Well here is a game I didn’t expect to be playing for the first time in 2017. Star Fox 2 was completed, in time to be released for its planned 1995-1996 release but cancelled by Nintendo because they feared it wouldn’t compare well to what the Playstation was capable of doing. It’s rare to see a complete game being witheld like this and the only way to experience the game until now was through a ROM on a SNES emulator. But it had various bugs and it was clear this wasn’t the way the game was intended to be experienced.
Luckily when Nintendo announced the SNES Classic Mini, they let us know that the console would have Star Fox 2 on it. While this wasn’t likely a necessity to be able to sell the console (as it would sell like sweetcakes as is) it was still a nice surprise.
To be able to play Star Fox 2, you’d first have to beat the first stage on the original game though. It’s not clear why Nintendo made it like this, perhaps to serve as a tutorial, perhaps so we would appreciate the changes made in the sequel. We’d have to ask them to be sure.
The “Big Bad” from the first game, Andross, returns and is set on destroying your home planet of Corneria. Fox and his team have to defend the planet and take back neighbouring planets that have been taken over. You’ll have to beat members from the opposing Star Wolf team, a few bosses and finally Andross himself to beat the game. Depending on your approach and skill you achieve this in about an 40 minutes to an hour and a half though. (Luckily it offers some replayability)
It’s a shame the characters don’t interact more than they do. You hardly get any backstory about them or what their motivations are. Even the antagonists’ reasons for attacking you isn’t entirely clear. Some additional dialogue could have gone a long way…
While I like the spritework and I can appreciate what they were trying to achieve with the polygonal 3D models and environments, I still can’t make myself enjoy the graphical side of this game. When the original Star Fox released, everyone was blown away by what the SNES was capable of. It’s just a shame that games that were on the cutting edge back then are the ones that haven’t aged all that well compared to the ones that just kept using the 2D pixelated sprites.
That’s not to say it’s all bad though. There have been some considerable improvements when it comes to the game’s presentation and performance when compared to the original: You get an opening cutscene where one of Andross’ space-dragons shoots a laser beam and cuts through a giant spaceship (which helps set the mood for the game), the tutorials are handled better with clear instructions on what to do and where to look and most importantly, during the actual gameplay the draw-distance seems to have increased (allowing you to look further ahead and actually plan what to do instead of having to rely on memory or quick reflexes)
Most of the game’s soundtrack is composed of tiny loops that just keep on repeating, but oddly enough they don’t grow tiresome and help give the game some urgency as they create the sensation that something important is going on.
The sound effects on the other hand seem to underperform. Firing your arwing’s lasers doesn’t feel powerful enough, explosions don’t sound impressive and when you have a near-miss with an obstacle there is a laughable sound effect to represent that. There’s also a feeble attempt of having actual voices in the game but they mostly sound like people trying to talk with their head underwater.
Due to the changes they introduced in this game, the gameplay feels a lot more varied. The first and arguably best, is how you choose which battle to face next. When the game starts, Andross has token over some of the neighbouring planets and Corneria is surrounded by enemy battleships. These send either missiles or fighters to Corneria and gradually damage it. When it reaches 100% it’s game over.
This keeps the pacing fresh and adds a tactical element to the game. You have to constantly weigh your options between attacking the enemy and keeping your own homeplanet in decent shape. Your score at the end will depend on how much damage your planet has sustained, but also on how many enemies you defeated, coins you collected etc.
Before you get started, you’re asked to choose which pilots you want to use. I loved how they presented this method and how they all really feel different from each other. Their arwing looks slightly different, they have different usable items (Nova bombs, Shield generators, Repair Kits), as well as a different E-charge, Shield and Speed.
When your main character dies and you’ve gotten a Game Over screen, you’ll be offered the opportunity to continue playing as your Wingman, so choose wisely.
Depending on what kind of battle you choose on the map, you enter one of two different types of fights. The first type is a shooter-type game where you’re viewing the arwing from inside the cockpit and have to shoot all targets before they get out of range. A map has been introduced in the top right corner that helps you find them. You’ll also have onscreen indicators that tell you in which direction to fly. You can boost your speed to catch up on missiles heading to your planet, but even when boosting the speed feels a bit too slow for space-combat and the controls are a tad sluggish (you really feel like it’s a game intended to be played with an analog stick instead of only a D-pad)
The other style is the familiar 3rd person view from behind your arwing, which is usually less like a dog-fight and more of a gameplay mode in which you traverse a level and meet different kinds of requirements. (destroy a ships core, press down on two buttons…) To perform some of these tasks, you can now even change into a walking arwing.
Which weirdly enough was the easiest to control for me: it doesn’t move forward automatically, the controls are more precise (with the shoulderd buttons turning the camera left and right) and you somehow feel less vulnerable as you have less dimensions to take into account (no enemies shooting from below at least).
The constant switching of how you’re playing: tactical, dogfights, exploration, flying or walking… It all contributes to avoid making the game feel stale. The length of the game probably has something to do with that as well though, as it’s very easy to beat it in one sitting. Luckily the different characters you can play as, the 3 difficulty levels and hidden collectible coins increase the length somewhat for completionists. There’s also the fact that you get rated after each playthrough so you may feel the compulsion to improve upon your previous score with a few more attempts.
It’s a decently fun game in its own right, but if I had to pay full price for it on release I may have felt cheated because there isn’t enough content to warent the asking price of a full game when measured to today’s standards. Star Fox 2 has to be experienced through some form of nostalgia glasses to be truly enjoyable as the graphics really don’t hold up that well in 2017. Since most of us get to experience it as part of a larger collection of games though, we should just appreciate that Nintendo finally gave us the chance to play it.