Star Fox 64 (N64)

This game was a big part of my childhood, and in fact was the game I got with my Nintendo 64 while my brother got Shadows of the Empire. Guess it's time to see how it holds up as an adult, and what I'm pretty sure is the first time I've played it after clearing Route 3 in the original Star Fox.

The goal of Star Fox 64 was clearly to be more cinematic than the SNES game, hence the constant dialogue, some enemy behavior like the boss of Titania emerging from the sand when you piss it off or the giant clam glaring at you before slamming shut, and the finale where James' soul appears to lead Fox out of Venom. But is it just the expectations set by my tiny child mind, or does the actual game seem kinda, well, small? Like there's just not enough rail-shooting meat here? Some levels feel like they end just as they're getting interesting, and bosses on the easy route feel like they were tuned for a level 1 gun as they melt before they get a chance to do anything with a level 3 gun.

Adding to this emaciated feeling is how many levels are wasted on all-range battles in a small area. The original Sector Z was hellish barrage of space debris, this one is a hellish barrage of intercom calls as your wingmen endlessly screaming for help while you're trying to deal with the missiles on the other side of the map. Hard Venom is just a dogfight against fucking Star Wolf, and Katina must by the Cornerian army's planetary latrine because that level is dogshit. And look, I get not making your wingmen too intelligent, you don't want them robbing the game from the player. But can they at least not be a liability, flying in front of you and acting like it's your fault when you shoot them, or slamming into you in the all-range levels?

Levels having optional missions is a neat idea, like retrouting the train on Macbeth so it slams into the weapons depot, but I'm not sure tying level progression to these events was the best idea. I can sort of understand the game rerouting you to an easier level for failing skill checks, like if you don't bring down the mothership before it nukes the base on Katina or you get the wing blown off Great Fox in Sector Z, but other times it feels like the game is punishing you for making one tiny mistake, or wanting to play the game a certain way. If you wanted to leave the portals in Meteo and Sector X, cool, but making me feel like a failure for wanting to fight those bosses is a bit misguided.

For shits and giggles I ran through the 3DS version, and I'm legitimately impressed the voice acting is somehow even worse than on the N64.


Chasm (PC)

Chasm has the bones of a decent indie Metroidvania. It's not the scale of Symphony of the Night, but it's still got the "Oh, I remember a spot where I can use this new ability" moments and some nice pixel art. And it's nice to have enemies that take more finesse than "bulldoze through" to down, even if there are better ways to do that. I really wish you could cancel an attack with a dash. Nailing your character's feet to the ground during attacks makes it so you have to run up to enemies to trigger their attack windup, dash away and let them swing, run back up during their cooldown, hit them once or twice, then dash away again and repeat and if your timing is just a wee bit off they knock off a fifth of your health bar.

So what holds it back? Two words, procedural generation. While it's impressive to have a Metroidvania build its map without creating unwinnable situations with a badly placed powerup, for every room with something interesting going on there's five copy-pasted hallways with haphazardly placed enemies for you to slog and backtrack through. And while the pixel art gives it a decent atmosphere, especially when you're traversing the area built out of bones, the story isn't great and is told almost entirely through letters and infodumps from an archaeologist studying a lost tribe. A few of the lore nuggets might have worked if, first, more happened in the game, and second, the main character didn't have the personality of a blank chalkboard and actually reacted to anything. Although the ending where you kill a demon god from beyond time and space that's already devoured countless worlds and has its sights set on this one, and get a medal for your troubles was kind of hilarious.