Known as ‘Star Fox 64’ by those across the pond, Lylat Wars is the successor of the incredible Star Fox for the SNES.  Released in 1997, the game was the first to make use of the Rumble Pak and one of my all-time favourites.  More of a ‘reboot’ of the NES title than a sequel, the game is generally regarded as a Nintendo classic. 

While Star Fox was, particularly on PAL versions of the SNES, fairly clunky and unresponsive at times, suffering from drops in frame rate which made piloting through barrages of missiles quite difficult, Lylat Wars seized the opportunity to take that formula and turn it into a real winner.

The game is a scrolling flight based shooter which I remember most fondly for the superb voice-acting employed throughout.  Your allies and opponents will frequently chatter over the airwaves, adding new levels of depth to an already outstanding game.  The game’s dialogue is so fondly remembered by many that a number of lines have found their way into popular internet culture, including “Do a barrel roll!”

And lo, a whole meme is born.
And lo, a whole meme is born.

The story is fairly simple.  An evil emperor is banished to a lone planet in the Lylat System, Venom.  When ‘strange activity’ is noticed on Venom, the original Star Fox team, led by James McCloud, is sent to investigate.  However, betrayal sees the team captured, and only one member manages to escape, Peppy Hare.  From there, Peppy goes on to tell Fox, James’ son, about his father’s fate, and the game begins.  The player takes control of Fox within his Arwing, an aircraft capable of launching bombs, dual lasers and doing a variation of acrobatic skills with the C-Pad.  The ultimate goal is to exact revenge upon the emperor Andross and restore peace to the Lylat system with your own Star Fox team.

The team is largely what separates this game from any other standard space shooter, in that you are expected to care for your comrades well being.  Their constant back-and-forth jabber on the radio only makes you grow more and more fond of your brothers in arms, and all the more determined to see them through the trials ahead.  After all, on the Hardest route through the Lylat System, things can get incredibly hairy without a full team to assault Andross’ armada, so it’s important to have your boys ready to fly at every stage.

With fluent and responsive controls making stunts such as somersaults through asteroid fields and U-Turns to outwit chasing opponents in dogfights, Lylat Wars is, for the most part, a high-octane series of loops, spins and evasive manoeuvres combined with a constant spray of bright blue lasers.  At the time, the use of the Rumble Pak was an exciting one.  Having one wing blown off in a skirmish would cause the controller to shake violently in your hands, an experience which was moderately new to gamers at the time, and only add to the intensity of the already adrenaline-fuelled aerial combat.

No, this is Lylat Wars.
No, this is Lylat Wars.

However, the game is not without fault.  There are specific stages which break up the excitement by either being slow and dull or by simply taking you out of the Arwing.  Piloting a variety of crafts might be interesting, but in all honesty, with Lylat Wars it’s far more polished and fluid to be in a flying vessel.  Using the Landmaster tank in certain levels is frustrating because for whatever reason you are forced to constantly travel forwards, despite being in a land vehicle.  In the underwater stage Aquas, you are expected to use the Blue Marine, a sort of submarine which travels so slowly and has an unlimited supply of torpedoes which seem insistent on targeting the lowest priority sea-slug in favour of a giant, fanged angler fish ready to turn you into a tinned sardine.

The musical score is fantastic, in particular the Star Wolf battle music.  It manages to accompany atmospheric and daunting flights through deep space, victorious fanfares as you complete a mission, and intense skirmishes in heated airspace.  However, there’s no much-loved Corneria theme from the SNES Star Fox, and that would be my only damning criticism.

Graphically, Lylat Wars is as one might expect from the N64.  It outdoes itself in areas, particularly in the earlier stages.  Textures pasted over polygon models and obviously two-dimensional trees posing as 3-D, the sort of thing the era is known for.  However, sometimes the graphics do take a dip, in particular on Venom where the fact that you are flying constantly into an uninteresting skybox while mud passes you by below only makes things a little bit anticlimactic.  There is one point during the dreadful underwater segment in which Slippy says; “Look at that, it’s beautiful!”.  That may have been an overstatement, as I’m still not sure what he was referring to at that point.

Here I am with Lylat Wars at a Retro Game con in my hometown, years ago!  Top score!  ... I've had my hair cut.
Here I am with Lylat Wars at a Retro Game con in my hometown, years ago! Top score! … I’ve had my hair cut.

Ultimately though, those stages are quickly forgiven in favour of more exciting battles, such as blasting through war-torn Corneria and a climactic dogfight with arch-rivals, Star Wolf.  While the multiplayer is somewhat frustratingly divided into 4 screens despite the number of players and the fact that certain team-mates, naming no names, are actually detrimental to your team in the long and short of it, Lylat Wars will always stick out in my mind as that perfect balance of compelling characterisation and fast-paced action.  A perfect example of a reboot done well, Lylat Wars took everything about the SNES classic and improved upon every single aspect.