The only thing I ever remember seeing about Star Fox 2 back in the Super Nintendo days was an ad in Nintendo Power showing a stand-in box and logo. That was enough to get me excited. I was a huge fan of the original Star Fox, completely devouring every piece of media I could with the characters on it and constructing Paper airplanes that resemble the game’s main fighter, the Arwing. I never saw a screenshot for Star Fox 2, nor did I ever read a preview; that tentative box was all I ever saw.
Years later, it would spring back into my memory and I’d look into whatever happened to that game. As fate would have it, Star Fox 2 was canceled, having been slated to release threateningly close to the N64 when Nintendo intended for a fresh start with 3D. Elements would land within Star Fox 64, then later Star Fox Command, and Star Fox Zero. Prototype ROMs were leaked onto the internet, as the internet never forgets, but ROMs aren’t cool, children. I did, however, try said prototypes out, because I never claimed to be cool either.
Now I can finally say that I actually own a copy of Star Fox 2, because Nintendo has surprisingly seen fit to release the completed version of the game on their new dedicated console, the Super Nintendo Classic.
TWO TO TANGO
Predictably, Star Fox 2 centers around the return of the series principle antagonist, Andross, who is once again trying to take over the Lylat system by force. Because if at first you don’t succeed…
The original Star Fox had a structure that involved selecting one of three routes and following it to the end. Star Fox 2 shakes this up in every way imaginable to the point where very little connects the two titles. Rather than a linear selection of on-rails levels, Star Fox 2 has you and your selected wingman take on a role as the entire frontline in the defense of Corneria. You start out be selecting your pilot and co-pilot from a group of six (added are Fay and Miyu, two early but forgotten female members of the team) and set out from your awesome mothership to protect the solar system. Counter to this, Andross sends out battleships, fighters, missiles, viruses, and mercenaries, and you juggle the responsibilities of taking them out before they reach the Cornerian homeworld while pressing the attack on Andross’ strongholds. I’ll be damned if that isn’t a palatable framework.
In fact, from the outset, a lot of Star Fox 2 is tantalizing to the senses. It has a slick and colourful UI, chirpy and fun music, and its 2D artstyle is wonderfully stylized. The 3D graphics are extraordinarily dated by today’s standards, but textured polygons running on a Super Nintendo is an impressive feat nonetheless. Everything is slightly less abstract than it was in the first game(and even later games, come to think of it) with rings being replaced by coins and capsules. There’s more freedom in how you approach the end goal, since whether you take on the bases immediately or whittle down their attacking forces first is up to you. That’s just on the surface, however.
It’s a game that certainly has no shortage of ambitions. A lot of new mechanics are tested and find themselves landing in both success and failure buckets. Perhaps the biggest change to gameplay is the inclusion of a walker mode for the arwing that transforms it into a bipedal machine that walks on the ground. The on rails levels have, for the most part, been dropped in favour of this, and outside of how lame the transformation is, it’s just kind of unexciting. On-rails gameplay has a lot of restrictions to it by nature of the design, but it at least allows a lot of exciting situations be scripted. Most of the excitement in Star Fox 2 exists in the map screen.
To illustrate this, think bosses. Star Fox capped off each level with some wild contraption with flashing weak points that you plug away at until it explodes. There were a lot of interesting designs that includes a truck that drops motorcycles and a transforming mech thing. Star Fox 2 has bosses, but lacks the precision to include interesting designs. What your left with are monsters that just need to be hacked away at and simple designs with obvious and large weak points. Take King Dodora for an even more specific example, which shows up in both games. In Star Fox, you jam shots down its throat to shrink its necks until finally it starts taking damage. In Star Fox 2, you shoot it. If you need to target a particular spot, I didn’t notice, since it always seemed to take damage when shot.
Bosses aren’t even the main focus of the level. Instead, each mission is capped off with an attack on a stationary generator with massive weak points. There’s some variation between them, but largely, they’re just stationary objects that you kill off as a formality to close off a level.
EVERYTHING EXCEPT THE GAME ITSELF
That’s generally Star Fox 2’s problem: everything wrapped around the core gameplay is absolutely brillo, but when you’re plopped into the pilot seat, the engine backfires and stalls. One of the most striking issues is the game’s absolutely abhorrent framerate. While a sluggish framerate was a major issue in the original title, it was easy enough to ignore once you got used to it. The same holds true for Star Fox 2, but it comes with added discomfort.
Dropping the on-rails gameplay of its predecessor, Star Fox 2 features the “all-range” mode that would later be established in Star fox 64. This basically means, you’re free to fly around in all three dimensions, rather than being railroaded. The issue that arises from this is that the 3D camera hadn’t really been figured out by Star Fox 2’s intended release date, and as a result, it’s just a whole load of butt. It hesitates severely to start actually moving, refusing to react until you’ve essentially pointed your crosshair completely off-screen. I like to fly with the third person camera, which is even worse since the camera reacts in entirely the same way, and you have no crosshairs, so you’re pointing your nose off-screen to try and reposition the camera, but you have no idea where your shots will go because there’s no reference for things like depth and positioning. It’s a mess.
It doesn’t help that the graphics are murky, the draw distance is short, and enemies move erratically. Space battles are short affairs, typically against no more than three targets at a time; which is probably for the best, since it’s disorienting. If a target goes off screen, your only hope for bringing them back is to use the radar at the top of the screen, which is thankfully pretty reliable.
A NEW LEASE
The game can be completed in under an hour. That’s ridiculously brief if you’re just looking to beat the end boss and move on, but regardless of whether you win or lose, you’re scored at the end based on a number of different metrics. The open nature also allows things to play out differently each time the game is played, so there’s a lot of incentive to replay it.
Regardless of that, it’s a pretty mediocre game packaged in an ambitious box. I imagine that, had the game been released when it was intended to be, I would have absolutely loved it. That’s not really saying much because I was a kid at the time and would have loved any new Star Fox whatsoever. Now, though, it’s hard to feel anything about the game. It’s exciting to finally play an official release, and I’m still absolutely stoked that Nintendo opted to include it in their Super Nintendo Classic, but it’s more of a curio than a worthwhile experience. It probably shouldn’t be your only motivation if you’re looking to pick up an SNES classic, but it is a pretty rad bonus. If we’re lucky, maybe now that the game is officially in the wild, some of the better facets of the game will be recycled into something more polished. I can dream, right?
This review was conducted on a Super Nintendo Classic that was purchased by the author at the retail price.