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Retro Respawn – Starwing

I decided to take a break from Random Velocity matches, mainly because I’ve been mostly without internet for most of the week, so I decided to play some SNES in order to make the evenings move by a little more smoothly. I must say that there’s something eternally satisfying about the “plug in and play” nature of classic consoles like the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter where you are, so long as you have a telly, electricity and the required assorted cables, you can be getting stuck into an enjoyable slice of retro gaming action in mere seconds.

The two games I spent most of the week playing were “International Superstar Soccer: Deluxe” and “Starwing”, with both providing enjoyable distractions from the cold and darkness outside. American readers may wonder what “Starwing” is. The reason for that is that the game was actually known as “Star Fox” over the pond, but due to licensing issues here in Merry Old Blighty, it had to go by a different name. It’s the same reason that “Star Fox 64” ended up getting named “Lylat Wars” over here as well. I’ve espoused my love for Lylat Wars in the past on this site, with my belief that it gave a fan of the original game everything they’d want from a sequel to the original game.

But what of the original game, does it still hold up?

Certainly it shows its age from a graphical perspective, as most games in its shoes would. Starwing was one of the first games to make use of Nintendo’s famed “Super FX Chip”. Installed onto the cartridge itself, the Super FX Chip gave the Super Nintendo console the ability to render 3D polygons whilst also increasing its abilities when it came to rendering 2D effects. This allowed Nintendo to spruce up the games without having to release a whole new set of hardware. The Super FX Chip gave a game like Starwing, quite literally, a whole new dimension. Looking back on the game with modern eyes, the 3D polygons look blocky and rough around the edges, but at the time this was revolutionary stuff for a fourth gen home console.

Even though the graphics aren’t especially smooth to a modern sensibility, I personally think they have a real charm to them that comes through when you play the game. The blockiness of the polygons makes for a very otherworldly feel to everything, which suits the mood of a space fighting flight sim quite well. Different colours are used well to make every level have its own unique feel, with light greens and blues being utilised on the Corneria level to give it a feeling of a lush homeland, whilst dark greens and greys are used on the meteor level to make it feel remote and barren. Most of the game’s bosses are well designed as well, with some of the more jagged polygons going towards making them look unusual and creepy. The boss of the aforementioned meteor stage would fit that description quite well, as it has an insectoid quality to it that always freaked me out a bit as a youngster.

One aspect of the game that has aged very well is Hajime Hirasawa’s score, which pays homage to space operas of the silver screen with a fantastic soundtrack. Early stages, like Corneria, feature up tempo tracks that get you invested in the action instantly, whilst the latter stages in outer space generally feature slower, more epic tracks. I really can’t stress enough how important the soundtrack is when it comes to immersion in the game. Take the soundtrack away from this game and you’d have a much weaker experience. In general I really like the game’s aesthetic as it makes good use of both the Super FX Chip and the existing hardware on the console to push the gaming experience as far as it possibly can. In some ways, this game really is a technological marvel.

However, graphics and music are but two parts of the puzzle. What a game will ultimately live or die by is its gameplay. On that front, Starwing is still decent although a little unpolished. Your Arwing spacecraft moves smoothly across the screen, with the controls being responsive. Things can occasionally get a bit dicey when it comes to slipping through narrow nooks and crannies at speed, as one slight press in the wrong direction can send your craft crashing into the walls. In general, however, it’s relatively easy to get your Arwing where you want it to go, and the ability to barrel roll will give you the opportunity to shake off sticky critters whilst also blocking enemy laser attacks.

Playing as Fox McCloud, your are backed up by your flying squadron of Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad and Falco Lombardi (what a missed opportunity to not call him Falco Amadeus, by the way), who supposedly should be there to help you in battles. However, you’ll spend most of the time saving them from getting killed, and on the rare occasions they actually do something, they will kill a token baddie before swanning off. And sometimes they’ll demand the right to finish a bad guy off but will take forever to do it. Often these baddies will be firing in your direction, which means you can either sit politely taking fire whilst you wait for your teammate to finally get off their backside, or you can just kill them yourself and get a whiny message for your sins.

Despite the annoyance of having to look after and deal with your needy colleagues, Starwing is still an enjoyable and challenging game to play today. The game gives you three different routes you can take through the game, with Level One being the easiest and Level Three being the most difficult. One nice thing about Level Three is that you tackle Corneria at dusk instead of during the day, which means you battle under a red sky and take a slightly different route. I was able to complete Level One on a sole continue when going back to the game for this feature, which makes it one of the rare occasions where I was actually better at a game as an adult as opposed to a child. It took me months to finally complete Starwing in my younger days, and even if you do manage to complete one of the three levels, you can still try it again to beat your score, which provides longevity to the experience.

Overall, I still found Starwing to be a classic game all these years later. Historically, it is an incredibly important one, but even discounting that, it’s still an enjoyable game to play. Yes, Lylat Wars went on to improve it in every way, but that doesn’t mean the original game in the series is now obsolete. If you’ve never played the game, then I heartily recommend you do as it’s a huge contribution to Nintendo’s library and is also bags of fun to play as well.

Whilst you’re here, why not take a goosey gander at Ian’s review of the latest Scuf Impact pads by clicking right HERE?

And if reading this article has given you the itch to play Starwing, you can view the Amazon page for it by clicking right HERE

Thanks for reading, and take care till next time!

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