What’s that kids, you want ol’ gramps here to tell you a story? No? Well you’re getting one whether you like it or not. Now sit down, close your eyes and journey with me back into the deep, dark mists of time. Back before your HDTVs, your motion controls and your digital downloads...
The year was 1997. In those days we didn’t have this fancy “Internet” thing that we could use to go to “Negative World” every day to get all of the latest and greatest in video gaming entertainment. No sirs. We subscribed to Nintendo Power, and we were gosh darn lucky if the VHS promo tapes they sent us didn’t get lost in the mail. What is that little Billy, you want to know what a “VHS” and the “mail” are? Well that, my boy, is a story for another day.
The best of these tapes was easily the legendary Star Fox 64 promo video, and I’m not just saying that because it is one of only two that I ever received (the other one being the Diddy Kong Racing video.) What is that little Sally, you say that you have Star Fox 64 on your 3DS? What in tarnation is a 3DS? A 3D dual screen handheld system? What in the heck do you need all of that stuff for?! Kids today. First this, then come the sex and drugs. I know how it works, believe you me. Not from personal experience, mind. Now wash your mouth out with soap and never say those words again.
Anyway, in my day the console wars really meant something. We didn’t have your fancy Xboxs, no madam. We had Segas and Nintendos, and dagnabbit, we liked it... whether we liked it or not! And then this newcomer Sony came along and changed everything with their flashy Mountain Dew and X-Games (Sony did invent that stuff, right?) Being an old person, I naturally hated this change.
But change is not what this article is about. It’s about a game better than anything you whippersnappers know, Star Fox 64. And the even greater promo video that preceded it. So take your silly Internet and use it for something better than posting pictures of your sex and drug parties or whatever it is that you kids do and watch this video. It might not have any of your fancy 3D in it, but I guarantee that it is better than anything you degenerates are watching nowadays. Once you are done we can talk about 10 things that make it great.
The video starts with a bang, showing a Nintendo “test pilot” parachuting into a random Nintendo of America building where we can presume that he works, because apparently test pilot is a real position at Nintendo and they parachute into work every single day. That’s badass. Meanwhile our villains are introduced and they are running some kind of covert operation out of a diaper service van, which is clearly hilarious no matter how you look at it. Also the megaphone. Because that is what you bring with when you are trying to keep it low key, a megaphone. Anyway, they kidnap our heroic Nintendo test pilot, and this is where the fun begins.
I expect that at this point many young gamers have already turned the video off and are wondering why the heck I am glorifying it. Sucks to be you. But we’re just getting started. I assure you, it gets even better. Oh my, it gets better.
So who exactly are these bushwhacking reprobates? Why, a Sony rep and a Sega rep, of course. How do we know this? It says so... on their shirts! Were you expecting subtlety here? These are the console wars, baby! Subtlety has no place in the console wars! Now, with all of the effort these goons have gone through to stay on the down-low (um, ignoring the megaphone, and well... everything else), you might think that they wouldn’t want to boldly advertise who they work for in the midst of their chloroform assault and kidnapping in broad daylight, but apparently they know something about corporate espionage that I do not. Makes me wonder if this isn’t actually some kind of false flag attack set up by Nintendo themselves to make Sony and Sega look bad. Hmm... nah, probably not. Clearly Sony and Sega reps excel at making themselves look bad on their own.
I always found it a bit odd that Sega was given equal placement next to Sony in a 1997 promo video. This was deep into the Saturn era, when they had long since lost their relevance in the console wars, yet still a bit before the Dreamcast half of an era gave that last big (yet ultimately unrewarded) ray of hope. I guess the Sega thug mostly deferred to the Sony thug, and they did need two guys to play off of each other, but still.
The Evil Laughter
There are essentially two ways in film to show your audience that someone is evil. The first way is to give your villain a top hat, a monocle, and a long, curly mustache. How this came to represent evil, I’m really not sure, but at some point... I mean... were there actually villainous people running around in the real world that looked like that? The imagery had to come from somewhere, right? However, this does not apply to the Star Fox 64 promo video. So we are left with the second way; insane maniacal laughter. We get to experience this not once (0:34), not twice (1:19), not even thrice, but yea, many times more. If you somehow still thought that Sony and Sega were average companies with average employees in the year 1997, this video made the truth pretty clear. They were full of lunatics.
I searched IMDb for information on this Star Fox 64 promo video, and oddly enough, I found nothing. I’m assuming that it is considered as being at such an exalted level, transcending the very nature of film itself, that exclusion was done for the benefit of traditional media. I did, however, find a short film entitled Thank You, Star Fox 64, and now my life will not be complete until I figure out what the heck this is. Or should I say what the heck? this is.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the acting! I’m not sure who these actors are, but all four of them deserve a simultaneous Oscar for best acting of all-time. Just look at the intensity that they use when delivering such classic lines as “The eagle has landed. I repeat; the eagle has landed.” or “Like you’re actually in a cockpit? Flying and fighting?” Fear, anger, suspicion, sarcasm, irony, and ultimately... joy. Never have I seen such a range of emotions executed to such perfection in a mere 10 minute span.
Wait just a second here...
Is that young Nathan Fillion?! IT’S TOTALLY HIM!
The Star Fox 64 Footage
Oh yeah, I just remembered that this whole promo video thingy was to show off an actual game! It’s easy to forget that fact when it is so amazingly watchable on its own terms. At around 1:40 the footage starts, and at first you are like... “what is going on here, why did they use live footage from Independence Da... OH MY GOD, THAT’S AN ACTUAL GAME. THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER MADE.”
“This sounds like a fun bunch. BUT... what do these guys drive?” “Yeah, some beat-up B52... ha ha ha ahsa sha ahahahahaha!” “YOU WISH!”
But that’s not all, because just moments later you see a freaking tank rolling around. Since when do Team Star Fox ride around in tanks? Since now, because adding tanks to Star Fox was the best decision ever made.
Did I mention that there is the awesomest 90s butt rock playing during the footage? Or can that basically just be assumed by the context?
No film is complete without the right atmosphere, and the Star Fox 64 promo video has atmosphere in spades! Just look at that intense lighting, drenched in the eerie undertones of mist in the way that only an 80s rock band fog machine can do. The soundtrack adds to the tension, using harsh synths to create a sinister vibe that most definitely is not dated like you probably think that it is. This landmark piece of cinematography paved the way for essentially all of the modern horror genre. Except modern horror movies suck, and the Star Fox 64 promo video is awesome.
The Rumble Pak
“Peter? You didn’t tell them about... the rumble pack, did you?” “No... Bob... you just did.”
Yes my friends, this is what it is all about. This is the big reason why Star Fox 64 was the coolest cinematic gaming experience there was, and why Sony and Sega would go to such great lengths in their corporate shenanigans just to obtain any scraps of information that they could about it. You see, the rumble pak was this little thing that you connected to your Nintendo 64 controller, and when you got hit by enemy fire or crashed into a building or the ground (not that I ever did that), the controller erm... it...
Well, it buzzed a little.
TRUST ME, THIS WAS FREAKING AWESOME IN 1997.
So, the basic plot of this video is that these Sony and Sega guys kidnap some Nintendo dudes to force them to spill the beans on Nintendo’s ace-in-the-hole, Star Fox 64, right? That’s a completely logical and believable plot point, to be sure. However, how do they get them to talk? Surely no representatives of Nintendo would ever willingly give information to the enemy without being put under extreme duress. Enter... the torture. Yes, this seemingly innocent promo video includes pure, abject torture. First an innocent victim is placed under a vice which is squeezed tighter and tighter, and the Nintendo test pilot is forced to watch until he can no longer bear it. But even that is not enough for these vile denizens of Sony and Sega. No, they need information from the second Nintendo rep, so they hook up their victim to an electroshock machine and send unadulterated voltage coursing through his body. Can you believe they put this in a video for a Nintendo game?! Won’t somebody please think of the children?!
”What are you guys doing with Mario?!”
The Other Game Footage
“Word on the street is... you got a new Nintendo 64 game coming out.” “Could you be a little more specific? We got a lot of new games coming out.”
Oh, you thought this was all about Star Fox 64? That’s just the tip of the Nintendo iceberg. If there was anything that the Nintendo 64 had such a lop-sided victory in that they could push it in the faces of their competition, it was the quantity of games coming out on their system. The Nintendo 64 was basically known for the vast amount of games it had, right?
...am I right guys?
Here is the list of games that you got a sneak peek at in the Star Fox 64 promo video:
“GOLDEN EYE” “YOSHI’S ISLAND 64” “MISCHIEF MAKERS” “San Franciso Rush” “Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey, Jr.” “AERO FIGHTER ASSAULT” “TOP GEAR RALLY” “International Superstar Soccer 64” “Zelda 64”
Why on Earth the names kept switching between all caps and not, and Goldeneye was broken up into two words, is beyond me. Probably some subliminal marketing strategy employed by Nintendo, although it is tough to understand the ultimate goal of it. And what the fudge is AERO FIGHTER ASSAULT doing on that list of otherwise good to excellent games? That game was balls.
When you think of the greatest lines from cinema, which come to mind?
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."? "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."? "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse."? “Open the pod bay doors HAL.”? (For the sci-fi nerds out there.)
If you said any of the above, then you clearly have not watched the Star Fox 64 promo video. The correct answer is, of course:
“Pizza for Bob! Are you uh... Bob?”
This may be the absolute best line from any piece of cinema, ever, and it pushes the dialog into Oscar-calibre territory. Oh, the rest of the video has some great dialog too, but why get into it when this gem pretty much says everything that needs to be said?
So there you have it, the absolute best piece of marketing ever made. I personally guarantee that this promotional video was single-handedly responsible for not only selling millions of copies of Star Fox 64 and the corresponding Nintendo 64s to play them on, but for launching the career of esteemed actor Nathan Fillion as well. Apparently.
I have this video on VHS I have a bunch of Nintendo Power promo videos. At least four were mailed to me during the N64 era (including this, and three others which focused on Diddy Kong Racing, an introduction to the Pokemon franchise prior to the games/cartoons/TCG launching, and a double-feature advertising Donkey Kong 64 and Jet Force Gemini). I also bought one about the original DKC at some yard sale when I was a kid. There were other videos during the Super NES era that I know of, but I don't have any of those.
This video is probably my favorite out of the ones I own, however. The others are (relatively) more traditional in terms of sneak peaks, but this one is like a short film. A cheesy-awesome short film.
I love the way you dissect the video and point out everything 'glorious' about it. I was elated to have received these videos from Nintendo, and I felt like I had something I could rub in the faces of all my non-Nintendo gaming buddies.
The Rumble Pack. Yes! It's awesome to think back and realize how honest-to-goodness excited I was about the little device. Nintendo definitely sold me on the concept, and I loved how the rumble felt, especially during a long boss explosion.
"Thank You, Star Fox 64"... What the heck indeed!
Point #2: Hey, at the time we probably didn't know how lame Aero Fighter Assault would be! They had to lengthen that list of games somehow anyway.
Great write-up! And yeah, the dialogue is excellent.
"Hey, this is great pizza!"
That line is especially great since the pilot is just lounging at the bad guy's "hideout" or whatever, instead of being tied up and being held against his will. At this point, he's just relaxed and chillin'.
"See ya later, BOYS!"
Ha. Calling grown men boys. That's a jab they won't soon forget. The cheesy delivery (and laughter afterwards) is just hilariously perfect.