It feels absolutely surreal to be reviewing a new Super Nintendo game in 2017 never mind that the game is Star Fox 2, a game that Nintendo cancelled literally at the 11th hour back in 1996. And while we may never have gotten the chance to play the game on a proper Super Nintendo, it’s been well documented that many of elements that made Star Fox 2 unique would find their way into later games in the series, namely Star Fox 64, Command and Zero. Well now, thanks to the release of the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, we can finally get our mits on the seemingly mythical Star Fox 2. Is this blast from the past a forgotten Nintendo gem or should it never have seen the light of day?
Unlike the original game, Star Fox 2 is essentially a real-time strategy game with flight combat elements. Andross has survived the events of the first title and is launching an all-out assault on Corneria, throwing everything he has at the planet. The Star Fox team (now including newcomers Miyu and Fay) is thrust into action, though this time the whole affair feels a lot more like playing defense rather than pushing through to Venom like in the first game. The game world is made up of a real-time map of the Lylat System that is constantly updating, even while you are in combat. Enemy missiles and
Star Destroyers battle-cruisers will constantly threaten Corneria and its up to you to strategically choose your engagements in order to best defend the planet. This may mean abandoning a level mid-way through in order to re-focus on a different target or choosing a path that allows you to more efficiently knock out enemy movements. And while this is very different from the arcade-style linear gameplay of the original it gives Star Fox 2 a sense of urgency that few games of the time (or even today) can match.
This persistent clock, always ticking down makes the game feel similar in many ways to game like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Pikmin in that you need to manage your time and be in the right place in the right time. However unlike those games, most missions in Star Fox 2 can be completed after just a minute or two, making the whole time element (especially on easier settings) essentially an after thought. In a lot of ways it actually feels like the RTS elements, while the main idea of the game, were still in need of polish before release and, since this game was basically never released in the first place, it’s not too surprising to see some rough edges here.
The basic gameplay is another area that feels a bit rough in a lot pf places, especially the walker sections. I never thought I would say this, but this is an area that Star Fox Zero actually does better at than another game in the series. The walker portions in Star Fox 2, while novel in their design, feel very slow, plodding and simplistic with each of them basically consisting of stepping on some switches, entering a base/ship and destroying the core. The flight combat levels don’t fare much better and that mostly has to do with the simplistic level design that always puts you against only a couple of opponents before moving on. The best parts of the game are the battles against the Star Wolf team as they actually put your piloting skills to the test and force you to use nearly all the abilities of your fighter. Unfortunately these moments of fun are over far too quick before you head back to the rest of the game, which is mediocre at best.
Star Fox 2 comes with three difficulty settings; Normal, Hard and Expert however these labels are a bit misleading and should read Baby, Easy and Normal. Playing the gaming on anything less than expert mode makes the game far too easy. My very first playthrough lasted all of 15 minutes before I saw the credits and this was only marginally improved by upping the difficulty setting. What is nice though is that the higher level you play on, the more levels and options are opened up for you, allowing you to visit new worlds and locations. This also gives the enemy more options as to where to launch attacks from. So while the game’s difficulty may not increase much in terms of the damage you take or the complexity of the levels, you will be putting in more time dealing with the strategic elements of the game a lot more on higher settings.
Reviewing a game that was designed in 1996 obviously means that some consideration has to be given to the presentation as Star Fox 2 is very much a product of its era however it does do a lot of things that aren’t typical for a Super Nintendo game. First off, and most obviously the game uses 3D polygons quite extensively, more so than any other game on the system. The models are also a lot more detailed than what was seen in the original Star Fox, with large battleships, bases and dragons (yes dragons) all looking awesome in the Super-FX powered graphics. While they are fairly simplistic, even when compared to Star Fox 64 which was released in 1997, the vehicle models all have a certain charm to them, like they came straight out of the mind of a young space ship designer (something that was one of my favorite hobbies as a kid).
Star Fox 2 is also a surprisingly cinematic game, with plenty of cut-scenes, dialogue and plenty of epic space battle scenes. Sadly it soon becomes apparent that the Super NES, even with the Super-FX chip can’t quite handle what’s happening on-screen as the game suffers from some pretty horrendous frame rate drops, especially during the walker portions. Now I knew had to cut this game some slack since, again it’s from the mid-90’s but it’s not uncommon for the frame rate to drop into the single digits in some sections, rendering the game basically unplayable as your button inputs don’t even seem to register at that point. Thankfully the boss battles are so mind-numbingly easy that it won’t cause you to lose but it’s still a pretty jarring experience that really makes you realize that maybe Nintendo was right to leave this one in the vault.
I don’t have too much to say about the game’s soundtrack though, mostly because it’s so bland and un-memorable that even after playing the game like, 45 minutes before writing this sentence I can’t quite remember what I just listened to. Star Fox 2 also makes extensive use of digitized voice acting, which was still a novelty back in 1996. And while it does add to the futuristic, sci-fi feel of the game, the volume on the voices is so low that you’ll barely have a chance of understanding what Fox and his friends are saying.
Since the game is included as one of the 21 titles on the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, it doesn’t really have ‘value’ to call its own. That being said, after playing the game extensively, and trying out the other games in the mini-console I can now safely say that Star Fox 2 is one of, if not the, worst game on the console. Playing through it has more value as a novelty experience than trying to compare it to what came after as every one of the Star Fox titles that have come since (yes even Zero) is a better game that Star Fox 2. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that Nintendo finally let us play it after all these years, but after seeing the credits roll, it’s no surprise it was cancelled.
When I found out that we would soon be able to play the fabled Star Fox 2, I was thrilled. So much was made of this game before its release and I couldn’t wait to see what all the fuss was about. And now that I’ve played it, I can definitely see why Nintendo decided to keep this one under wraps. It feels incomplete, it’s too easy and can barely run on the hardware it was designed for. All of that being said, the sheer fact you can now (legally) play Star Fox 2 in 2017 is a big deal, and I would invite any SNES Classic Edition owner to check it out. But like Duke Nukem Forever, Too Human and countless other games stuck in development hell, maybe its best if this had never seen the light of day.