If I was a spacefaring fighter pilot, I’d make sure my call sign was Silver Fox


Starwing (1993)

A whore for graphics I am not. Do I really look like I’d be someone who expressly looks for looks? Well, it’s true that I do have more than a little bit of vanity, but when you’ve got a face like a truck, you need to make sure that you’re not left exposed to cruel laughter. In any case, if I cared that much about appearance, surely I’d dye the grey out of my hair?

It’s a strange one. I’ve had these silver blighters since I was 15, when schoolyard bodyshaming and aesthetic paranoia was really starting to reach fever pitch.

The routine would usually be the same – you’d get the abrupt stop-mid-sentence, the bemused expression, the curious lean in for a closer inspection of this incredible phenomenon and then finally the excessively loud question “Do you have grey hair…?!”

Yes, I do, but judging by the fact that my hair doesn’t even attract spotters and watchers anymore, it’s something that’s just become accepted. I’ve just forgotten about it really.

I had even planned to use it in my bid to land the role of Holden Caulfield, if ever The Catcher in the Rye became committed to film, but I suppose it’s too late for that by now – even Dawson’s Creek would never have asked you to mentally subtract that many years from an actor’s real age.

The greys have been sort of useful as a unique selling point too, you know. But they ain’t getting any less prominent, so I thought I’d try my hand at dying my hair just to see what it’d turn out like.

Off I went to buy some Just for Men, since their advertising had worked a treat and also because they seemed to have the market of jet-black hair paint cornered. I ought to mention that one wee box of this stuff cost me about ten wingwams, only advised one use and would only quell my silver strands for about 6 weeks. Vanity, poor follicle genes and stress sure do cost big.

In the end though, I declined to even use it. Why? Well, what’s the point? It doesn’t bother me, so what do I care if my asymmetrical hair hue bothers anybody else? Although you’re perfectly entitled to secretly reckon that it DOES bother me – after all, I’ve just given you my hair woes at self-indulgent length.

So perhaps we’ll be closer to the truth if I just put my thriving greys down to a mixture of laziness and thriftiness, two highly negative personality traits that have typified my life perfectly.

And God knows why I’ve even held onto that bottle of hair dye all this time. It’s not as if a change of heart would be possible among my peers anymore – I’m too far in by now. Maybe I’d see it as burning up a tenner if I threw it out?

I don’t get any guff over my hair anymore. Well, nothing about its colour anyway – using enough gel to cement housebricks together is a different criticism, as is always having Sonic-esque spikes from prolonged stays in bed. People can laugh at those faults all they want, in fact I’ll even join in.

This schoolyard mockery was a pretty sobering thing at the time though. All these years, my mother always told me I was beautiful, while my father grunted noncommittally. Could they have been wrong? Was I never a contender?

Whatever about all that, once school was over and we all went full-blown adult, that was it. Childish jibes spoken aloud suddenly turned into a deep adult fear of people preferring to die before they ever said an offensive comment to somebody. Covert bitchiness was fine, but God forbid ever actually fronting up and insulting somebody to their faces – it just wouldn’t be cricket.

I’m pretty sure that in Italy and Spain and other countries where they smoke in pharmacies, they just shout insults at fatties waddling down the road and minding their own fatty business – proper old-fashioned bodyshaming. Here in Ireland and the UK, we’d sooner have our teeth pulled than do that.

So if people are grossly unwilling to point out to a generously built person that being out of breath just talking is conducive to about 40,000 terrible illnesses and ailments, all involving a violently exploding heart and costing our healthcare system a fortune each time, then saying someone’s hair looks a bit dried out must be positively outrageous. It is crass. It would finish you at any dinner party. So if it’s not for us English-speaking folk to pan a person’s looks, then it’s surely not right for us to pan a game’s graphical output either.

Good news for Starwing then, who you’d have to say has performed about as well on the Test of Time as my old DVD Rewinder and Betamax Player did. Thanks to the power of the SUPER FX chip, 3D polygon graphics were available on a (popular) home console for the first time. These days it looks like a papier mâché festival gone wildly out of control with drugs everywhere, but you gotta understand – when this beast came out, and on a home console at that, it was like “whoaaa”.

The price tag got us going “whoaaa” as well – at the time, it was 60 Irish Pounds. Now that was 1993, and I don’t know what the inflation rate would do to that, but in today’s Euro, that’s 76. Seventy six sodding Euro. That’s 85 US dollars. As for the Pound Sterling, well, we’d better not go there.

These days, with millions of Starwing cartridges lying around and with the Super FX technology looking pretty Stonehenge, you can pick this game up for half-nothing – proof that retro game collecting doesn’t HAVE to cost you a kidney.

You take on the mission of saving the Lylat System from peril with your three ace pilot teammates, except they’re sort of hungover today. Looks like they were out chasing women well after hours at the Cornerian Dog and Duck – but they end up getting a chasing themselves, again and again and again. And it’s Slippy who’s the worst, but they’re all to blame. You know, we’ve rented these fighter jets from the Cornerian army at huge expense here, and we’ve got a chronically blind rabbit flying them.

Does Peppy know how much these things cost? Would he perhaps get a better idea when he learns, as I have, that the F22 Raptor currently in US service costs $150 million dollars a throw? And the Raptor can’t go to space and it probably can’t fire lasers just yet. So when we’re flying through space in ships surely costing more than Mozambique’s deficit/national debt, you’d think Fox could bring a better team up there with him.

There’s no real branching in the game. You pick your route from the very start, easy medium or hard, and away you go. The game stages are broadly split up into two settings, planet or space. Planet missions are pretty threadbare in terms of scenery, while the space missions are full of enemies to pump full of lasers. Kill ‘em all, so what if they have family, that’s a trifling matter, they’re only monkeys.  Or frogs.

The music is fabulous, by the way. No other word for it. There’s a reason they brought back the original Corneria tune to great effect in Star Fox Zero. There’s some great remixes in the Smash Bros games as well. As for the sound effects, they’re classic too. Eventually the music will be fairly drowned out by the constant laser firing you’ll need to do to survive. But explosions, the bosses, the flying indoors, it all sounds great. Probably the best sounds are the silly sound effects your teammates make when they start yapping to you. “Bub bub wing dammit” and all that game.

The controls are good too, moving on the 3D “plane” is easy. You’ve just got to accommodate for the shocking frame rate when you press the buttons. But since you won’t get anywhere without constantly barrel rolling and gunning down monkeys, your only real stress is where exactly to point your fragile jet. I like the challenge – it’s not really a game you can memorise, it’s all skill and frantic button-bashing, and it can be a tough bugger especially on the later levels.

So that’s Starwing. Or Starfox, rather. I can very well see myself being the only person left on Earth who thinks that this game looks fine and hasn’t aged too badly. Perhaps you could say it’s gone grey prematurely, but like yours truly, it’s still got plenty of vitality. And if you’re still not impressed, the game got a lovely dye job when Star Fox 64 came out a few years later.

06 March 2018

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