Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nintendo should release Star Fox 2 on the Virtual Console

by Steve

The real sequel to Star Fox.

In case you don't know, Star Fox 64 is not a sequel to the legendary Star Fox. It is a reboot of the series. The true sequel to the polygonal space shooter was simply titled Star Fox 2, and it was a Super Nintendo game. According to lead programmer Dylan Cuthbert, the title "was fully completed," but was never released because the N64 was about to launch, and Miyamoto "wanted to have a clean break between 3D games on the SNES and 3D games on the superior 64-bit system." As a result, the game was quietly canceled and the big N decided to hit the reset button on the franchise, reworking material from the two games to create Star Fox 64, a re-imagining of the Lylat System.

Star Fox 2 was so close to being released, the box art was already done.

There have been a lot of rumblings about a new entry in the series, and Miyamoto himself has said that he would like to see a Star Fox game on the Wii U. The question is, would enough fans buy the new title to make it a good investment? The series hasn't been selling as well as Nintendo would like, and Miyamoto himself has acknowledged this. According to vgchartz, 650,000 copies of Star Fox 64 have been sold worldwide since it's release almost one year ago. While that might sound like a lot, those aren't exactly the kinds of numbers that would warrant a brand new game. Creating something from the ground up is exponentially more expensive than repackaging old material, and that is where Star Fox 2 comes in.

Why Nintendo Should Release Star Fox 2

Reason 1: Already finished

As I mentioned earlier, the lead programmer said the title "was fully completed" and ready to enter production, but it was never given the green light. The game's code is all there, it would simply be a matter of getting the emulation down. That would not take long.

The game is finished, it wouldn't take long to get it ready for download.

Reason 2: A "New" Star Fox Game

While the game is more than a decade and a half old, it was never formally released in any shape or form for any console. In effect, it would be a brand new game. Enough said.

Reason 3: Test gamers' interest in the series

Star Fox 64 3D was released by Nintendo to see how much of an interest gamers still had in the series. While the sales numbers weren't all that impressive, I would argue that it wasn't a very good measuring stick. As great as the game is, everyone has already played it, and it has been available on the Virtual Console for years. While the same could be said of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, that title improved on its source material in every way imaginable. The touchscreen made quite a difference, making the cumbersome inventory management more accessible and intuitive. While the dreaded Water Temple was still a pain, it wasn't nearly as tedious to play through as it had been in the past. As if that weren't enough, the developer even included the Master Quest version of the game and added a new "Boss Challenge" mode, both of which significantly increased the replay value and made the title a real bargain.

In comparison, Star Fox 64 3D was pretty much a straight port. The single player was the same it had always been, and the new control options didn't seem to appeal to anyone. The multiplayer additions were a nice effort, but it wasn't enough to make it worth the asking price to most fans. At the end of the day, Star Fox 64 3D was a solid title, but it was a rehash.

Pretty much the same game. Been there, played that.

Star Fox 2, on the other hand, was never made publicly available by Nintendo, and a "new" game would be a much better way of measuring public interest than a re-release of one that first hit store shelves in 1997. If I didn't have my N64 cartridge and were given the choice to buy Star Fox 64 or Star Fox 2, I know which one I'd choose.

Some ideas were used in Star Fox Command, but make no mistake, they are very different games.

Reason 4: Recoup R&D expenses

Creating video games is not cheap, especially one as advanced as Star Fox 2 was. The game featured 3D graphics and even had "all range mode," allowing for true 3D flight, just like some stages of Star Fox 64. I can't talk from experience, but getting a game to run in full 3D on the Super Nintendo was not easy. I can only imagine how much money went into research and development, and the game must have been quite an investment.

All-Range Mode - Full 3D flight. Not easy to do on a 16-bit console.

When a game is canceled, the company responsible for its production has to eat the cost. Every last penny of it. It's one thing to can a game early on, but to cancel the release of one that is already finished is the worst possible outcome for a developer. That's a lot of money Nintendo's never getting back...unless they decide to finally release the game.

Seeing as how Virtual Console games are purely digital and require no manufacturing, there would be a huge return on every copy sold. They could very well recoup the cost of the game's development and might even make a profit. As far as I'm concerned, they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Reason 5: The Right Thing To Do

Dylan Cuthbert and his talented development team spent countless hours crafting Star Fox 2, and as SNES games go, it is a masterpiece. Think about it, full 3D graphics on a 16-bit console! It is a technological marvel, but nobody got the chance to play it. As any good game designer will tell you, the best part of making games is seeing others get enjoyment from your creations. For the Star Fox 2 team, that day never came. In addition to that, they never got the recognition they deserve from their peers, the media, and gamers themselves. They spent months of their lives in service to Nintendo and players worldwide, but it was all for naught. A release now would change all that.

The ships could transform into walkers, and yes, they could walk in full 3D.


Make it available on the Wii Virtual Console, sell it at a discount on the Wii U Virtual Console

There are a lot of questions about the long term prospects of the Wii U. Gamers don't like to buy consoles with uncertain futures, and Nintendo should reward early adopters in some way. Since there are close to 100 million Wii owners, Star Fox 2 should definitely be made available for that platform's Virtual Console. Of course, the big N should also put the game on the Wii U's Virtual Console as well, but I would suggest it be offered at a discounted rate for owners of the new system. Few people are completely sold on the Wii U so far, and gamers who take the plunge should be rewarded in some way. Getting a copy of Star Fox 2 for cheap, or maybe even free, would be serious fanservice. Nintendo rewarded those who jumped on the 3DS bandwagon in its early days, and I think they should do so again. The Wii U isn't exactly expected to fly off shelves.

The team's command ship. It plays the same role as Great Fox in Star Fox 64.
Flying into the mothership.

Enhance the graphics

While the retro charm of the 16-bit visuals would strike a nostalgic chord for us older gamers, the younger generations would scoff at the graphics. Simple polygons aren't exactly eye candy, and adding textures would do wonders aesthetically. Bringing the graphics up to N64 standards would definitely improve its appeal, and making it run in 480p or higher would also be appreciated. Of course, they should also include an option to use the original graphics so that the game can be played in its original form.

Scenic shot.

Improve the framerate

Star Fox 2 would have been impressive for its day, but the choppy framerate would be a turnoff for many. While Nintendo doesn't like to tamper with the code of old games, I think they could make an exception in this case. I don't know how many of you have played the original Star Fox lately, but it is darn near unplayable at times, especially if you take Course 3, the hardest route in the game. The framerate is abysmal. It's like a slideshow, and sometimes the game runs so poorly, it fails to detect button presses. I don't know how many ships I've lost due to failed barrel rolls, and judging from the footage of Star Fox 2 that exists, it would have been plagued by this problem as well. The framerate is one aspect of the title that would need to be improved. Again, they should also include an option to leave the graphics alone, framerate and all, so that the game could be experienced in its original form. Seeing what we would've had to put up with would be good for a few laughs, and could double as a sort of "hard mode" for the hardcore crowd.

The game would be harder than it was supposed to be at 16 frames per second.


Believe it or not, Star Fox 2 was supposed to have a battle mode. The earlier beta versions allowed two players to engage in split-screen dogfighting, but it was apparently removed for some reason, as the final build lacked this feature. If the game were released on the Virtual Console, I'm sure they could put the multiplayer back in, and probably increase the maximum number of players as well.

Split-screen dogfighting. There were 6 playable characters and different ships to choose .

Create an online multiplayer mode

I know, I know. Now I'm just getting greedy. Still, a guy can dream, right?

The character select screen.

Release it in 2013 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the series

This isn't really a big one for me. If the game could be released by Christmas or sooner, I'd say they should go ahead and release it to jump start the nearly dead Virtual Console. Still, 2013 does mark the 20th Anniversary of the original game's release, and while the series doesn't quite have the same punch as Mario or Zelda, it is nevertheless one of the big names that comes to mind when you think of Nintendo. If Kirby can have his own commemorative collection for his 20th, I think the Star Fox franchise should definitely get some sort of recognition for its contributions to the gaming industry.

Unless Retro Studios' mystery title is an entry in the series that will be available before the end of 2013, releasing Star Fox 2 seems like the way to go. And even if Retro's secret project is a new Star Fox, why not release the game anyway? It's been almost 20 years since we first climbed into the Arwing and battled Emperor Andross, and it should be a time of celebration. Besides, people want to play the game. Just look at how many views it's gotten on YouTube. Nintendo's not doing anything for Mario Kart's 20th anniversary, and they didn't do anything for Metroid's 25th. But Star Fox? The title that introduced 3D graphics to millions of gamers? Seriously. They've got to do something.

Andross' empire strikes back.

Closing Comments

The Virtual Console is as good as dead. The flow of games has almost completely stopped, and the titles that are being released aren't much to get excited about. Since the Wii U launch is just around the corner, Nintendo must be waiting for their latest console to launch before letting any big titles find their way to the service. Or at least, that's one explanation. Still, people don't seem to be all that interested in the new console, and offering Star Fox 2 for cheap or even free to early adopters could go a long way. I published an article a few weeks ago, arguing that Nintendo should port the Mario Kart Arcade games to the Wii U to increase interest in the new system. However, I believe that Star Fox 2 would be equally attractive, if not more so, to the company's fans. Come on Nintendo, give the people what they want.



Example of how the graphics could be improved

I know some gamers will balk at my suggestion for improving the graphics, but it wouldn't have to be anything too drastic. Here's a video of a mini-game from Wario Ware: Smooth Moves that illustrates the sort of graphics enhancement I'd be willing to settle for. Note the framerate and draw distance.


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Some images from Unseen64. Other images from Wikipedia. Used under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

1 comment:

  1. You said it all buddy! i think the exact same, tough, i don' t think releasing it would be a good thing. ye see... this game can be downloaded on the internet for free, and if thats not enough, there are, indeed, star fox 2 cartridges selling around. repro cartridges, of course, but still, if anyone wanted to see how that play in a super nes, they would just buy a cartridge.


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