You know who I recommend this game most highly to? Whoever at Nintendo is currently directing the development of the Star Fox franchise, as a reminder of how the series best works - as a fairly simple rail shooter with solid controls , but with enough options and bonuses to make replays interesting, a good multi-player mode and boundary-pushing (for the time) graphics.
Star Fox 64 is a fast and fun spectacle in the vein of Star Wars, except with furries. In single-player mode you guide Fox McCloud and his wingmates through a series of levels culminating in a battle with evil monkey scientist Andross. The game allows you to take multiple paths though, depending on your performance in each level, and there are also some hidden warps around that take you to bonus stages and allow you to skip some areas.
The action is chiefly seen from behind the ship, though you can switch to a cockpit view at any time. Either way, you are continually pushed forward through a graphically impressive series of space dogfights, ruined floating fortresses, alien planets and et cetera. Occasionally you enter a "free battle" mode, which is essentially a square arena where you can turn freely and reverse direction with a somersault as you dogfight it out with various foes.
Your ship has a pretty good range of abilities - you've got a main gun that's upgraded by picking up powerups, you can similarly extend your damage meter by picking up gold rings, you've got some bombs that destroy everything in a small area, you can do the famous "barrel roll" to dodge projectiles, do a somersault in place to likewise dodge certain attacks, use a temporary speed boost or brake when necessary, and tilt the ship to cut quickly from left to right. Every now and then you encounter a tank or submarine level, in which the vehicles handle in a similar manner to the spacecraft. Multiplayer is similar to the "free battle" mode, in which up to 4 players can duel it out in spacecraft or tanks using a split screen.
The graphics were really outstanding for the time, and that's a necessity for this sort of game since the gameplay is really fairly basic. While obviously they've become somewhat dated with the passage of ten years, they still hold up pleasantly enough and the higher resolution and texture smoothing you get here helps things out nicely. The game's flow is very smooth, with no lag or jerkiness. Koji Kondo stepped in to take over the soundtrack duties in this one, and while it has a more "epic" and "heroic" sort of sound than the original Star Fox's soundtrack, it's Koji Kondo so you know it's going to that at absolute worst it's still going to be pretty good (it's actually better than that though, it's very good).
Only minor quibbles here with the port to the Wii - the lack of rumble finally makes itself felt here, as the vibration was really used well in the original game. It's not a game killer, but players of the original will likely miss it. And as you probably know, the save-and-quit feature doesn't work for N64 games, and this one doesn't let you take a break in between levels so if you intend to finish it you have to clear off at least an hour of free time (possibly two or more) to get to the end.
This is easily the best overall Star Fox game. If your only experience with Star Fox comes from the string of disappointing entries on modern game systems, check this out to see what the series could have been had it been developed properly. Recommended to pretty much everyone.
* Gameplay Video