Retro Gaming Review: Star Fox 2

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On September 29th, Nintendo released a brand new* game for a 26-year-old** console. If you were one of the lucky few who managed to nab a Super NES Classic on Friday, you now get to check out one of the most-cutting edge games ever made*** for a home console. Let’s break down what makes Star Fox 2, the sequel to the first ever game to use the Super FX graphics acceleration coprocessor powered GSU-1 and a landmark title that ushered in the age of 3D console gaming, so special.

“Why all the asterisks, Dubs?” Well friend, I’m glad you asked. See, way back in 1995, Nintendo and Argonaut Games decided to can the essentially complete Star Fox 2 in order to shift focus to Nintendo’s upcoming console, the Nintendo 64, due for release the next year. The developers, despite possessing an essentially finished product, wanted instead to release the next Star Fox game on the most powerful technology the company had available. And so it was that Star Fox 2 was shelved for the indefinite future, wallowing in obscurity and unfinished ROMs while its concepts and ideas were cannibalized by the incredible (but in some ways inferior) Star Fox 64.



Well the future is now, and for the reasonable price of one SNES Classic microconsole, you can finally play this forgotten treasure (if you can beat the first mission of the first Star Fox game, that is). And what a treasure it is. Star Fox 2 is a wild ride that capitalizes on every single aspect that the original groundbreaking rails shooter afforded players. Where players were stuck controlling Fox McCloud and piloting a stokck Arwing fighter in the original game, players can choose between one of six characters – two of whom, lynx Miyu and dog Fay, have never appeared in a Star Fox title before – each of whom has a unique fighter with different attributes, such as variable shielding, speed, and special abilities. Where the first game only featured rails shooting, Star Fox 2 fintroduces all-range battles (a concept that would be incorporated into Star Fox 64) and transformation capabilities that allow your Arwing to take to the land to better tackle enemies and objectives within enemy bases (a concept that would not resurface until Star Fox Zero in 2016). Where Star Fox featured locked paths through the galaxy, the sequel affords players some semblance of choice in which objectives are tackled first.



It’s those new systems that make Star Fox 2 so cool, especially in the context of gaming in the 90s. I can think of few console titles from that era that so seamlessly blended tactical strategy with shooting action. Star Fox 2 tasks you with defending Corneria, the key world of the Lylat System, from the evil Emperor Andross’s resurgence. This requires players to intercept missiles, enemy squadrons, and one nasty space dragon in “real-time;” whenever you choose a destination and advance toward it on the map, the threats to Corneria will inch closer. If the planet’s defense damage reaches 100%, you’ll lose the game. Thankfully, you can use your mother ship to recharge your shields, warp to unoccupied planets, and plan out your next move. You can also swap out to your copilot if things get too heated; this tactic opens up a new strategic layer lacking from the frantic gunplay of the first game. Need a slightly faster ship to chase down those enemy fighters? Swap from Slippy’s stalwart bomber to Falco’s fleet interceptor. Need more bombs? Switch to Fay for some heavy firepower. These variations of the original formula become even more pronounced when you’re tasked with stomping through a battleship’s interior to destroy the core. Not a great pilot? Infiltrate the interior in an oddly maneuverable (considering the SNES’s lack of analog sticks) mech to destroy the target. Star Fox 2 is an improvement over the original in nearly every way.

1. Occupied planet
2. Enemy battle carrier on course for Corneria
3. Enemy unit on course for Corneria
4. Missile on course for Corneria
5. Arwing
6. Mothership (repairs damaged craft)
7. Satellite system

That doesn’t mean the game is without fault, however. Although it starts exceptionally challenging and frantic while you scramble between taking out bases to stop missile strikes and intercepting the missiles themselves, all while avoiding the devastating Mirage Dragon and the Star Wolf team, things even out quite a bit at the end. In fact, Star Fox 2 is quite a bit easier than the original; Andross himself goes down with nary a whimper comparatively, and the rails shooting stages seem a bit tame in comparison to the bullet hell later Star Fox missions became. The newer components tax the frame rate as well. Star Fox 2 would have been groundbreaking if it had been released as intended, but those early 3D polygons still look pretty rough today in comparison to the gorgeous pixels of other SNES games. The game is also far shorter than desired out of most tactics games.

Special item loadout
Smart bombs

Pilots
Fox & Falco

Still, it’s a shame this game was abandoned in favor of Star Fox 64. For all its merits – and seriously, Star Fox 64 is one of the best games ever made – the N64 edition lacked the intriguing tactical play of the cancelled sequel as well as the variety offered by the copilots. What great news for us then that we get to experience a buried piece of history; Star Fox 2 is better in nearly ever way than the game it followed, and despite its faults, it was worth the 26-year wait.


Were you able to pick up an SNES Classic? Let me know what you’ve been playing!

(All Images Via Nintendo)

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  • KJM, Blood Farmer

    I used to play this on the Atari 5200, very similar.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Raiders

  • I want 2 play

    • Dubby Fresh

      U can. U bought one.

      • It is 4 a child

        • GoatForest

          What a cruel twist of fate.

        • Guppusmaximus

          You can always d/l the rom and play it on your computah.

          • Dubby Fresh

            The Rom that was floating around for a few years was actually an unfinished version. Nintendo made some final touches for this release, although someone has already uploaded this final version to Rom sites.

          • Guppusmaximus

            Yea, the latest version is what I found when I Googled it. I spent enough money on that fricken system when it came out. I’m not buying into this overpriced emulator just to play old school games that I can find for free. Just sayin…

          • Dubby Fresh

            I get that opinion, but I’ve just never seemed to enjoy emulation as much as the genuine (or in this case, close to genuine) thing.

          • Guppusmaximus

            I don’t doubt that people have a closer connection to the experience when using Nintendo’s hardware and I completely appreciate that pov (I used to visit a store back in the early oughts that was all about the genuine experience just to talk all things nostalgia), I just have fonder memories of the actual gameplay of the titles I owned and emulation made it possible for me to play those games as well as the ones that I couldn’t afford or have access to (Foreign releases). Plus, I never needed some RF / VGA adapter to display that goodness on any LCD monitor / TV (especially my current 55″). PLUS, MAME. And, to boot, the emulators take full advantage of my quasi-gaming rig so I can make those games run smoother. Anyways, just my .02

          • I can understand that, but for some systems, it doesn’t have a higher fidelity compared to the originals.

            Take for example the N64 or GBA, those system’s emulation are still not finished, there are games that haven’t been reproduced exactly and it doesn’t matter if you have a NASA PC. For the SNES, on the other hand, since a couple of years, there are finally emulators that gives 99% of original reproduction, but there will always be tweaks for them in some titles and from what I read, the SNES Mini have a good software with no slow-downs or graphic glitches. If I were in the US, I would buy one, for sure.

            For me, emulators are better if you want to patch games, play imports with traductions or do weird hacks like the Super Mario 64 Multiplayer. Or if you are poor like me and cannot afford retro games, jajajaja.

          • Guppusmaximus

            I’ll take your word for it as I haven’t been immersed in the scene for quite some time. However, I will tell you that not too long ago I was able to play that New Super Mario game that came out for the Wii and it played exactly like the original using Dolphin. Seriously, I was also able to emulate all of my favorite SNES games on my PSP (I still have it). So, imho, I think it just comes down to how much work these unpaid developers want to put into making this stuff play properly. Other than that, I have no interest in repaying Nintendo for the success I, like many others, gave them back in the day.

          • Dubby Fresh

            From what I’ve read, the Dolphin emulator works really, really well in its current state.

          • Guppusmaximus

            Yes, if you have a decent rig then Dolphin is pretty rad. I believe it does GC games spot on as well.

          • Dubby Fresh

            Also, I should note that the SNES is the only mainline Nintendo console I’ve never owned, so getting the mini for me was really cool.

          • Guppusmaximus

            That’s cool. I wasn’t suggesting that people shouldn’t buy it. I just prefer to play it on my computer. Actually, I dig MAME a lot more because you can play actual oldschool arcade roms like APB (Atari).

  • ME GORAK™✓ᶜᵃᵛᵉᵐᵃⁿ

    GORAK NOT GET 1 SO STUCK PLAY STOOPID 4K PC VAYDO GAME 🙁 !!!!!!!!!!

    • Dubby Fresh

      Have fun with your hi-fidelity gaming, you caveman!

      Wait…

  • tigeraid

    VINTAGE VIDYA ARTICLES ON MY METAL MUSIC BOX IS THIS HEAVEN!?

    I managed to grab SNES Classic #43 of #70 at Best Buy, thanks to a co-worker who stood in line for three hours for me. Blessed be he, that toothless, chainsmoking, dirty-beard 70 year old nudist.

    I’m enjoying it so far, though miffed they didn’t make the controller wires even LONGER–I still can’t reach up to my TV mounted on the wall without standing in front of it. I need to find extensions.

    Enjoying that sweet, sweet Secret of Mana right now.

  • Óðinn

    Thanks, W. Although I don’t game, I appreciate your efforts and your review.

    • Dubby Fresh

      Thanks, man. I haven’t had a ton of time over the last few years to play vidya, at least not consistently, due to second/third jobs, ToH, social commitments, etc. But, I just finished working my second job, and for the first time in years, I’m now down to a single, 40-hour-a-week job. I guess I’ll have more time to knock out all these old SNES games until we start having kids or something.

  • GoatForest

    I could not get one. I am super pissed at Nintendo and the scalpers.
    https://youtu.be/58LnWMDa5LQ

    • Dubby Fresh

      Nintendo made way more this time, and I’m sure there will be another batch. Scalpers sukk

      • GoatForest

        Scalp them!

        • Dubby Fresh

          Off with their heads and butts.

  • Hans

    Cool. Love Starfox 64 (or Lylatwars, as it’s known in Europe). Had no idea they finally released this one.

  • GrumpDumpus

    MARIOKART 64 STARFOX 64 AND GOLDENEYE WAS THE GOLDEN AGE OF MULTIPLAYER

  • Ohhh, yeah! Nice to see some Star Fox 2 love!

    I remember I played the BETA ROM, but the experience wasn’t pleasant. It is nice to see this piece of history coming alive in this era. From what I remember, there were some concepts here used in the DS game, so, you can play now where they got influenced by it.

    I would def play this, and this review got me way more interested than I was. Great job and thanks to you for spreading the retro gospel, brother!

    • Dubby Fresh

      Yes, the DS game, which I never played, incorporates some of the more tactical elements.