A Retrospective On The Star Fox Series

Star Fox is undoubtedly one of the legends of classic gaming.  But man, where did it go?

The franchise is one that I’ve had a LOT of fun with in the past, and I’m quite sure many people recognize the name, as one of the greats.  However, if you ask anyone to name the most recent good game in the series, there’s bound to be some mixed, uncertain answers.  How in the world did Star Fox gain its reputation, only to disappear?  Well…it’s an interesting story, honestly.

So then, what happened to the adventures of Fox Mcloud and the Star Fox crew?  And what’s the series looking like now?

A Pioneer of Gaming

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Back in the early 1990s, you wouldn’t ever see much in the way of 3D gaming, at least on the console.  This was the time of the SNES and the Genesis, with classics such as Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Kirby’s Dream Land establishing themselves.  Sidescrolling platformers and the occasional RPG were the norm, but of course, Nintendo wanted to expand outward, taking an interest in the 3D games PCs were capable of at the time.

This is where British studio Argonaut Software gets involved.  Known at the time for the use of 3D in their computer title, Starglider, the relatively small company had big ambitions.  They wanted to work with Nintendo, and to do so, they knew that they needed to find a way to attract some attention.  And they did so: by hacking, and getting past the Game Boy’s copyright protection system, and showing off to Nintendo’s executives just what sorts of games they were capable of.  Impressed, Nintendo immediately started collaboration with the group.  Nintendo then eventually allowed them free reign over the creation of something revolutionary: the Super FX chip.

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The chip that started it all

Allowing for smooth 3D graphics, many times faster what Nintendo had before, the chip was implemented for the first game of the series, simply entitled Star Fox.  The title was released to critical acclaim, touted as revolutionary, and helped to popularize 3D gaming.  This strong initial release helped to establish Star Fox as one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, a legacy only further cemented by the next game: Star Fox 64.

Glory Years, and A Disappointing Return

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The release of Star Fox 64 in 1997, twenty years ago, was the high point of the series.  Refining the rail shooter mechanics of the original Star Fox, providing a divergent story, as well as using the Nintendo Rumble Pack for the first time, Star Fox 64 single-handedly made the Star Fox series legendary.  It was a quality game, innovative in many, many ways, and is considered, almost without question, the greatest game of the series.  Main character, Fox Mcloud, then appeared in Super Smash Bros,  further cementing his status as a Nintendo classic.

It’s at this point, at the beginning of the Gamecube’s lifespan in 2001, when people began to wonder: when will Star Fox return?  Where’s the rail shooting, space faring adventures, and what can we look forward to?  Well, in 2002, Star Fox returned, in a new title, Star Fox Adventures, featuring…not space shooter action, but rather, puzzle-based, adventure mechanics, not dissimilar to the Zelda series.  It was released to critically positive reception, praising the graphics and general gameplay, but fans of the series were hugely disappointed.

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Where’s the spaceships?

There were a few things that fans considered strange: first of all, the game was developed by another company, known as Rare.  A famous, reputable studio in their own right, Rare was known for adventure-based titles, such as Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.  However, despite their experience at making great games, it appeared to many that the company just didn’t know how to make a Star Fox game.

Second, Star Fox Adventures was originally developed by Rare as another game entirely: Dinosaur Planet.  This has led fans to criticize the game, one critic even saying that Fox was “clearly only on ‘Dinosaur Planet” at Nintendo’s request, not because he belongs.”  Suffice to say, Star Fox Adventures was, despite being a pretty good game, was rather disappointing for many fans of the series.

Good, But Certainly Not 64!

Over the next four years, two more Star Fox games would be released, both trying some slightly new things, but both being compared to the originals, and falling short.

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Star Fox Assault, released in 2005, felt far more to many like a standard Star Fox game, combining on-foot third person shooter mechanics, with the standard on-rails shooter gameplay that fans knew and loved.  It was, all things considered, a rather good game, but many people considered it rather inferior to the originals, and as such, Assault was forever known as a game that got close to excellence, but wasn’t able to deliver.

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Star Fox Command, released for the DS in 2006, received similar reception to Assault, featuring similar types of action, but puzzle-based gameplay as well.  Many people lauded the game for its surprisingly good action sequences, but on the other hand, criticized its lack of charm, personality, and overall repetitiveness.  Basically: with both Assault, and Command, they were good games, but paled in comparison to the legendary Star Fox 64–the old glory days, so to speak.

For ten years after that, there was a Star Fox drought.  Skipping over the lifespan of the Wii entirely, fans were left in the dark, until 2014.  A new Star Fox game was teased in the background of a Nintendo trailer for E3, and the title was officially made known: Star Fox Zero.  Leading up to its 2016 release date, many people were actually extremely excited for the game, which seemed to be a return to form for the series.  On-rails shooter mechanics, transformations that expanded on it without doing something completely new: it seemed to be perfect!

But then the game was released.  And man, were people disappointed.

The game was good, and was certainly a return to form, but because of this, something was made rather clear: the series couldn’t just do the same thing over and over again.  Apart from the controls, which were criticized heavily, many people considered Zero to be very reminiscent of Star Fox 64: in fact, too reminiscent.  Zero’s biggest failing seemed to be its lack of innovation, its lack of individual traits that made it a game for the new generation of consoles.  As one reviewer harshly put it, the game was “a relic of 2002.”

Perhaps then, this adherence to the formula set by a twenty year old title has worked against the series.  Star Fox doesn’t just have to be 64–and I think that Zero made that clear.


 

So now, we’re here.  Star Fox in 2017.  Based on prior trends, I think it’s safe to say we won’t have Star Fox for a while, until the inevitable Switch release, but I think that’s fine.

The series needs to build itself back up, and create its own identity, which, I believe, people seem to realize now.  64 was great, and gave Star Fox a legacy of innovation and quality, but there’s certainly a lot more to the series than that.   I mean, personally, I freaking LOVED Assault, even if it wasn’t 64, and I’m really excited to see what Star Fox will bring to the table next.  Let’s hope for another great adventure: one that shows the world that Star Fox still has a lot left to give the world of gaming!

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