In 1993, one of the greatest and most influential flying based rail shooters ever made was released. This was of course Star Fox for the SNES. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the game. As a kid, I poured many hours into it, but never was able to beat it. In fact, I’m fairly confident I never passed the third level as a child. I struggled consistently with level two, the asteroid field. It was too fast paced and difficult for me to play it confidently as a boy. But I kept playing the game anyway. And I kept losing. But I never stopped liking the game. Some years later the N64 was released and in 1997 my favorite of the Star Fox games, still to this day, was released. Star Fox 64, like every other core Star Fox game, is just a fancier recreation of the original SNES game. It doesn’t matter which version of the core game you’re playing on whatever platform. You’re always playing the same general game. The graphics, controls, and available vehicles change and improve over time, but it’s always the same story, levels, and characters in the same basic order and the same awesome looking map. For a different Star Fox experience you have to go to one of the few alternative titles like Star Fox Adventures (2002) or Star Fox Assault (2005), both for the GameCube. Both excellent games, in my opinion, because they are so different from the core games. They are also made by different teams than the core games.
While most people have probably played at least one core Star Fox game, very few have had the pleasure of playing Star Fox 2 (2017). This game has an odd and colorful story. It was originally developed for the SNES to be released in 1996 but was cancelled with the impending release of the N64. It wasn’t until 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic console, and much pleading/begging from fans, that the public was finally given access to this game. This is the main reason I bought that console. As a diehard Star Fox fan, I absolutely had to play this game. I was fortunate enough to find a store that had imported the American version of the console to Taiwan, because I can’t read Japanese . . . After first finally beating the original Star Fox on the SNES Classic, I immediately played Star Fox 2.
I want to talk about this game, and honestly I meant to weeks ago, but haven’t had the time to do a proper write up before now. But I don’t want to do a formal review. Let me be perfectly clear. If you are given the opportunity, and don’t already run emulators, you should buy the SNES Classic. This is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve made in a long time. If you grew up in the SNES era, this is a must buy console whether you’re a Star Fox fan or not. This console has given me the ability to go back and play some of the best games from my childhood and I’m actually beating them finally. Of the 22 games provided on the console, I had actually only completed one of them (Donkey Kong Country) on the original SNES. To be fair, I only owned four of the games provided on the SNES Classic, but this console has just about all the must play titles. And I am so happy that I’m finally getting to beat them. So again, even if you don’t give two shits about Star Fox 2 you should still buy an SNES Classic if you have the chance. But I want to take the time to discuss Star Fox 2 specifically in greater detail.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Star Fox 2 going in. It could have been just another rails shooter or a completely different genre altogether. I didn’t know what the story would be or who the villain was. Assuming it was directly connected to the original Star Fox, Andross was supposedly dead already. So really I had no idea what the game was going to be.
Star Fox 2 is a completely different animal from Star Fox, but it, like all the core sequels assumes no prior games have taken place. You go up against Andross like in all the other core games, and have a very similar all range mode fight against his head. But that’s pretty much the only similarity other than recurring characters and the Lylat System setting. For starters, the game is not on rails. Every level is in all range mode. The levels are different. You do not follow a strict pre-mapped path and the levels on the new map aren’t the same as those from the original game. The map is open, meaning you can travel around it freely and complete levels in whatever order you want, with a few caveats. Also very notable, you don’t have to play as Fox McCloud. There are six playable characters, two of which are never before seen female characters. You choose two of the six at the beginning of the game and can complete the entire game with just those two. There are also three difficulty levels, one of which is locked at the start of the game. This game plays more like a real time strategy shooter than a mission based rail shooter. You are given the ultimate goal of reaching and defeating Andross but to do that you have to accomplish certain key tasks on the map as well as prevent enemy forces from destroying Corneria. The game keeps you active even in the map portion of the game. You have to take into account shield levels, enemy locations, incoming missile strikes, and there’s a timer. It’s like no other game I can remember playing in that era.
Visually speaking, it’s on the same level as Star Fox. But because of the smaller all range mode levels, there’s a lot less detail in specific stages. Much of the game is played in first person view for your space flying missions and the planetary missions have you switch between Arwing and Walker modes in real time. It does have a much more advanced HUD though, including a mini-map. Plot wise there’s not as much going on as the first game, but that’s because the game is active the whole way through. You’re kind of writing the plot as you go. There is dialog though. The game controls fairly well for the SNES era. I would say it’s on par with Star Fox but also calls for finer movements in a number of indoor missions that require but don’t force you to use the Walker mode. All in all, I think it’s very different but actually a really solid game for the time.
The true shame of Star Fox 2 is that it wasn’t released as planned in 1996. In my honest opinion, it was very revolutionary for the time. For instance, the Walker is a key part of the gameplay. In the core games the Walker was only just made available in the latest version, Star Fox Zero (2016), for the Wii U. I was shocked to discover that they had this vehicle playable all the way back in 1996. Looking back, I think of all the great games that never were because this game didn’t get released to inspire them. Playing it today, there’s really nothing new here, except for maybe two playable female characters in a Nintendo game that’s not Smash Bros or Mario Kart . . . You’ve seen all the stuff this game has to offer by 2017 if you’ve been gaming since the original Star Fox. But you really hadn’t seen it all in 1996. Even Star Fox 64 didn’t have everything Star Fox 2 has to offer. Certainly no vehicle morphing and multiple space based levels in all range mode. I feel like this game would have inspired a ton of games that we never got to play and it could have easily influenced the Star Fox franchise more than it already did. Imagine if there was an entire second branch of Star Fox games based on Star Fox 2 that released in each gen along with the core games. Or they could have eventually merged the two into one bigger, more versatile game. As a big Star Fox fan, I feel kind of like I was cheated out of some great games all because this game was never released in its heyday.
Ultimately I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play Star Fox 2. I’m glad they released it and I’m glad I got to experience it. I hope they do make another game inspired directly by this one. In reality it’s not very long and can be completed in less than 40 minutes so technically they could just add a mode to the next core Star Fox game. If you get the opportunity, I definitely recommend you give it a shot.