ocarina" being better.) Or should I actually play both in the same calendar year to really find out?
The title I finally took a chance on Wednesday night was "Star Fox 64." I first bought the game in summer 1997 when its release offered welcome relief from the drought of games plaguing the N64 since its release late the previous year. The Nintendo game, like the SNES "Star Fox" original, starred a bunch of talking animals who flew space fighters. Players flew Star Fox and his buddies Slippy, Falco and Peppy over cities and through asteroid fields, zapping the evil forces of Andross every speed boost of the way.
I remember "Star Fox 64" fondly for a number of reasons. The N64 was my third straight Nintendo system. I didn't own a PlayStation, but some of that system's standout qualities snuck into my gaming experience via "Star Fox." Unusual for a Nintendo game but typical for many of PlayStation's biggest hits, the game's characters actually spoke aloud. The Nintendo game also had cut scenes, which is something my Sony-owning friends told me their system was great at running. The game also stood out because it came with the Rumble Pak, an add-on to the Nintendo 64 that added force-feedback for any explosions and collisions in the game. Rumble became a standard feature of most game controllers made since then.
"Star Fox 64" had a few other oddities. I'm pretty sure the Katina level, which sent Fox's squad against hundreds of alien fighters and a big mother ship, was an homage to the movie "Independence Day," which came out the previous summer. The Katina level is the first and last time I've ever seen a scene in a Nintendo game that bore any connection to a Hollywood movie.
"Star Fox 64" was also notable because of its brevity. I could play from beginning to end in less time than it took to watch a movie, and without being able to save mid-adventure, that seemed to be the point. A branching mission structure allowed the experience to differ from one play-through to the next, so there was more content than you could ever experience in a single session.
Nevertheless, this was the first widely advertised video game that I can recall feeling short. Until then, it seemed like any major new game was longer and grander than the ones before it. The major games released at the end of the SNES and Genesis era tended to last a while. "Super Mario 64" was a bigger game than any of them. Then came "Star Fox 64." That game signaled to me that the designers at Nintendo, at least, might be interested in making shorter games. "Ocarina of Time" aside, that's just what they started doing for the next several years.
Those are the reasons "Star Fox" stood out to me. Plus there was the fact that it was a lot of fun, except I'm not sure that that's actually a "fact." I've played one level of "Star Fox 64" on the Wii so far. I remember the old moves. I know where the enemy ships are going to appear. All the voiceover lines sound familiar even though it's been more than five years since I last heard them. I'll play on and hope my memories hold up, hope that I didn't just pay 1,000 Wii points ($10) to have a fond memory crushed.
There's hope in the old games and old memories yet. James IM'd me Thursday (April 5), perhaps to clarify his "Tecmo Bowl" stance and perhaps to lift my spirits. Yes, that football game was bad, but there was some good news. "Note: The corollary does not apply to [1991's] 'Tecmo Super Bowl,' " he wrote, "which is the greatest game ever made." He played it just last year. It held up.
— Stephen Totilo