It’s really hard to watch the original Starfox running in its original form on the Super Nintendo. Sure, there are times when the low-resolution 3D graphics, made possible by bundling the then-vaunted SuperFX chip into the game cartridge to assist with the heavy lifting, went relatively smooth. Then there’s the other majority of the time where you can literally count the frames as they’re being drawn on the screen. Starfox was a technical tour-de-force in 1993, so it only makes sense that the Wii-U is the ideal platform to resurrect the franchise nearly 20 years later, hopefully without all he baggage the series accumulated over the years.
Okay, I’m listening…
For those unaware, and its not impossible considering the state of the franchise in the past decade, Starfox started life as a strict rail shooter. It was a striking 3D game on a console designed for 2D games, hence the need for the SuperFX co-processor. Even though it was technically spartan, it still blew minds, mine in particular. The peaceful planet of Corneria is invaded by the evil ape Andross. Filling the boots of Fox McCloud, flying in a highly angular fighter called an Arwing, and fighting alongside your scripted AI squad mates in a universe of anthropomorphic animals, you need to save the day. When I mentioned that this game was a strict rail shooter, I meant it: stray too far and the level’s binding box guides you back on course.
Your goal? Andross’s toxic fortress-world on the other end of the solar system: Venom. The three paths, each representing a different difficulty, take you through different zones, had you tearing through radically alien worlds, and defeating different sets of bosses, rather than merely amping up the difficulty. The enemies were just as primitively shaped as you were, which left the designers to craft memorable designs with the few polygons they had. When you finally encountered Andross, he didn’t quite look like the evil ape you’d seen up until then, but rather a giant, silver mask with glowing eyes. In the face of technical limitations, the developers crafted a truly terrifying end boss with an army of primitive shapes.
How Andross appeared in 1993.
So what happened?
Nintendo and original developer UK-based Argonaut had built a follow-up for the Super Nintendo slated for release in 1995, only to pull it at the last possible moment. Starfox 2 was to feature a pair of extra characters, an “open system” aspect that had you visiting worlds in any order, saving Corneria from roving enemy fleets, and transforming your Arwing into a walker for dedicated ground combat. I remember walking into Toys ‘R’ Us in August 1995 to see if they had it in stock yet, only to be rebuffed by the nice lady at the customer service desk who looked through her computer and told me it wasn’t out and that I should stop wanting things because I’d only be opening myself to a world of crushing disappointment. When I later found out they had cancelled the game to put a bigger flashlight on Starfox 64 for their new gaming system (bear in mind, we’d only gotten our SNES half a year earlier) I was straight up miffed.
That game came out in 1996 and featured the first example of haptic feedback, now an industry standard, with the add-on Rumble Pak. It was technically a better game than the original Starfox in every way, serving as a remake with free-travel sections and multiplayer, although it didn’t seem quite as ambitious as the cancelled Super Nintendo sequel, but I was still far too mad about Starfox 2. Far too mad. Picking up a GameCube in 2002, I wasn’t much better off, really. Nintendo ultimately decided that the direction the franchise needed to go in was toward cutesy, unnecessary characters, an excessive amount of poorly developed exposition and talking heads, and a general detesticularization of Argonaut’s breakthrough greatness.
How Andross appeared in Starfox 64 (1996). Menacing?
So what could a new Starfox game on WiiU do?
Starfox, like so many popular modern games, was a cutting edge game with western sensibilities. When Nintendo took the franchise back, it cheapened it and it drifted down the quality pipe for the same reasons that the Sonic franchise has over the same time. So here’s what you do:
– Let Retro do it. They did a great job rebooting Metroid and those games were great. They can also take advantage of the WiiU’s much more powerful tech.
– Cut the cast of characters down, remove the crappy, complex story unless you’re bringing something quality to the table.
– Be super innovative without being offensive. We don’t need a Starfox: Tickle The Pilots game. Ew. Bring back the fancy, cutting edge graphics and push the WiiU to its limits.
– Use your new Friend Code-less multiplayer interface for something great. You guys have yet to make killer online game, this could be your first.
– Be super cinematic. I remember getting chills in the original game when my Arwing bought it and the bass dropped, the explosion echoing through the room.
Nintendo, you can do it. Make it happen.