Star Fox fans have to be the most flexible in the entire video game industry. Each and every time a new game comes out in the franchise, Nintendo’s latest attempts to get “experimental” requires them to come to grips with almost an entirely new genre of video game.
If you look at each of Nintendo’s other major properties, mapping out their evolution is quite easy. Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong all star in platformers with a variety of gimmicks, complexity, and levels of polish to set them apart from one another. The Legend of Zelda has evolved in that a 2D overhead world slowly morphed into a full-blown 3D world, and Nintendo is also starting to take open-world cues from Oblivion and The Witcher 3. Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart dig deeper with each release, improving the fighting and racing in their own way.
And then there is Star Fox, whose evolution looks more like a box of spilled cereal than a nice fine line from “Point A” to “Point B.” The series was born as a humble experiment to get the Super Nintendo to “smoothly” run 3D polygons. Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto loved it, outsourced his company name to a handful of unknown English programmers, and they got it running. Star Fox became a Super Nintendo classic that exceeded its technical triumphs.
Then, Star Fox 64 came around and improved upon the Super Nintendo game in every way. More horsepower in the hardware meant much more complex levels, a greater number of paths and objectives to tackle along the way, various vehicles, fun multiplayer, voice acting, and a mostly smoother framerate. I don’t think you’ll find any dissent on Star Fox 64. It’s a masterpiece of its genre, and its quality speaks for itself when fans still use it as a standard for comparison nearly two decades later.
From there though, what has Star Fox become? Well, when Rare took a stab at it on the GameCube, Star Fox Adventures turned out to be exactly what a Zelda game would be like with all of Rare’s weaknesses. Over-reliance on collectibles, a lot of useless and empty rooms. More importantly though, Star Fox Adventures was more reviled for what it “wasn’t” rather than for what it “was.” Meaning, how do you make a second-rate Zelda game from a series that laid the foundations of the console rail-shooter genre?
Especially after teasing us of “what could have been” in the very first level. That opening bit to Star Fox Adventures is actually pretty brilliant. Shame it doesn’t last longer.
Star Fox Assault followed with development by Namco, a company who tends to sacrifice polish for rough and tumble action. The results here are just that. If Star Fox Adventures was the result of pressure from the popularity of long adventures games and RPGs at the time, then Star Fox Assault came to us as Nintendo’s response of the booming popularity of Halo. For what we saw in excellent space combat levels, Namco’s direction made us suffer through ill-conceived “foot missions.”
Not that there is anything inherently wrong with foot missions in a Star Fox game, but as mentioned before, Star Fox Assault lacks the polish of a Nintendo title and comes off as a cheap, overly-arcadey response to a Western trend. Slightly misplaced intentions for a mediocre game.
And then there is Star Fox Command, Nintendo’s collaboration with Q-Games to get the franchise up and running on the DS. This time, Nintendo created a Star Fox game in response to the booming presence of “thinking games” on its popular handheld, and thought that a strategy element was needed here. What we got was a decent but forgettable strategy game with minimal aerial combat and flat level design.
Again, not what the fans were looking for, and it was forgotten.
It should come as no surprise that the best received Star Fox game since Star Fox 64 was its own remake on the Nintendo 3DS. It delivered just what the fans wanted: a classic rail-shooter. Stale, predictable, but oh-so-much-fun.
Here are all the classic Star Fox games.
Making such games goes in the face of Shigeru Miyamoto’s theories of game design. As a man who never wants to settle for the status-quo, Star Fox Zero is coming to us with controversial motion controls that are sure to polarize a good many Nintendo fans. We’ve both seen and heard about improvements since its debut, and the atmosphere from the title has lifted a lot, but you’re never going to please everybody.
On the flip-side though, the core game itself looks fantastic, keeping just enough of the winning formula intact to be recognizable. Linear rail-shooting levels, branching missions, intense All-Range Mode battles. I am of the firm belief that this is the Star Fox game that fans have waited 20 years for. If it could be played with a classic controller, I would have no doubts at all. However, Nintendo is going to force us to take its risks alongside it, so we’re all in this dual-screen business together.
Let’s hope that it pays off, because I’m a little sick of Star Fox 64 being the gold standard. And let’s equally hope that the Gyrowing isn’t half as boring as it looks.