Star Fox 2 Review

*This review originally appeared at*

Here’s something many Nintendo fans thought would never happen, Star Fox 2 has actually been released! This sequel to the original 1993 Star Fox on the SNES was famous for being completed, but never officially released. The N64 was on the horizon, and Nintendo didn’t see the need to release Star Fox 2 when Star Fox 64 would soon become a reality. But here we are, in 2017, and the release of the SNES Classic Edition comes bundled with the previously unreleased Star Fox 2. But after over 20 years of wondering, just how well does Star Fox 2 live up to the hype?

From the outset, Star Fox 2 looks very much like its predecessors: It features the same (admittedly aged) 3D visuals, and the levels featured are still on-rails shooters. But Star Fox 2 makes some notable changes to the formula.

You’ll notice an immediate difference in that, instead of players taking control of Fox McCloud and being accompanied by his three most loyal teammates (Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad and Falco Lombardi), the player gets to select a primary pilot and a wingman. Along with the four core characters, players can also select new characters Fay the dog and Miyu the lynx. Should your primary pilot be shot down, you’ll take control of your wingman.

Perhaps the game’s biggest departure from the original is its setup itself. While the original Star Fox (and subsequent Star Fox titles) used linear, branching pathways to get from level to level, Star Fox 2 instead goes with a more free-roaming world map, which feels akin to a board game.

The player’s ships can travel around the Lylat System as they please, with certain planets containing enemy bases, and enemy carrier ships floating in space. When the player reaches a planet or carrier, they enter one of the traditional Star Fox levels, where objectives usually involve destroying the base or ship by making your way to their core. Additionally, the carriers will send out ships on the world map, and the bases will launch missiles. If you come into contact with these ships or missiles while traversing the map, you will enter a small stage where you must destroy those objects.

It’s important that you take the time to do so, because these ships and missiles can make their way to the planet Corneria, dealing damage with every impact. Should Corneria reach %100 damage, the game is over. You may even find yourself having to exit a stage to ensure Corneria doesn’t take any extra damage. It may not seem like that big of a change, but it actually makes the progression feel more unique and enjoyable than the original game.

Not everything is an improvement over the first Star Fox title, however, as many of its predecessor’s shortcomings are still present in Star Fox 2. Namely, the controls during the first-person segments feel more than a little clunky, especially the act of maneuvering your ship and aiming with the D-pad at the same time.

Even when your ship is flying in a third-person view, the controls are less than ideal, though they are better than the first-person segments. A new feature in Star Fox 2 is the ability to transform the Arwing into “Walker mode,” in which your ship turns into something of a small mech. This gives the player more control over the vehicle (for obvious reasons, the Walker doesn’t automatically move like the Arwing), and is an overall nice change of pace from the on-rails gameplay.

Star Fox 2 is a marginal improvement over the original Star Fox, thanks to its more unique, board game-like setup, which allows for some more varied levels and progression; and the Walker is small but nice addition to the core gameplay. Unfortunately, the control issues are still present, and the rough, early 3D visuals can make things even more difficult. Not to mention Star Fox 2 may be even shorter than the first game (though this is a title more about getting a better score with each playthrough than it is about a grand adventure). It’s not quite the long-lost gem we’d all hoped it to be, but i’s just kind of nice to finally play it.




Star Fox Guard Review

Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Guard is the complimentary tower defense title that comes bundled with Star Fox Zero. Though Star Fox Guard doesn’t have the depth to stand on its own, its innovative execution does make it a worthy companion piece.

In Star Fox Guard, players take control of a new employee at  mining company owned by Slippy’s uncle Grippy (who are the primary characters you’ll encounter in the game, though the rest of the Star Fox crew do make cameo appearances). As it happens, Grippy’s mining facilities have been getting repeatedly attacked by robots, and it’s your job as the new recruit to help control the facilities’ defense systems and prevent the robots from ruining Grippy’s business. You do so by keeping focus on the facilities’ camera systems, and firing at the robots with lasers. Where the game turns this simple tower defense setup into something more unique is how it uses the Gamepad to create a more unique take on the genre.

The TV screen presents the action through thirteen different screens, with twelve of them presenting what’s currently being captured by each camera, and the central screen being whichever camera the player is currently focused on. Players switch which cameras they’re using by tapping on buttons on the Wii U’s touchscreen, which shows an overall map of the current stage. The idea of switching between cameras has been compared to Five Nights at Freddy’s, but Star Fox Guard seems to have more gameplay and a tone that’s less desperate for attention.

It may all sound a bit simple, and in essence it is, but the game can pack on quite some challenge (and even a little stress) once the robots begin showcasing their variety and begin showing up in bigger waves.

There are two different categories of robot enemies: Combat and chaos. The combat-based robots are the ones who are trying to get to the core of the facility to destroy it, and destroying a set number of them will complete the level. The chaos-based robots will mainly serve to get in the way of your defenses, as they try to destroy your lasers and disable your cameras in a variety of ways.

Star Fox GuardEach stage has a different setup, as well as multiple mandatory missions and the more fun and challenging optional ones, which may throw a unique twist into the mix (like limited ammo, or a time limit). After completing each mission, a friendly robot built by Slippy, called the Re:Bot, will collect the metal from every robot you destroyed, which will add to a cumulative score that will ultimately unlock the aforementioned optional missions, as well as upgrades and power-ups for the cameras and lasers. Players can even see how their scores rank against other players online.

That’s all there is to it, really. Again, it’s not exactly a hefty game, but it is a great and fitting companion piece to Star Fox Zero. The visuals somewhat charming, though a bit underwhelming, and the same could be said of the musical score. But the core gameplay remains fun and surprisingly addictive, with the only real complaint with it being that the buttons on the touchscreen are a bit too small, meaning that you may often lose precious seconds as you double check to make sure you’re hitting the buttons on the touchscreen.

So Star Fox Guard may not exactly be a fantastic addition to the Nintendo family, but if Nintendo decides to make similarly smaller (and presumably less-expensive) games to bundle with their bigger adventures, I’m certainly not going to argue with it. Many great movies are accompanied by delightful and often charming short films that add to the appeal of the feature. If Nintendo wants to produce more big game/little game combos that create a similar dynamic, as they’ve done here, then count me on board.



Star Fox Zero Review

Star Fox Zero

We’ve had to wait nearly twenty years for it, but Star Fox 64 finally has a proper follow-up in the form of Star Fox Zero on Wii U. The on-rail shooting, arcade-style gameplay the series is known for makes a long-awaited return. Zero brings the series back to its roots, dropping any and all baggage that came into the series in the post-N64 era. So in many ways, Star Fox Zero is something of a dream come true for longtime fans of the series. Unfortunately, not all is well in Star Fox Zero, and despite being a stellar effort in many ways, some technical problems do prevent it from becoming the Nintendo classic it might otherwise have been.

Star Fox ZeroThe core gameplay is exactly what we’ve been asking for for nearly two decades. That is to say it’s an expansion of what Star Fox 64 accomplished. Players take control of Fox McCloud, who pilots a variety of vehicles: The classic Arwing is the most common of such vehicles, and serves as the basis for the game’s shooting action. Though a twist from the unreleased Star Fox 2 has been integrated into the Arwing, as it can now transform into the Walker which, as its name implies, brings the action of the Arwing to the ground. Meanwhile, 64’s Landmaster Tank returns with a transformation of its own, and can in certain levels become the Gravmaster, which fittingly takes the Landmaster gameplay to the air. Finally, a new vehicle called the Gyrowing makes its debut, which has less emphasis on combat and more emphasis on deploying robots to hack into computers.

The vehicles, as well as their transformations, give the gameplay a nice sense of variety. Unfortunately, while the essence of the gameplay recaptures what Star Fox should be, the controls can often feel overcomplicated, and can hinder the otherwise entertaining experience.

Star Fox Zero utilizes both the screen on the television and the screen on the Wii U Gamepad to showcase the action, with the former giving a traditional Star Fox style viewpoint, while the Gamepad displays the action from Fox McCloud’s cockpit. The Gamepad’s motion controls are used to aim the targeting reticle, and that works well enough, so I kind of wish Nintendo and Platinum Games had kept the Gamepad features there.

Focusing on both screens can become distracting, especially during segments that take on an “all-range mode” and certain boss fights. What’s worse is that at times the game will require the player to switch their attention to the Gamepad screen exclusively, without really informing the player of such. It can be a bit jarring, especially in instances such as cinematics, which are displayed on the television screen while the player is still controlling the action through the Gamepad. Though some aspects of the controls feel more natural as you grow accustomed to them, other control elements are just too convoluted. I appreciate Nintendo for trying new things, but there are times when a more traditional route can be more beneficial (look no further than the Wii U’s own Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for proof of just that).

The often awkward controls are what ultimately prevent Star Fox Zero from becoming the definitive Star Fox experience. But on the plus side, the shift back to an on-rails shooter puts the series back in the right direction.

Much like Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero’s adventure can be completed in a few short hours. But also like Star Fox 64, Zero presents players with multiple alternate routes to traverse the game, giving it some replay value, which is taken to another level here.

Star Fox ZeroStar Fox Zero manages to trump 64’s replay value by adding additional levels and routes after you beat the game. Alternate routes can similarly be unlocked by replaying a completed level at certain points. Additionally, each level contains hidden medals, which can be found tucked away within the level itself or achieved by performing certain requirements, as well as high scores that the player can shoot for. To top it all off, Star Fox Zero includes a “Training Mode” which, despite the name, is more akin to a challenge mode, giving player’s something else to shoot for.

If Star Fox Zero has any other drawbacks, it’s probably in its overfamiliarity to Star Fox 64. From locations, character banter and even some boss fights, the game teeters very closely to being more of a remake than a sequel. If video game remakes worked the same as movie remakes, with the same story being retold through a modernized vision, then Star Fox Zero would in fact be a remake. The story is a reboot of star Fox 64’s (and, as an extension, a reboot of the original SNES Star Fox), which is fine, but perhaps a few extra original beats may have helped Zero build more of its own identity.

Star Fox ZeroStill, I’m reminded that Donkey Kong Country Returns played very much like a modernized Donkey Kong Country, and it opened the door for the bountiful ideas of Tropical Freeze. If Star Fox Zero can relaunch the series as successfully as DK did, then we should look very forward to what the future has in store for Fox McCloud and company. Online multiplayer would definitely be a desired addition in a future installment (hint hint Nintendo).

Star Fox Zero also shines on the aesthetic front, with gorgeous, vibrant visuals and a great soundtrack that revives old tunes and introduces a few memorable ones of its own.

Despite the familiarity and cumbersome control issues, Star Fox Zero is a welcome return to form for the series in many ways. It provides a fun adventure with loads of content and some nice replay value. But perhaps its biggest achievement is that it remembers what it means to be a Star Fox game. Its issues may hold it back from being a Nintendo classic, but as it stands, it’s just kind of great to have Star Fox back and doing what it does best.



Star Fox Review

Star Fox

1993’s Star Fox was a landmark title for Nintendo. It took advantage of the FX chip to produce polygon effects that never would have been possible on the SNES otherwise. But it wasn’t just about the graphics, as Star Fox produced an arcade-style on-rail shooter that, at the time, was second to none on any home console, and it launched one of Nintendo’s many beloved franchises. Though what were once revolutionary visuals have become the game’s biggest drawback with age, and hold back what is otherwise a very fun shooter to this day.

Gameplay is simple, but surprisingly engaging: Levels take on either a third-person or first-person perspective, and while Fox McCloud’s Arwing travels on a fixed path, players have the ability to move it around all corners of the screen. You fire lasers at enemies (one laser is the standard, though a power-up allows two at a time), and you can launch bombs to take out many foes at once. You can boost, brake and, of course, barrel roll.

There’s really not much else to it than that, but the clever designs of the levels, as well as bombardments of enemies, ensure that players will always be kept on their toes.

Star Fox used a unique level progression, as players could select three different paths at the start of a game, with each having a total of six stages. The first and final two stages are the same no matter what path you choose, but the remaining levels are unique to each path, giving the game some added variety and replay value.

Star FoxThe stages usually only take a few minutes to complete, but you’d be surprised at how difficult they can be even in their brevity, with boss fights in particular often leading to game overs. The game becomes even more challenging if you’re looking to get your best possible score, since you not only are rewarded for your performance, but also for helping your teammates: Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad and Falco Lombardi.

Star Fox had a sharp sense of personality even in its debut, even if it wasn’t able to fully show it off until Star Fox 64. The characters are simple but charming, with Peppy being the wizened member of the team, Slippy the bright upstart, and Falco the jerk who will ask for your help and then tell you to mind your own business after you save his life. Obviously, there was no voice acting for the characters at the time like there would be in Star Fox 64, but the characters’ dialogue is expressed through delightful gibberish sounds similar to what you hear in Animal Crossing today.

Now about those visuals. While they were a revelation in their day, the game simply isn’t pretty to look at. The ships all look like vague shapes clumped together, backgrounds look like little more than filled in wireframes, and some of the scaling and rotation effects can actually be straining on the eyes (one boss in particular rotates the screen around in such a way that I had to pause and take a break before going back to finish him off, as the effect began to bother my eyes).

Star FoxIt’s understandable that the game’s visuals might not hold up, since they were experimental and covering new ground. But when the majority of SNES games still look pleasing even today, it can be more than a little disappointing seeing how much Star Fox’s visuals have aged. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, except that it can sometimes effect the gameplay, with many enemies and objects only coming into view once you’re right on top of them, and the perspectives can get tricky to differentiate, leading you to crash into obstacles and fail to grab a power-ups. Some of the lighting effects may be flat-out game-breakers for those with particularly sensitive eyes.

Graphics certainly aren’t everything though, and for those who can handle the rough visuals, Star Fox still provides some good fun, not to mention a standout soundtrack.

In a bit of a reversal from the usual, it’s the Nintendo 64 sequel that has more of the timeless appeal that anyone can enjoy, while the SNES title feels more like the experiment that many will still find engaging, while others may feel like it’s simply a relic.