STAR FOX / Nintendo / SNES
I know it looks like a polygonal mess now, but in '93 this game was the hotness. It was one of the only games I ever rushed to get at release, plonking down my hard-saved 60 bucks due to the revolutionariness of the 3D on a console.
On a modern diet of PS3, I am sure the blocky no-texture polygons look quite lolable. For the time, however, Nintendo's design squad made really creative use of the hardware limitations. The fact that they additionally got the game to play pretty well is just icing on the cake.
Not to say it is without frustrating issues - you start the game with a Bullshit Beam that is wholly inadequate, and you have to fly through upgrades to get Twin Blasters and the subsequent doom gun whose name I forgot already, but these upgrades are often annoyingly placed in the levels to where you have to know exactly where they are to fly through them. It's kinda like Gradius - when you have all the power-ups it's fun and not too hard, but you better hope you don't ever die, because if you get dropped off in the midst of the later levels with the Bullshit Beam (or have to take on a boss with it) your ass is usually grass. W-W-WING DAMAGE is also highly annoying, as it kills your upgrades and forces you to use the Bullshit Beam once again.
Bosses were a mixed bag, too. They enter with an impressively ominous little piece of music, but they either tend to be too easy or too tedious. The more tedious ones will go through some lengthy progression of attacks with no means of you hitting them, then give you like a 5-second window to hit their weakpoint, then back to their attack dance for minutes on end. This is another element that Star Fox probably shouldn't have copied from Gradius and similar shooters.
It is often hard to actually aim your guns (no crosshair on this one except in the rare first-person levels), and getting the "feel" of it takes some significant playtime. There are also issues with collision detection to where it is really hard to tell sometimes if you are going to clip something or not (especially when the game goes into the forced first-person views, such as when you fly thru an asteroid belt).
Fuck you, Falco. Don't fly in front of me.
Jankiness aside, however, the game is pretty well balanced. There are three difficulty levels to choose from, which take the form of three paths to the end with totally different levels. The easiest path is a nice introduction, not too tough save for one annoying boss towards the end, and lets you make good progress while you come to grips with the controls. When you are successfully pegging Womp Rats at Mach 3 or whatever, you can graduate to the harder paths for a more white-knuckle challenge. There's also some weird bonus levels to uncover.
The music really helps this one along as well. Hajime Hirasawa delivers a perfect orchestral score for the game's setting, and it is a damn shame that he bolted from Nintendo right after this to apparently use his Star Fox loots to set up a company that sells ring tones or something (and is still apparently making a killing at it). I'm happy the dude is raking in the money, but this was his only major soundtrack other than some obscure Japan-only NES adventure game, and it just seems like a total waste of talent. Who knows what other great scores this guy could have given us. Oh well. I'm sure he is on a Pacific island somewhere molesting the hired help and doesn't give a damn. Yay money.
Anyway, I am happy to report Star Fox is still a fun experience in 2009, unless you are some sort of a big jerk graphics whore. If so, nyaaah.
* Gameplay video