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Star Fox: Complete History

VO: Rebecca Brayton
The Star Fox series has been around since the 16bit era and continues to soar today. And today we're telling the franchise's complete story.

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History of the Star Fox series

Undoubtedly what makes Nintendo games so beloved, are it many successful and highly recognizable game franchises; Mario jumps on Goombas, defeats Bowser & saves Peach. The Legend of Zelda has Link slowly reclaim Hyrule from Ganon’s clutches & Pokemon has unsupervised minors catch dangerous animals to use them as slave fighters. Nearly every one of Nintendo’s Franchises has a tried and true method that continues to work to this day … that is … all except for one very notable series.

Star Fox was originally the result of a collaboration between Nintendo & Argonaut Software, Argonaut had recently developed early 3D titles such as “Starglider” and “Days of Thunder” though results were middling due to the hardware at the time struggling to run 3D titles. Still after showing off a 3D Proof of concept called “NES Glider” which was able to bypass the system’s copy protection, Arganaut was able to convince Nintendo that they could improve performance of the title if they were allowed to create a special processor built into the game cartridge that could allow them to meet the requirements they needed. This became known as the Super FX chip, and the first game to show of it’s capabilities was Star Fox.

“Star Fox” was released in North America and Japan in 1993, and was released in Europe & Australia under the name “Starwing”. Closely resembling a Shoot ‘Em Up but with a 3D perspective, players would fly down a linear path to shoot down waves of oncoming enemies, while at the same time providing cover for their teammates should they get into trouble. While it certainly looks dated by today’s standards, at the time it was considering a technological breakthrough due to its fast pace 3D action running at a steady framerate and pushing the limits of what the Super Nintendo was capable of.

While Argonaut handled the the bulk of the programming for the game, Nintendo created it’s story and characters, which centred around the Elite mercenary squad: The Star Fox team on a mission to stop an invasion of the Planet Corneria from forces of Emperor Andross. It was a light story, but at the same time it helped create the iconic anthropomorphic fighter pilots.

Star Fox was both a critical and commercial success, selling 3 million units and is widely regarded as one of the consoles best titles. While Argonaut would create other 3D titles for the SNES, the two companies would get together again in 1995 to work on a sequel.

Star Fox 2 was a radical departure from it’s predecessor: Instead of a rail shooter, the game used a combination of Turn Based Movement, and 360 battle arenas in both space and on planet surfaces, complimented with the ability for the Star Fox team’s ship: The Arwing to transform into a walking mech to complete missions inside structures.

However despite being nearly completed in 1996, Nintendo cancelled the project, Arganaut’s lead programmer Dylan Cuthbert claims that Nintendo cancelled the project due to the fact that they didn’t want to make their 3D title to make their upcoming dedicated 3D Console the Nintendo 64 seem irrelevant. A beta ROM was leaked on the internet sometime in the 2000’s allowing fans to experience the title, but the game would never see an official release until 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic Edition.

Around the same time of Star Fox 2’s cancellation, another Star Fox title was in the works for the ill fated Virtual Boy, but that was also cancelled when Nintendo discontinued the console due to poor sales.

In 1997 in North America & Japan, Nintendo released “Star Fox 64”, while Europe and Australia saw it released under the title “Lylat Wars”. The game was a reboot of the original SNES title, now with better visuals, storytelling, a combination of the classic rail shooting segments combined with 360 combat arena, and most of all: Voice Acting. Perhaps even more notable was that it was the first console game ever to include dedicated force feedback, thanks to the Rumble Pak that was bundled with each copy of the game. Yet what made the game such an instant classic was its replayability, the game’s map featured branching paths that were unlocked when certain requirements were met, allowing for players to create unique paths to reach the final level.

Star Fox 64 was met with universal acclaim with critics, and even today it’s still considered one of the best games ever made, the game sold roughly 4 million copies as well. But after its success, the series would go into hibernation with the next game in the series being something completely different, in fact it didn’t even start life as a Star Fox game.

In 1998, Nintendo’s most successful 2nd party developer ‘Rare” began work on a game titled “Dinosaur Planet” for the N64 which was an adventure title focused on the duo of Sabre and Krystal trying to save the titular planet from the tyrant General Scales, however after seeing a working prototype in action, Shigeru Miyamoto noticed the striking similarities between Sabre and Star Fox protagonist: Fox McCloud, and requested that the game be reworked to include Star Fox and production be moved to Nintendo’s newest console The Gamecube.

However during development of the game, now known as “Star Fox Adventures” disaster struck: Nintendo who owned 49% of Rare at the time chose not purchase the remaining stock in the company, leading to rival Microsoft purchasing Rare and forcing development to be rushed. Star Fox Adventures was released in North America on September 23rd 2002, with the announcement that Microsoft had purchased Rare made public the day after release.

“Star Fox Adventures” was more in line with “The Legend of Zelda” adventure series than the space combat it was known for. While the game received critical praise for its visuals and character designs it was clear that the Microsoft buyout took it’s toll on the game, with the 2nd half of the game notably featuring a rushed pace and final boss that was seemingly introduced at the very last minute. While it was loved by some fans, many fans of the original were disappointed that it wasn’t a proper Star Fox title like its predecessors.

Still that same year, two Star Fox titles were announced to be developed by Namco, one for the Gamecube and one for Arcades. While the latter unfortunately never materialized, the Gamecube title “Star Fox Assault” was released in 2005, featuring not only the Space Combat that fans knew and loved, but also ground and tank based combat, with players able to hop in between vehicles during missions.

However the game ended up receiving a very mixed reception with most of the criticism aimed at the game’s short length, with no branching options like what was available in Star Fox 64, and an overbalance of ground based missions with repetitive goals. Still the game sold enough copies to warrant a sequel.

That sequel: “Star Fox Command” would come to Nintendo’s handheld console: The Nintendo DS in 2006, and was developed by Q-Games, whom were made up of former Arganaut Software employees. “Star Fox Command” was more similar to the cancelled “Star Fox 2”, in that it was a hybrid of Turn Based Strategy, and 360 air combat sections. While it received greater critical praise than “Assault” “Star Fox Command still recieved a mixed critical reception, with the bulk of criticism focused on the game’s repetitive levels. The games sales were also underwhelming compared to previous titles, selling around half a million copies and the series was put on hold again. Although a remaster of Star Fox 64 was released on the 3DS in 2011.

It wasn’t until 2016, 10 years after “Star Fox Command” that the series finally received a new entry: “Star Fox Zero”. A reimagining of “Star Fox 64” and was developed by PlatinumGames for the Wii U.

But while the game did support all the features and elements fans loved about Star Fox 64, it was one single feature that made the game incredibly polarizing: It’s Controls

Star Fox Zero required players to use the Wii U Gamepad’s screen, and their TV screen at the same time that required them to fly in one direction and shoot in another, worse still nearly all of the games levels were designed around this feature, making it impossible to use a traditional control scheme. While some gamers did get accustomed to the complex controls, it proved to be borderline unplayable for others resulting in the game being a critical and commercial failure.

Star Fox’s history isn’t a pretty one, with gamers knowing Fox McCloud better for his role in Smash Bros than his own series. But the Star Fox team’s adventuring days are far from over, with their next adventure being part of Ubisoft’s newest space combat title: Starlink: Battle For Atlas, complete with their own exclusive storyline on the Nintendo Switch. Can Ubisoft save Star Fox? Only time will tell.


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