This is easily one of the most difficult reviews I’ve had to tackle over my career. While my instincts say to approach Star Fox 2 as a retro review, the problem arises that the game was never released. Therefore, I can’t look at how the game might’ve been seen in that era, but instead must look at it as it stands now. And, like some weird video game time capsule, Star Fox 2 is truly a game out of time—and I believe suffers for it. While it serves as an interesting window to a bygone era—and even an origin, if you will, for a lot of later Star Fox game mechanics—it really cannot hold its own now, or even with the rest of the games on the SNES Classic.
Star Fox 2 takes place a few years after the original game. Andross has rebuilt his army in a dark sector of space beyond the planet Venom, and is looking to strike right at Corneria, the heart of the Lylat System. Instead of his forces just inhabiting various planets throughout the system, Andross also has acquired the services of a mercenary band of pilots known as Star Wolf, and has amassed his own fleet of battlecruisers that are pointing all their weapons in Corneria’s direction. With no other course of action before him, General Pepper once again must call on the Star Fox team—whose own ranks have been bolstered by two extra pilots—to take down Andross once and for all.
When you look at the timeline of the Star Fox franchise, you realize Nintendo was put in a tough position. The original Star Fox revolutionized gaming with its Super FX chip in 1993, and that tech was going to be reused again in Star Fox 2, which was planned for release in 1996; unfortunately, that would have put the game close to the release of the Nintendo 64. So, the plug was pulled on the sequel, as to not have Nintendo’s previous console directly competing with its newest. Instead, Star Fox 2’s soul was (basically) transplanted into what would become Star Fox 64. With the power of the N64, and an extra year of development, the game flourished, and many of the mechanics that Star Fox 2 was set to introduce worked far better in their higher-powered forms.
The most obvious of these mechanics is the “all-range mode” levels that we first saw in Star Fox 64. In all honesty, it’s best that these were first seen in Star Fox 64, because here in Star Fox 2, you can tell this mode was still in an experimental phase. Trying to control your Arwing in “all-range mode” feels stiffer here, and I can’t help but believe the N64 controller’s analog stick versus the SNES’ d-pad is part of the reason why. The N64 controller provided a more natural flying experience as compared to what we get here in Star Fox 2, and this lack of control also makes aiming far more difficult, even with cockpit view.
The look and sound of the game, even with a pumped-up version of the FX chip, also seem to take a step backwards compared to the original. Star Fox 2 tried to deliver more complex worlds and enemies this go around, but was clearly taxed. (It was easy to compare the two, since you need to beat the first level of Star Fox to unlock Star Fox 2 on the SNES Classic.) Making the jump at the time—from a visual and audio standpoint alone—from the FX chip to the power of the N64 was another slam-dunk move on Nintendo’s part 21 years ago.
Other familiar mechanics were introduced here, such as dog fights against Star Wolf, the charged shot, and even different vehicles. The Landmaster and Blue Marine were not the alternate vehicles, however—instead, the walker form of the Star Fox team’s Arwings, not officially seen until the Wii U’s Star Fox Zero, first saw its genesis here. Although the walkers worked well enough, I found them to be a bit overpowered on stages where you could land and walk around, both making it easier to shoot and taking away the difficulty of piloting through narrow corridors.
One addition that I wish had made it into later Star Fox games, though, was the rounded-out roster of characters. Fay the dog and Miyu the lynx expand the Star Fox team to six, and—unlike other games where the entire Star Fox team would tackle a planet (and Fox would inevitably have to save one of them from trouble)—you only choose two pilots at a time to go out on missions. Heck, you don’t even have to fly with Fox if you don’t want to. Each pilot flies a different kind of Arwing, all with their own strengths and weaknesses, and you can switch between your wingman and primary pilots in-between levels should your main ship be extremely damaged.
This ties into the most interesting aspect of Star Fox 2: its metagame. Your two selected pilots only have so much time to eliminate Andross’ offensive threat from the Lylat system. Every planet you land on, or battlecruiser you engage in space, takes time to defeat. As the timer counts upward, Andross’ forces—ranging from long-range missiles to fighter squadrons—get closer and closer to Corneria. If you take too much time, or Corneria takes 100% damage, the game automatically ends. Where you place the Star Fox main cruiser (it’s not technically the Great Fox, but it clearly serves as inspiration for that) to refuel your team could be a critical choice. As well, only by clearing the galaxy in time can you finally take on Andross.
This timed aspect also leans more heavily into an element of Star Fox that the series seems to have been pulling away from over time: its arcade nature. Here, there’s a huge emphasis on fast playthroughs and trying to get high score bonuses by clearing Lylat of all threats as quickly as possible. High kill scores have been with the series from the beginning, but your campaign run gets a grade at the end that can easily be bolstered by playing on harder difficulty levels (which offer more obstacles and enemies to get through). It was a fun and interesting twist on a familiar mechanic for the series, one that it might benefit from revisiting in the future. Star Fox 2 afforded a lot more replayability than I was expecting, even with it taking less than an hour to complete my first playthrough on Normal.
Nintendo made a wise move two decades ago to bury Star Fox 2 and instead let Star Fox 64 polish up its best ideas while simultaneously zeroing back in on what made the first Star Fox so great. Star Fox 2 has an interesting tale to tell, and if you were already going to be looking for an SNES Classic, this slice of history is a quaint addition to the 20 fantastic games already found in that bundle. If this is your make or break point on picking up an SNES Classic, however, it’s likely not worth it.
|Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 09.29.17|
Although Star Fox 2 is an important part of the series’ history, there’s little value now in this game considering how far things have come—and how many of its ideas have surfaced in other key Star Fox titles. It’s a novelty addition—nothing more—and should not be the sole reason you buy a SNES Classic
|The Good||It’s an interesting missing link on the timeline of Star Fox development with some nice replayability.|
|The Bad||Not surprising, but it needs to be said that the look, controls, and tone of the game just feel entirely out of place now.|
|The Ugly||One wonders if we’d think more fondly of Star Fox 2 had it had nostalgia to tap into like the rest of the SNES Classic lineup.|
|Star Fox 2 is available only as a part of the SNES Classic. Review hardware was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|