The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer has a pretty poor reputation even today, despite being a decent, if expensive, 32-bit CD based console. For my money, it was more impressive than the Amiga CD32 and surpassed the Atari Jaguar in almost every respect, but despite that, the whiff of failure always seems to hang around the console. Released in 1993, it was a powerful machine and more than held its own at the time. However, a combination of high price and slow software releases meant that it failed to gain much traction in the market, and by the time its price was lowered, the more powerful (and well marketed) Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation were showing their strengths. The 3DO’s brief tenure did, however, see a few good system exclusives and one or two excellent ports. This is where Star Fighter comes in.
Star Fighter for the 3DO began life as Star Fighter 3000 on the Acorn Archimedes and was released in late 1994. The original title was a decent if slightly basic 3D shoot-em-up that did about as well as you’d expect on the Archimedes. That didn’t stop the creators from porting the title to the 3DO in 1995 and making a few improvements along the way. A new 3D map replaced the 2D original, the graphics were improved to suit the better hardware of the console and a new soundtrack was added, bringing in-game music and a host of new sound effects. Later ports of the game (unrelated to the original developers) were made for the PlayStation, Saturn and PC (for which I have the boxed version). It’s the 3DO version that I want to focus on here though.
There is a bit of a story but it is mostly fluff. As with many titles that appeared on discs at the time, there are quite a few rendered movies to progress the “story” and some rather dubious voice acting. Not Resident Evil level of bad, but certainly getting there. Fortunately, these can be skipped though I would advise listening to the briefings as they are informative. 60 missions make up the challenge and there is a hint of strategy involved alongside the shooting which adds to the longevity.
The gameplay itself is mostly fly, shoot and collect – objects when destroyed release coloured shapes to be picked up to improve weapons, abilities and the like. You’ll certainly find enough here to keep you occupied but there is the likelihood that you’ll get a bit bored by the end. Variety is not one of Star Fighter’s strong points. One improvement over the original is the ability to destroy terrain with your laser and create your own pathways – it’s a nice little touch. Other weapons include air to air and air to ground missiles, with defensive measures catered for by a limited amount of electronic counter-measure pods. Controls are a bit of an issue, with the Star Fighter itself suffering from over-sensitivity. It’s not a game breaker but does take a bit of getting used to. They also make the docking procedure with your mothership more than a tad frustrating until you are practiced enough. The controls, combined with the difficulty curve mean that this game will take you quite a while to complete.
Graphics are much improved over the Archimedes original, with texture-mapped instead of shaded polygons and consequently offers more detail, though the 3DO suffers from a closer horizon and there is the issue of pop-up but that’s easy to get used to and you have the map to keep you informed. The frame rate is also really good and whilst not buttery smooth, you’ll never complain about too much slow down. Compared to similar titles of the period, it’s one of the better ones.
Sounds are pretty basic but effective, the expected weapon and engine sounds competing with a frankly god-awful techno style soundtrack. This really does scream early ’90’s and whilst I remember liking it back then, my tastes have changed a bit in the intervening 25 years. That said, it does kind of suit the game and it’s probably better than no music at all.
What is obvious here is that the original Star Fighter 3000 programmers took the opportunity to produce the ultimate version of their original and they succeeded in every way. The original is good, this is better. Not much could be done to improve the playability of the title, but technically, the 3DO port is tremendous and shows what the 3DO could do in the right hands. The same could not be said for the Saturn, PlayStation and PC ports that were released in 1996 which, by the way, had nothing to do with the games creators. Despite appearing on much more powerful hardware, these ports were lazy and rather poor. Draw distance was sacrificed for fog and frame rates plummeted nonetheless. If you have a fancy for playing Star Fighter/Star Fighter 3000, go for the 3DO version first, then the Archimedes original and then, only with reservations, the other ports.
A perfect example of a port done well
Whilst the gameplay is a bit lacking in variety, the technical improvements over the original make Star Fighter for the 3DO the best version of the game as well as a showcase for what the 3DO could do.