A Long-Lost SNES Classic
Star Fox 2 has quite the history behind it. Originally set to release in 1996 for the Super Nintendo following the success of the original Star Fox, the game was cancelled despite being reportedly finished. After more than two decades and a handful of sequels later, Star Fox 2 has finally risen from its dormant sleep…with a catch. You can only play it on the SNES Classic Edition, a miniature console preloaded with the game and 20 other 16-bit titles. The question is: is it worth seeking out the SNES Classic for this nearly forgotten relic?
Be sure to check out the Video Version for a closer look at the gameplay and the usual assortment of jokes and voices!
The story follows directly from where the first game left off, and the evil monkey scientist Andross has returned to wage war on the Lylat System. He’s already constructed bases on several of the galaxy’s planets and has set his eyes on destroying Corneria, home base of the crew of Star Fox. So Fox and his team of furries, including new characters Miyu and Fay, set out to defeat Andross once again. The story may be old hat, but the gameplay sure isn’t.
Upon starting, you select your main pilot and a backup wingman, based on your desired special powers and stats. From there, the only familiar gameplay is that you fly an Arwing spacecraft and shoot lasers at foes. But now, there’s an element of strategy. Instead of following a linear path of levels to get to the final boss, you can click on where you want to go using the top-down map of the galaxy. It’s a similar concept to the Nintendo DS’ Star Fox Command. But here, you have one mission: destroy all of Andross’ bases.
However, you’ll need to carefully pick your destination. Every time you move, enemy ships and missiles also move toward your home base of Corneria. By approaching these incoming threats, you can destroy them, thus protecting your base. But if one successfully lands on and attacks Corneria, you’re one step closer to getting a Game Over. Destroying missiles isn’t usually a problem, since they go down quickly. Rather, it’s the element of time management that poses the biggest challenge. While your goal may be to reach the enemy bases, you may need to go out of your way just to stop enemy attacks. Or you may decide that a single missile isn’t worth pursuing and instead destroy the battleship that is readily firing them.
It’s this meta real-time strategy element that makes Star Fox 2 truly intriguing. How you approach the map is completely up to you, a rare design choice that frees the player. There’s an equally overarching pressure as you decide what to prioritize. In a sense, the real game is effectively clearing the map, whereas the dogfighting is merely the battle system. What I appreciated most was how these two aspects interacted. When you engage anyone in battle, the missiles outside continue to move. Suddenly, you’re in an exhilarating race to defeat your current foe so you can quickly jet over to the other threats. There’s a constant tug-of-war as Andross continues to send more bosses and the fan-favorite fleet Star Wolf at you.
That’s right. Had the game been released on schedule, it would have first introduced Star Wolf as well as a major gameplay shift, all-range mode. As opposed to the original Star Fox, which was an on-rails shooter where your Arwing could only move forward, you can fly your spacecraft in any direction in this sequel. In fact, levels are exclusively all-range, which was disappointing for me as a fan of the classic on-rails gameplay. Star Fox 2 lacks that thrill of zooming through areas filled with surprising obstacles. Comparatively, this game’s flying segments take place entirely in small contained areas and lack variety. Between the ship’s clunky movement and an unreliable on-screen cursor, aiming in all-range mode is more frustrating than it should be.
The game’s saving grace is found in the planet levels. Each planet begins with a hunt for switches in a free-roaming environment. It’s followed by a 3D dungeon resembling a more compact version of what you might find in The Legend of Zelda or Metroid Prime. These dungeons house enemies, light puzzles, and minibosses. But by far, the best part is that your Arwing transforms into none other than the chicken walker, which would have also debuted here had it been released before Star Fox Zero. The walker can run in any direction, including moving backwards, which makes it easier to pilot than the Arwing. It’s as if Star Fox 2 were an early prototype for actual 3D games on the Nintendo 64.
When you defeat a planet’s boss, you free the planet. And once you’ve reclaimed all of Andross’ bases, you’re whisked off to fight the big bad. This seems like it would be a lot of content, but Andross only captures two bases in Normal difficulty. Even if you ignore half of the missiles, you can easily beat the game within a half hour. However, the planet bases are randomly chosen for each playthrough, so it’s worth replaying to get a completely different experience. Plus, on higher difficulties, Andross claims more planets. And more importantly, there are larger dungeon areas and more real-time threats to keep track of, which more than doubles playtime. Your resource management has to be spot-on or you risk Corneria’s destruction and have to restart from the beginning. If this sounds too stressful, remember that the SNES Classic has a convenient function that lets you rewind up to a minute back, allowing you to retry that scenario.
The quasi-3D polygonal graphics are ambitious for the SNES hardware. However, it’s hard to make out certain objects since most lack detail or otherwise look blurry. Yes, I understand it’s a limit of the hardware it was developed on. But the rudimentary visuals can make it difficult to navigate the all-range areas and aim properly. And when multiple enemies are on-screen at once, the frame rate tends to stutter. The music isn’t as catchy as other tunes from the franchise, but its energetic pace keeps tensions high.
Despite its shortcomings, Star Fox 2 is a fun experiment that diverges wildly from the first SNES offering. It may not be one of the better games in the series, but it’s one of the most important. It laid out the foundation for many of the franchises’ later elements, including the chicken walker, Star Wolf, and all-range mode. All-range aiming and navigation aren’t perfect, and the game is missing the trademark on-rails segments, but the exciting real-time strategy portions make up for it. Answering the question posed at the beginning, I don’t necessarily think it’s worth seeking out the SNES Classic for this game alone. That said, the Classic Edition is worth it as a package of 21 stellar titles. A formerly unreleased relic from a beloved franchise is icing on the cake.
What are your thoughts on the Star Fox series and Star Fox 2? What’s your favorite Star Fox game? What do you think of the SNES Classic? Were you able to pick one up? Please share any thoughts and questions in the comments section below! Thank you for reading and watching!