Friday, December 19, 2014

Cathartic Video Game Levels #6

I probably ought to re-title these "Favorite Game Levels", because this one, at least, isn't really about catharsis. It's just fun.

I've been replaying Starfox 64 for the first time in a decade. Had to buy a new copy, seeing as Alex lost mine after I loaned it to him all those years ago (also Goldeneye, Mario Kart, and Resident Evil 2, which is why I don't loan things to Alex any longer). Not really back to my old level of skill yet, though I'm a heck of a lot better than whoever owned it before me. Already beat your high score by over 300 kills, WLT!

There are a lot of levels I like: The warp in Sector X, the two battles with Star Wolf, to Area 6, which is level to go for 300 kills on. But if we're talking favorite levels, it's Katina all the way.

Katina's one of the possible third levels, which you can get to through either Sector Y, or if you can manage the warp, Meteo. That warp gives me a lot of trouble, so I usually go through Sector Y. Katina is one of the arena (or all-range mode) levels, as opposed to the more rail-shooter levels (like Sector Y and Meteo). One of the Cornerian military's bases (a square-topped pyramid) is under attack, and it just so happens to be under the command of an old friend of Fox', Bill (who appears to be a mouse or some other rodent).

It's a big mess of Fox, his team, Bill and his guys, and all of Andross' fighter craft. There's no "no friendly fire" option, so you can accidentally shoot down any of your allies. Takes a little more work with Bill or your wingmen, but it's a long fight, so it is possible. Still, the numbers aren't overwhelming, so the early stage of the level is a good chance to get into the flow, learn to distinguish the different ship outlines. Other than the base - which sits in the center - the level is a flat, featureless plain. So there's no worries about hitting any obstructions (which is a bit of a concern in the two Star Wolf battles).

After a couple of minutes, a huge, disc-shaped mothership settles over the base, and unleashes waves of fighters from 4 hatches on its underside. You can shoot the hatches when they're down and destroy them, limiting the enemies you have to contend with. But once you shoot all 4, the needle-like core of the mothership extends from below, and you have one minute to shoot it until it explodes, or else it destroys the base.

So yeah, it's basically the end of Independence Day, minus Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith defeating the aliens with laptops and cigars. But it's the level that most purely captures what I love about the game. Starfox 64 is a flight combat game, and that's all this level is. No branching paths, no enemies that always attack at a specific point as I progress through the level, no mouthy boss enemy. All the enemies are the same basic fighter design, nothing clever to do to beat them, I just have to get them in the sights long enough to blast them a couple of times.

It's a wild scrum with a hundred other enemies out there, and things will never go entirely the same each time. The last time I was playing, I was cruising, shooting down tons of enemies but mostly avoiding hitting any allies, and then, as I was turning to chase a foe, someone else crashed into me. Couldn't tell if it was friend or foe, but it didn't matter. A minute later, it happened again, and I was missing a wing. Before I could react to that, someone crashed into me from the other side, and I was missing both wings. I went from the Hyper Laser back to the single laser, and now it was more of question whether I could destroy the core in time.

And I wanted to destroy that core. Not just to accomplish the mission of protecting the base, and not just because Bill will lend a hand in Sector X if I do. Bill is Fox' friend, and I like Fox. Trying to take on his father's mantle, protect this system from Andross with his dad's old friend, an idiot toad, and a falcon who constantly undercuts and disrespects him. I don't know what Fox and Bill got up to, but you can tell they're close, and that Bill has absolute confidence that Fox will come through. Even when I accidentally shoot him, he just jokingly says, 'Try shooting the bad guys, Fox.' There's no heat to it, he trusts me. It's a little thing, but it works, it makes me not want to let down this friend of Fox.

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