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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