Reflecting on Star Fox 64: Ranking the Levels

It’s a ‘Players Choice Million Seller’ for a reason.

When the Wii U was first unveiled at E3 2011, my jaw dropped. While the gaming community bickered about the screen, I was ecstatic for one reason. That could make an awesome cockpit. I might finally be getting a new Star Fox game! Might I add that I may have played Star Fox 64 over the years (and it was digging it out once again that I discovered that my Nintendo 64 had sadly died. In memoriam: 1997-2016.) more than I have any other game. To this day (perhaps sadly), I can recite the opening crawl by memory. “Corneria, fourth planet of the Lylat System…”. Unfortunately, Star Fox Zero wasn’t especially brilliant, although I did really enjoy the Nintendo Switch release of Starlink: Battle For Atlas. I changed my character to Fox McCloud at the very beginning and did my best to forget that I was playing a different IP.

However, there is one thing that does irritate me about Star Fox 64, and that is the inability to choose levels. It could really have done with a Score Attack mode, and it’s annoying to have to play for forty-five minutes if only so you can play some of the best levels (more on that later). With that in mind, I decided to rank the levels, worst-to-best. If you disagree, reply in the comments below.

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16. SECTOR Z (Level 5, Hard)

Sector Z is unique – an all-range mode stage during which several missiles headed for the Star Fox mothership, the Great Fox, and one must destroy them before they collide. One could consider them the ‘boss’ of the level, although technically, this is the only level in the game without a boss. So long as you survive, whether you destroy the missiles or not, the mission will end, meaning that it is actually possible to end this level with a grand total of zero points. Nil points. It is for this reason that this level is so infamous – an inevitably rubbish score, and a nightmare getting a medal (to get anywhere close to the required 100 points, you also need to shoot some unceremoniously destroyable debris that hides in the corners, that you will only discover by accident) make it seem pointless for anyone besides the completist. In short, I don’t like this level, nor am I convinced that many others are fans. I almost always go around it via MacBeth if taking the hard route.

15. FORTUNA / FICHINA (Level 3, Easy)

This is another all-range stage, and once again, the score required to get a medal is extremely low – a meagre 50, but in this instance if you are fast enough to get full +10 scores on defeating the inaugural appearance of the evil Star Wolf, it is far too easy and has too few enemies, even for the ‘easy’ mode. Additional demotion for some of Star Wolf’s dialogue – “Daddy screamed REAL GOOD before he died!”. Fun for all the family from Pigma Dengar there…

14. TITANIA (Level 5, Easy)

On Sector X, Slippy Toad is stupid enough if you are too slow to defeat the Spyborg boss, he will be swatted onto the desert planet of Titania. Unfortunately, this means that Star Fox now have to go and rescue him. I’ve always found it humorous that this level is selectable even if Slippy doesn’t need to be rescued. It’s as though he was just that irritating that he was thrown out of the Great Fox, and Fox McCloud had a guilt trip afterwards. Anyway, if you like falling rocks, buildings and giant crabs out to squash your tank, the Landmaster, then this level might just be for you, but besides that, it can be quite a pain in the neck.

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13. SOLAR (Level 4, Medium)

Solar is presumably the Sun of the Lylat System, albeit it being so tiny on the map, and subsequently, it is hot. Really, really hot. Slippy will attempt to have a brag about how the Arwing (or “this baby” as he, yes he, will call your ship) can take up to 9000 degrees. It’s just a shame that Solar happens to be above that, as the lower you fly, the more damage that you will lose, with the bonus irritation of a warning bleep (or a screech if you are too low) throughout the level. EEEEEEEEEEE! This is an intriguing and creative idea, especially on Expert Mode where it grips your concentration, but it isn’t especially fun to constantly be on the lookout for health bonuses, rather than enemies. To be fair, if you are stupid enough to go and visit the sun, you really had it coming.

12. AQUAS (Level 3, Hard)

Aquas is the only level in the entire game in which you can control the Blue Marine – fittingly a submarine designed by Slippy, who continues to brag about his technical prowess. That said, it’s quite a nice machine with its infinite supply of homing torpedoes, coming at the price of listening to Peppy praise Slippy for half of the level. In a similar vein to Solar, there is a section that is more irritating than it is difficult, as there is a surge of gloomy pollution, making it rather difficult to avoid all of the suicidal exploding squid, starfish, oysters and the like. Indeed it appears that not only have the older civilisation of Aquas were wiped out by flooding, but all of the wildlife have decided to kamikaze anyone who dares approach their planet, making it not the most welcoming place to be. Besides that, it has one of my favourite music tracks in the game.

11. SECTOR Y (Level 2, Hard)

Sector Y Combat Zone is probably my least favourite on-rails space level, although it is still a giggle, as it truly is a war zone – you are witnessing a big fight as massive ships (which seem to be the Star Destroyers of Andross’ squadron) are on their way to invade Corneria and Katina. However, what makes this level most fun are the unusual ships – anthropomorphic, robot mech… things (apparently known as ‘Shogun Troopers’), complete with shields, as though there should be swords in their other hands. Nothing says badass like monkeys in spacesuits equipped to blast ships as highly equipped as your own Arwing.

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10. ZONESS (Level 4, Hard)

Miaow! For the most part, this is Solar, without the irritation of your Arwing burning. Zoness might not be the nicest level to look at, consisting solely of oceans of sewage (don’t stare for too long if you get seasick), and it is probably the level that you will visit the least, as it’s on the hard route, and there is only one way to get there – via Aquas. This is a real shame, because it is both a tough and fun challenge that you can get a massive score on, if you can destroy all of the searchlights, without getting caught – easily breaking the 300 point barrier. The boss, the Sarumarine, is also a massive help for stocking up on bombs, as being only vulnerable to bombs itself, it pretty much gives them to you to throw them back. It is also here that you will first meet Katt Monroe (who presumably has an interesting history with Falco Lombardi – “KATT?! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!”), who can be very helpful in both Sector Z and MacBeth.

9. BOLSE (Level 6, Easy)

While I normally take the highest scoring route (Corneria, Meteo, Katina, Sector X, MacBeth, Area 6, Venom), it comes at the price of not being able to visit the space station Bolse – something highly infuriating considering that it comes so late in the game, meaning that you’ll be playing for at least half an hour before getting here. This is a really good all-range mode level, and on expert mode, can be pretty darned tricky, as one is forced to destroy the giant defence outpost satellite. Star Wolf will attack here, but they are the least of your worries, as unlike other obvious targets to aim for on bosses, the satellite’s core will not give up without a fight, firing a heck of a lot of lasers back at you from the holes that you create.

8. CORNERIA (Level 1)

The location where the fun begins is a huge medley of everything that you will be faced with over the following hour or so. We begin simply with a few waves of enemies, before the rubble of a burning city is thrown your way, one must rescue Falco who is being chased, and an all-range mode boss (which sadly can be defeated in less than five seconds). However, if you know what you’re doing, there is a hidden second direction behind a waterfall. This is teased by a ship that flies overhead towards the end of the level, but if following the natural route, will never see again. What was that about? It’s the hard mode boss. This took an embarrassing amount of time, as well as assistance from Nintendo Official Magazine, for me to discover. At least I have the excuse of being nine-year-old at the time, to fall back on. Honest!

And as a bonus, this is where all of the infamous “do a barrel roll!” quotes stems from, so what’s not to love?

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7. VENOM 2 (Level 7, Hard)

On paper this level isn’t especially creative, as it functions as little more than a montage of bosses, pitting you against whichever members of Star Wolf you haven’t shot out of the sky yet, the masked Andross, as well as his ‘true form’ – a revolting giant, floating brain, with a big green cerebellum waiting for you to shoot. Only he has the brains to rule Lylat, apparently. Hurr. I see what you did there, Nintendo. A high score is pretty much confirmed here so long as Star Wolf arrive (and if you beat that fast enough, will have enough points for a medal before even fighting Andross), and is required for the ‘good’ ending.

6. SECTOR X (Level 4, Easy)

This level is great fun, and sets out to be spooky. One arrives at Sector X, with the intention of attacking the enemy base, only to find that the weapon that Andross was developing, had run (or floated) amok and destroyed the base first! This leaves ominous debris, evacuating ships (who have a go at killing you en route to safety), and the Spyborg boss (which quotes Star Trek, despite being based upon HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey)in your way. Another interesting fact about this level is that it is the only one to offer three different endings – sending you to Titania (if too slow to defeat the Spyborg, forcing you to rescue the suicidal Slippy), MacBeth (if the Spyborg is defeated quickly enough), or Sector Z (if you can make it through the secret ‘warp’ route).

5. KATINA (Level 3, Medium)

This is the all-range level that Fortuna dreamt of being. It tops it for multiple reasons. One, there is an outrageous number of enemies in dogfights of their own (as well as allies that are possible for you to destroy, at no more cost than hear’s Fox’s childhood friend Bill Grey shouting “Fox! That’s one of ours!” Again, and again.), and two, a big Independence Day-style (no really, even the view as it arrives is plucked straight from the movie) mothership threatening you, and three, you can get a massive score.

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4. METEO (Level 2, Easy)

While I always went for the hard ending of Corneria, I would always take the option to take the easy route, so to visit Meteo – one of the highest-scoring and most fun levels in the game. After all, you are in an asteroid field with destroyable rocks and ships heading for you. However, the most fun comes in the second half, if one can fly through all of the blue hoops and into the beautiful psychedelic warp. I can recall when I first got this game, that this was the first deviation from the easy route that I discovered, and was really shocked as I sped into vomit-inducing colour. OH MY GAAAAWWD!

3. VENOM 1 (Level 7, Easy)

If one approaches Venom from the easy route, I can only hope that you have mastered the art of doing a barrel roll and the charge shot, because you are about to face off with a massive swarm of enemies! You will be forced to swat out a lot of ships and fly through a temple (home to a very unusual boss which runs away from you) ,before facing up to the robotic, ‘fake’ doppelganger Andross (which terrified me when I first got here), subsequently leading… to the ‘bad’ ending. Still, one should let Andross take over the Lylat System, if only so you can have a go at this level. It’s a sacrifice worth taking. Screw you, General Pepper.

2. MACBETH (Level 5, Medium)

MacBeth is easily the best level that deviates from the Arwing, as one seeks to blow up the explosive base and supplies on a planet devoted entirely to mining and weaponry production. The best part of this level is what gives it its subtitle – The Forever Train, as Fox McCloud follows a track in his Landmaster, upon which there is a huge train throughout the entire level, which will give you the majority of the points. If following the hard route to Area 6 (and you really should. More on that shortly…), the second half of the level is a venture to flip giant switches (potentially with the help of Katt Monroe if approaching via Zoness) and send the remainder of the train in the wrong direction, into the explosives factory.

Area 6

1. AREA 6 (Level 6, Hard)

Now this is the kind of level that I love the most, and easily the place where you will get the biggest score. If you enjoyed Meteo, you’ll love Area 6 – plowing straight through Venom’s lines of defence, satellites, space stations, missiles and motherships, getting psyched up en route to the end of the game. You’re going down Andross. This is all helped along by some of the best music in the game, and bizarrely not irritating dialogue, as villainous pilot Caiman panics, and Andross taunts you over the intercom. It’s such a pity that this level is so near to the end of the game, as with the option to select it early on, I would have played it forever.

Do you agree? Which are your favourites? Leave comments below.

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