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Star Fox came out for the Super Nintendo on February 21, 1993. Yup, the space shooter with anthropomorphic animals turns 25 years old today.
I remember getting Star Fox as an Easter present shortly after its release. I was only 6 at the time, but I knew the game was a big deal. Star Fox was one of the first games I ever played with 3D graphics. This was an especially impressive feat on the Super Nintendo, a system that was already a couple of years old at the time. But Star Fox wasn’t just a technical marvel. The on-rails shooting was fun, but Nintendo pumped the rather simple shooter full of personality.
My favorite part of Star Fox is the the very beginning. The warning sirens blaring, the Star Fox crew introducing themselves (and their adorable, nonsensical voice lines) as they report in, and then the transition into the first level.
Star Fox is fun, but it succeeded first as a technical showpiece and as a way for Nintendo to get its bearings on 3D gaming. This tradition continued with Star Fox 64, one of the Nintendo 64’s best-looking games. It was pretty much a remake — just four years later — of the original, but Star Fox 64 was able to show just how far 3D gaming had come in such a short time.
After that, the series’ reputation becomes a bit more muddied. Nintendo stopped using it as a franchise to show off technological advancements. Heck, Nintendo itself would stop trying to beat its competitors with sheer hardware power, instead focusing on features and gimmicks like motion controls for the Wii.
The GameCube had Star Fox Adventures, a Zelda-like action role-playing game from Rare that was never supposed to be a Star Fox game, and Star Fox: Assault, which featured awkward, on-foot third-person shooter segments. Nintendo was desperately trying to find a way to keep Star Fox fresh without doing another Star Fox 64-style retread, but nothing stuck.
Star Fox Command for the DS introduced turn-based strategy aspects. It was a better fit than, you know, dinosaurs, but it still felt like an unnecessary addition. Star Fox skipped the Wii entirely.
Star Fox Zero was one of Nintendo’s last major games for the Wii U, a console that failed to ever garner much excitement or sales. Zero had a similar structure to the original Star Fox and Star Fox 64, but once again tried to do something new by mandating motion controls. Although I enjoyed it, many fans rejected Star Fox Zero and felt that the motion controls were unwieldy.
Oddly, the most successful new Star Fox game since Star Fox 64 came out for the Super Nintendo last year … kind of. Star Fox 2 was supposed to launched for the Super Nintendo toward the end of its life, but Nintendo cancelled the project when it was practically done in order to focus on Star Fox 64. But when the SNES Classic Edition hit the shelves last year, Nintendo included Star Fox 2 as bonus.
Having a long-lost game plucked out of the past and made officially available is one heck of a bonus, but Star Fox 2 is also a fun game. It plays similarly to the original, but its structure is less linear. And it’s easier to forgive its aged graphics when you accept them as a novelty on a retro gaming console.
Of course, the original Star Fox is also on the SNES Classic Edition. It’s strange playing it all these years later. Although the graphics are outdated, there’s still a novelty to the simple geometric shapes that make up the ships, enemies, and worlds. And it’s still satisfying to do barrel rolls and shoot down bosses.
I’m not sure what kind of a future Star Fox has. At some point, I expect Nintendo to look at the series again when it needs a new title for the Switch. But Nintendo has tried for years to find a way to evolve the series with little success. The Switch’s limited hardware means that Nintendo can’t go back to using Star Fox as a technical showpiece. I’m not sure how to make Star Fox exciting again.
But whatever the series’ future becomes, the original Star Fox deserves that special place in our hearts that it barrel rolled into 25 years ago.
The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.
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