Soapbox articles give our team a chance to share some personal perspectives; today it’s the turn of Tom Whitehead to talk about the 64-bit game that sparked his love affair with Nintendo…
I’m old enough to say my first gaming system was a ZX Spectrum, which is a big yikes. We had a BBC Computer for a time too. If those references are too obscure and British, I’ll say that my first mainstream console ended up being the SEGA Mega Drive when I was about 7 years old. So yes, I’m pretty much middle-aged now — it’s not fun writing those words.
I’ve also dedicated a significant chunk of my working life to writing about Nintendo, so it may be surprising to some when I say the first Nintendo game at home that I owned (well, it was my brother’s but he lived there too), was Star Fox 64; essentially, my first Nintendo game.
In fact, the Nintendo 64 was our first Nintendo system — I’m old enough that I could have theoretically had a NES, SNES and Game Boy, but didn’t. I’d seen a SNES at a cousin’s house and been impressed by Super Punch-Out!!, but I was a SEGA / PC kid in those days.
I’m not sure why he wanted it so badly, possibly it was the mindblowing 3D graphics it offered, but my older brother spent a hefty chunk of his first ever paycheque on a Nintendo 64 / Lylat Wars bundle. Games like GoldenEye 007, Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time all followed in quick order (presumably after subsequent paycheques), and I played them all in wide-eyed wonder. But Star Fox 64 was my introduction to Nintendo, and what an introduction.
Growing up I was a Star Wars fanatic; I watched the original films over-and-over again, we had those rad X-Wing / Tie Fighter games on PC, and I read Timothy Zahn’s brilliant ‘Thrawn Trilogy’ books cover to cover. While Star Fox 64 has a crew of anthropomorphic animals, it also has Star Wars written all over it. From the set pieces to the ending where you fly out of a tunnel as a base explodes, right through to the medal ceremony, it’s Star Wars fan fiction in a colourful, furry (well, polygonal) form.
Also remember that the leap from 16-bit gaming and mid-’90s PC to Star Fox 64 was eye-popping back then. The visuals, the smooth movement with that analogue stick — it was gaming perfection. As a kid that also grew up obsessed with arcades, it felt like having a tiny cabinet at home without the pesky requirement of begging my parents for change. It was a real ‘wow’ moment.
Everyone remembers firsts, and those moments nudge their way into the corners of our mind where they snuggle in for the rest of our lives, giving a warm glow when we need it the most. In gaming terms, Star Fox 64 does that for me. I bought and played the 3DS remake over and over again, I played the heck out of Star Fox Zero as it was the closest thing we’ve had since. I bought Starlink with the Arwing figurine, because I had to. And yes, it was the first game I tried then the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack went live.
I was drawn to it recently with the My Nintendo N64 poster set in Europe, too, with the Star Fox 64 poster being the only one I care about putting on my wall. I see the logo, the game, or hear its music, and that’s enough to take me back to one of my favourite times in gaming.
A lot of people talk about Pokémon, Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda or Metroid as their original and greatest Nintendo memories. That’s wonderful, but for me it’ll always be the underappreciated and seemingly dormant Star Fox. It’s pure distilled arcadey Star Wars-inspired fun — Star Fox 64 will always be a special game and franchise for me.
And yes, I had a feeling of deja vu writing this — I previously gushed about this game when describing my obsession with the 3DS version. Time flies. The game deserves it, though. Let us know below what you thought when you first skimmed over the sea with your Arwing crew and rumbled into Corneria.