- Star Fox 2 is an amazing, fun game.
- Star Fox 2 would have destroyed Nintendo if it were released in 1995.
So let us examine how two incongruent truths exist.
Star Fox 2 is Great!
The original Star Fox is a great game that is probably best described as Nintendo’s finest candidate for the Star Fox: Super Challenge. It is a 3-D rail shooter that sees Fox & friends fly between planets in an effort to repel a deadly ape invasion. It is great fun, and a marvelous technical achievement for its time. It is also a remarkably straightforward game, with a meager number of named characters battling over an army of anonymous polygons, bosses exactly as remarkable as their unexceptional names (“Mommy, I want a Blade Barrier action figure!”), and gameplay that is the very definition of “on rails”. Give or take different difficulty routes, Star Fox is an extremely basic game released at a time when Mario was finding secret exits, Link was exploring a gigantic world, and even Kirby was rocking an intricate adventure back on the NES. Star Fox was comparatively limited, and fun in spite of the fact that it did not possess the freedom of its contemporaries. Sometimes a decent “score attack” is all you need!
Star Fox 2 took everything to the next level. In the first game, you exclusively controlled Fox, and your wingmen were 10% helpful, 90% escort missions. Now you had a full selection of six playable pilots, and your chosen partner was a trusted advisor and another potential life meter. And speaking of wingmen, the two newest Star Fox recruits were a pair of women with novel, distinct attendant stories. We were dealing with a Mario Kart-esque situation wherein different characters were all generally very similar, but the option of personally steering Slippy Toad in and out of danger was appreciated. Additionally, the Star Wolf team was introduced, so Sonic could fight Shadow, and a player could really sink their teeth into a dogfight between two comparable canis. It sure beats the pants off Professor Hanger.
But Star Fox 2’s improvements were not limited to plot options. Star Fox 2 expanded the shoot ‘em up gameplay of Star Fox and added what could best be described as baby’s first real time strategy game. You have two arwings, and Andross has an army that includes ships, planetary bases, missiles, and at least one (1) space dragon. It is your mission to steer your two pilots around the galaxy, and block any and all oncoming threats that could potentially harm Corneria. As such, you must carefully manage your (two) resources, and scoot around a very active galactic battlefield to keep your base secure, your navigators healthy, and Andross in a constant state of exploding. At a time when “world map” mostly meant pressing right to go to the next level, this dynamic universe was practically unheard of on home consoles.
But let’s not ignore the main event: Star Fox is a shoot ‘em up, and Star Fox 2 expands on that gameplay, too. Dogfights! Flying in full, 3-D arenas! Exploring bases by transforming into a walking, shooting robot! Charged attacks! Bosses that are more complicated than aiming for a glowing weak point! Mostly! The basics of Star Fox feel like a demo for the more attractive gameplay of Star Fox 2, and the fact that we wouldn’t see many of these features until the Nintendo 64 is a major loss for Super Nintendo players of the mid 90’s.
Of course, such thinking is moot, as the world of 1995 would not have accepted Star Fox 2.
Star Fox 2 would Fail!
It has long been said that there were whole decades where the general population did not know what they wanted from a videogame, and 1995 was definitely one of those epochs. Children born after the R U E advertising campaign have to understand that there was a year when the likes of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, Comix Zone, and Street Fighter Alpha were panned as too derivative and/or boring; while the likes of Battle Arena Toshinden, Brain Dead 13, and The 11th Hour were lauded as the future of gaming. While it is easy to simply blame this on the public swaying with the trends of the time, there are some elements of their ancient reviewing criteria that have stuck with us through the ages. One of the big ones? A game has to be long and contain “hours of gameplay” to be good. If a game is short, you are not getting enough bang for your buck, and it is indisputably bad.
And Star Fox 2 is over within a half hour.
If you have moderate skills with 3-D movement, shooting, and positioning your arwings between homebase and a few dozen missiles, it is very easy to complete Star Fox 2 in the time it takes to watch a TV show. Obviously, if your poor Falco isn’t as much as an ace as advertised, and the buzzard is crashing every three seconds, things are going to take longer; but if you have reasonable skills, Normal is more easily conquered than sitting through The Jerky Boys: The Movie. Harder modes add extra obstacles, onslaughts, and Star Wolf members, but Normal Mode is literally Normal Mode, so why would you expect the game to be significantly longer on different levels? And once you beat the game in a half hour, you will likely realize that you could do that even faster, so clearing Star Fox 2 quicker than it takes to watch one spell animation on the Playstation is theoretically possible.
Lest your modern brain think this is a problem, understand that this is the appeal of Star Fox 2. This is a game that is meant to be played to “completion”, but never truly conquered until you have discovered the proper paths to an unbeatable high score. Star Fox 2 ends with the defeat of Andross, but also an arcade-esque “enter your initials” high score table of everyone that has ever completed Star Fox 2 on this cart. You are meant to repel this invasion repeatedly, and get better at it every time. Yes, Star Fox 2 is supposed to take a half hour, but then you will play through it again and again, and devote hours and hours to the game in pursuit of the perfect Star Wolf defeat. And, since you could reasonably get an entire play session out of a short period of time, it would be the ideal game to play “between” other events (or even other games). Have a spare few minutes to yourself? Final Fantasy 6 would require an entire afternoon of making progress, but Star Fox 2 only demands 20 minutes. Maybe you’ll beat your last high score, maybe you won’t, but you’ll have a fun, speedy time trying.
But ain’t no way anyone would have identified that in 1995. Back then, Star Fox 2 would have been panned as a tiny voyage that could never stand up to longer adventures like Castlevania: Dracula X. Only fighting games were allowed to have short “arcade modes”, and the idea of an action game that could roll credits in less than an hour was preposterous. This wasn’t the 8-bit era anymore! This wasn’t a time when you could clear Ice Climbers as easily as grabbing an eggplant! This was the gorram future, when these 3-D models were welcome to run around, but they damn well better be attached to a game that is properly worth $70. A Super FX2 chip game that ends before it begins? Inevitable thumbs down and sad face from Scary Larry.
Star Fox 2 is exactly where it should be
But the good news? No one has ever paid for Star Fox 2.
Star Fox 2 was eventually released in 2017 on the Super NES Classic Edition. It was one of 21 games on the device, and many see it as a “bonus game” that didn’t really fit with its contemporaries. It was “an extra”, and little more. For anyone that missed the mini, it was released two years later on the Nintendo Switch Online service as one of the many games you “get anyway” with a subscription to Nintendo online services. In both cases, Star Fox 2 was not a standalone product, and was a perk for already purchasing something that contained Super Metroid. And, while Star Fox 2 was a curiosity on the SNES Classic, on the Nintendo Switch, it flourishes.
Star Fox 2 is finally home somewhere it can be used effectively. Star Fox 2 was never going to be a game that worked well with “switching in” a cartridge. That simple process was one where you could be changing over to a new, longer game, and not playing something you already marginally finished. But now that Star Fox 2 is available on a system where you can hop between games as easily as pressing your crosspad? Now you can truly play Star Fox 2 in a way that it can prove its genius. When you have twenty minutes to yourself, you now can defend the Lylat System in the same way you might play a few rounds of a rhythm game or a couple online matches in a fighting game. Star Fox 2 is now, finally permitted to thrive.
Star Fox 2: The best 1995 game released over twenty years later.
SBC #06 Fox & Star Fox 2
Fox in Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- He any good? With his iconic moves like the reflector or the blaster, Fox is possibly the character most known for his appearance in Smash Bros over his own starring roles. And he’s fast. So very fast. Not my cup of tea, as I prefer slow and smashy, but Fox is definitely good and content with his lightning kick.
- That final smash work? Finally! The Landmaster is no longer involved! Unfortunately, this makes Fox’s final smash little more than a cutscene. I guess it’s nice to be reminded that the rest of the squad exists?
- The background work? The Corneria Cruise with the Great Fox is basically a modified version of the original Sector Z tour from Super Smash Bros. The shape is the same, but the original Sector Z stage was weirdly huge, while this stage is an itty bitty giant spaceship. No matter. You can still hide out on that laser at the bottom for absolutely no reason.
- First Appearance: I understand why, but Fox is so slow back on the N64. It feels like he can barely do damage, but his ability to hop all over the arena and grab 70 items before Donkey Kong can even blink is pretty choice.
- Classic Mode: “Spaceborne Smash” sees Fox battling all the smashers that come from the stars. And that means we all have to be reminded that Metaknight of Kirby’s cast comes from space. This naturally concludes with Star Wolf and Master Hand. Is Master Hand a stand-in for a giant face that is normally Fox’s enemy?
- Smash Trivia: Fox’s background based “smash taunt” started the tradition of one stage having specific scenes with “outside” characters talking. This led to Shadow Moses Island and Palutenia’s Wisdom in later games, so it is arguably Fox’s most important contribution to the franchise.
- Amiibo Corner: Trophy Fox is dynamic and dashing forward, complete with his little shield charm and scouter. Still, this kind of direction-oriented amiibo needs a matching buddy going in the other direction. Falco? You available?
- Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Arguably, nobody remembers today’s game. Star Fox 2 influenced future titles, but it doesn’t seem to have made an individual impact on Smash Bros.
Fox in Star Fox 2
- System: It was intended for the Super Nintendo, but it can only be played on a novelty mini console, and the Nintendo Switch.
- Number of players: Maybe if they made this a “full release”, it would include a versus mode like Star Fox 64. Sticking to single player, now, though.
- A shape of things to come: The RTS system here would obviously return in Star Fox Command, the “walker” would come back in Star Fox Zero, and nearly everything else became part of Star Fox 64. That said, the way the walker steers feels remarkably like Super Mario 64, and it is difficult to see those sections of Star Fox 2 as anything but a trial run for that eventual classic.
- Those we left behind: Even though they would have likely caught the furry world by storm like Krystal, I do feel like the Star Fox Team is lesser for ditching Miyu the Lynx and Fay the Poodle. Aside from the obvious dose of estrogen being sorely lacking for so long, the idea of an aristocratic socialite turned pilot bickering with Falco is delightful. Less of a loss is Star Wolf’s Algy the Lemur, who lacks the plot hook of replacement Andrew’s fail-nephew status.
- Favorite Pilot: Let’s just go with Miyu the Lynx. There really isn’t a moment for any one pilot to shine in this adventure, but Miyu has a lot of potential as one of the neophytes. Also: I like cats.
- An End: Andross apparently only really knows how to build giant faces and cubes that also feature a bunch of faces. There is an unexplored vanity that permeates everything this less-than-a-king-kong does.
- Did you know? This was the last game that involved a working relationship between Argonaut Software and Nintendo. They collaborated on Star Fox, Stunt Race FX, and Star Fox 2. But Argonaut’s successor, Q-Games, would work with Nintendo again in 2006 on Star Fox Command. And the connection between Star Fox 2 and Star Fox Command is, in retrospect, glaringly obvious.
- Would I play again: I have not yet stopped playing this game, as it is an excellent way to wind down after playing some other game. And I play a lot of games! So Star Fox 2 will show up again.
What’s next? King Dedede is going to save Dreamland… assuming Kirby doesn’t screw it all up! Please look forward to it!