Star Fox 2
Star Fox 2[c] is an action game co-developed by Nintendo and Argonaut Software for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). It is the sequel to Star Fox (1993) and, like its predecessor, pushed the graphical capabilities of the SNES with Argonaut's Super FX technology. The game was fully completed and planned for release in late summer 1995, but was cancelled when Nintendo grew concerned its primitive 16-bit 3D visuals would appear inferior to those of new 32-bit hardware from competitors, reflecting poorly on the company's technical prowess. The game was shelved, but was eventually released on the Super NES Classic Edition dedicated console in 2017.
|Star Fox 2|
North American SNES Classic icon artwork, featuring the game's playable characters
|Genre(s)||Multidirectional shooter, real time strategy|
Star Fox 2 continues the Star Fox team's battle against Emperor Andross, who seeks to conquer the Lylat system. It introduces semi-real-time gameplay, new ship types, new Star Fox team members, and a more advanced 3D game engine.
Although Star Fox 2 was complete, Nintendo cancelled its release due to the impending launch of the Nintendo 64 console and changing expectations of 3D games. Various prototype ROM images leaked online since. In 2017, a fully complete version of the game was released as an unlockable game on the Super NES Classic Edition.
Instead of following mostly linear paths inside predefined missions as in Star Fox, the player moves a team of two ships freely around a map screen that represents the Lylat system. When the player's ships make contact with enemy forces, the game switches to an action perspective, piloting the Arwing ship directly with controls and gameplay similar to the first Star Fox. When the player clears the specified objectives, he or she is taken back to the map screen to select a new destination.
The objective is to beat all enemy forces present in the map while defending planet Corneria, preventing its damage level from reaching 100%. The player must intercept fighters and incoming IPBMs (interplanetary ballistic missiles), while also dealing with battleships, which deploy more fighter squadrons, and planetary bases, which fire IPBMs. If Corneria's damage level reaches 100% or the player runs out of extra ships, the game ends. General Pepper employs a satellite that can shoot down enemies on a limited basis; the player must also defend this installation from special enemies that can take over the satellite, and use its cannon to fire at Corneria. The player also encounters the Star Wolf mercenary team and various bosses.
Star Fox 2 employs a semi-real-time strategy system. While selecting a destination on the map screen, the game is paused, but while the player's ships travel to their destinations, enemies and missiles also move toward theirs. While fighting enemies in the action screen, time moves at a slower pace than on the map screen, allowing other enemies and missiles to advance and cause damage. To prevent excessive damage to Corneria, the player may need to leave a battle to intercept another enemy.
After his defeat in the original Star Fox, the antagonist, Andross, returns to the Lylat system and launches an attack against Corneria, using his new fleet of battleships and giant missiles launched from hidden bases to destroy the planet. General Pepper again calls upon the Star Fox team for help. Armed with new custom Arwings, a Mothership, and two new recruits (Miyu, a lynx, and Fay, a dog), the Star Fox team sets out to defend Corneria by destroying Andross's forces before they can inflict critical damage on the planet. Along the way, Star Fox must also combat giant bosses, bases on planets throughout the Lylat system, members of the Star Wolf team and finally Andross himself.
Star Fox 2 features six playable characters, more than any game in the series until Star Fox Command (2006). Primary characters include Fox McCloud, a fox who wears a green suit and leads the Star Fox team; Falco Lombardi, the cocky expert pilot with a green suit and a sometimes contentious relationship with Fox; Peppy Hare, a rabbit in a red suit and a mentor to Fox and the wisest member of the team; Slippy Toad, a frog in a blue suit and the team technician and childhood friend of Fox; Fay, a white dog with a blue suit like Slippy and a pink hair bow who is a new member of the team; and Miyu, a tomboyish lynx who is also a new addition to the team.
Like its predecessor Star Fox (1993), Star Fox 2 was co-developed by Nintendo EAD in Japan and UK-based Argonaut Software. Development began shortly after work was finished on the European and competition versions of Star Fox. Argonaut had a contract with Nintendo to create three games. For their final two games, Argonaut programmers Giles Goddard and Dylan Cuthbert decided to split with Goddard working on Stunt Race FX (1994) and Cuthbert on Star Fox 2. Cuthbert worked out of Nintendo's headquarters in Kyoto and had little contact with Argonaut during development. He served as lead programmer and was assigned two Japanese Nintendo programmers to work under him. The team was overlooked by designers Shigeru Miyamoto and Katsuya Eguchi, with Eguchi serving as director. Edge reported publicly in December 1993 that development on a sequel to Star Fox had begun.
The team decided early on to use the Super FX 2 chip in the game cartridge. It was an enhanced version of the Super FX, a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) for SNES ROM cartridges developed by Argonaut. The original chip was designed to calculate 3D math quickly and was first used in Star Fox. The Super FX 2 had more memory and ran at 21 MHz, twice as fast as the original chip. Argonaut's original proposal for the Super FX used this improved architecture, but Nintendo found it too expensive at the time. Cuthbert also rewrote parts of the engine to run in parallel in RAM to free more Super FX 2 processing for more advanced features like planar clipping and advanced collision detection. All these enhancements gave the new chip greater capabilities to manipulate more polygons, more sprites, and texture map quicker; giving the team the computing power needed for free-roaming 3D environments. Such free-roaming gameplay was planned for the original Star Fox, but it was limited to on rails because of the original Super FX chip's limited computing powers. Cuthbert also retooled the engine to increase the framerate from 20 to 30 FPS, but it was not steady so they locked the framerate at 20 FPS. Freely explorable environments were the only gameplay element planned for the original Star Fox carried into Star Fox 2, all other ideas were new.
Miyamoto considered the Star Fox series a platform for experimenting new gameplay ideas. The team experimented more with Star Fox 2 than Star Fox. This creativity led to gameplay ideas such as the platforming sequences with the robot walker. Miyamoto took great interest in Cuthbert's platforming gamplay (before Super Mario 64's release in 1996). At one point in development, the walker sequences occurred in much larger space stations with energy gates that needed to be unlocked, a gameplay structure comparable to dungeon crawling. Because of the Super FX 2's greater computing power, the team decided to have the fighters visibly transform into the walkers. The transformation was made in a realistic sense; the artists even drafted the mechanisms by which the fighters transformed.
Director Eguchi wanted to explore a more roguelike game system and use similar game mechanics to Star Luster (1985). He played Star Luster repeatedly for inspiration and was particularly fond of its random encounters system. He also enjoyed Fortune Street and was inspired by its more strategic gameplay elements. Given this direction, the team designed the main gameplay structure: players would move across a map defending planets from the enemy, battling in randomly generated enemy encounters. It was designed to play out differently each gameplay session. For further replayability, the team added six playable characters, two of which were series newcomers: Miyu and Fay. More antagonists were added as well including Wolf. A two-player mode was planned and tested, but the team could not get the frame rate high and steady enough for it to be enjoyable.
Promotion at Winter CESEdit
Star Fox 2 was playable on the show floor at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show (Winter CES) in Las Vegas in January 1995. The version demonstrated was significantly different from the final version completed later. GamePro enjoyed the free-roaming gameplay, the craft morphing ability, and strategy elements. Electronic Gaming Monthly also liked the shift to free-roaming and felt the non-linear gameplay and ship morphing abilities were two major improvements. Nintendo Power dubbed it their top SNES game of the show. All three magazines thought Star Fox 2 was better than the original. Edge was more critical, writing that Star Fox 2 was Nintendo's attempt to keep the SNES relevant. They wrote that the Super FX polygons were not particularly impressive, and the gameplay lacked "the immediate appeal of its predecessor." A man was arrested and charged with felony grand larceny for attempting to steal a demo cart from the show floor.
By mid-1995, the game was nearing completion, and had a planned August 1995 release. During development however, 3D technology was advancing quickly and the 3D game market was expanding with Nintendo competitors Sony and Sega launching their new home consoles, the PlayStation and Saturn. Both consoles were launched in Japan in late 1994, and the West received the Saturn in mid-1995 while the PlayStation was planned for a September launch. The consoles ran impressive 3D graphics that captured the public's attention. Nintendo had concern that their 16-bit 3D visuals would be unfairly compared to the superior 3D capabilities of their competitors' 32-bit hardware. Cuthbert explained that Star Fox 2 would be "compared directly against games such as Ridge Racer, which felt like you finally had an arcade machine's power in your home." Miyamoto explained in a retrospective interview: "other companies' game consoles were using polygons all over the place, so we didn't think we could catch up even if we stuck this expensive chip in the cartridge" These concerns were compounded by the company rivalries Nintendo had with Sony and Sega. The rivalry with Sony was particularly fresh at the time, coming off their failed partnership to develop the SNES CD-ROM. Furthermore, Nintendo's next home console – the Nintendo 64 – was soon on its way (although it was later delayed). Nintendo wanted to pull in resources for N64 development projects, among which was a new Star Fox game being built from scratch for the N64. According to Cuthbert, Miyamoto wanted a clear break between 3D games on the SNES and the N64. The Super FX 2 chip also raised the cost of production, making Star Fox 2 an expensive release.
Star Fox 2 was cancelled when it was about 95% completed. Nintendo still wanted the game finished after cancellation, so took it through full localization and QA testing. Cuthbert explained in retrospect that there may not have been an official announcement of cancellation. There was confusion about the game's status among the press. The August 1995 issue of GamePro printed that it was delayed until 1996, while Electronic Gaming Monthly wrote that it was cancelled in their September 1995 issue. Nintendo Power wrote in their September 1995 issue that "rumors of the demise of Star Fox 2 have been greatly exaggerated" and development was completing with a release most likely coming in the first half of 1996.
In the years following cancellation, ROM images of incomplete builds of Star Fox 2 were leaked onto the internet. The leakers of the ROMs are anonymous. Cuthbert claims it was not him, though he recalls not cleaning his hard drive when he left Argonaut immediately following completion of Star Fox 2 and suspects the leakers pulled the ROMs from there or Argonaut's archives.
The first ROMs leaked in the late 1990s and were early test builds with numerous software bugs. These versions mostly consist of debug menus and sparsely populated landscapes; one version includes a 2-player mode. A few years later, Cuthbert was contacted by an anonymous person that had a non-working copy of the final beta ROM. Cuthbert assisted in determining that an internal header was missing, and was able to add the header to get it functioning. The ROM image was leaked online after. This version was in Japanese and much more complete than previous versions. The emulation community was inspired by the release to improve Super FX chip handling in their Super NES emulators. A fan translation patch was also released which took four people and over 100 hours of work. The patch developers also changed a debug modifier that was set to zero, preventing Corneria from taking damage.
All leaked ROMs are beta versions from before the game was finished. Some gameplay features do not work correctly, are incomplete, or hampered by software bugs. According to Cuthbert, all the leaked ROMs lack the final few months of QA work. They were also all set up in debug mode, so the encounter systems and randomized gameplay elements do not work correctly. Cuthbert claims the final version of the game is much better. Speaking about the final beta ROM, he said: "the basic parts are there, but there is an adage in game development, ‘The last 10 percent is 90 percent of the game,’ and the ROM is missing that last 10 percent of iteration -and -refinement."
For many years, the completed version of Star Fox 2 remained in Nintendo's archives. Super FX games were not considered for Nintendo's Virtual Console content distribution service because Nintendo had difficulty emulating the chip. In 2015, Miyamoto told journalists: "In my memory, I enjoyed [Star Fox 2] but I'm not sure I would release it, [...] I'd rather have people play a new game." The company dug up Star Fox 2 during development of Star Fox Command (2006) to play it and gather inspiration for gameplay design. Cuthbert took part in this uncovering as his company Q-Games was co-developing Star Fox Command.
When compiling a list of games to include on the Super NES Classic dedicated console, the system's producer proposed to include Star Fox 2. He thought it would be a waste otherwise to never release a completed and debugged game. The device was announced along with Star Fox 2's inclusion on June 26, 2017. The announcement came as a delightful surprise to Cuthbert. No one from Argonaut or Q-games was consulted or otherwise made aware ahead of the announcement. Some of the original developers celebrated the announcement.
The Super NES Classic was released September 29, 2017 in North America and Europe, and October 5 in Japan. The version is the fully completed and localized English ROM that was completed back in the 1990s, though Cuthbert suspects Nintendo had to make minor changes like altering screen flashing to get it past modern regulations. Promotional artwork for Star Fox 2 was done by Takaya Imamura, the original Star Fox character designer. The game's instruction manual was released digitally online and included concept art and design documents. Kotaku noted how uncommon it is for Nintendo to release internal development documents like this.
Reviewing Star Fox 2 on the Super NES Classic Edition, Eurogamer described it as "wonderfully surprising and inventive". Polygon described it as ambitious and fun. Nintendo World Report gave it 9/10 and wrote that it was "arguably the most important game in the Star Fox series, and one of the greatest Super Nintendo games". Nintendo Life gave the game 8/10, writing: "this 22-year-old relic is worth owning a SNES Mini for, and may well surprise you with its depth, complexity and challenge – so long as you're not expecting a straight sequel to the original." Destructoid gave it 7/10, describing it as "solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun." IGN gave it 5/10, complementing its "janky-yet-plucky aesthetic", but complained that severe frame-rate drops plagued the game and that it was difficult to control the ships. They stated it was the worst game in the SNES Classic Edition and that, "Looking back, it probably deserved to be cancelled".
After Star Fox 2 was cancelled, Argonaut's contract with Nintendo ended. Cuthbert was OK with this and desired to work with Sony or Namco on 3D PlayStation games anyway. He left Japan and moved to the United States to work with Sony. In 2001, he returned to Japan to establish Q-Games. The company collaborated with Nintendo in 2006 to develop Star Fox Command, and again in 2011 for Star Fox 64 3D. Cuthbert found the experimentation with Star Fox 2 personally helpful in his career.
Star Fox 2 inspired the design of later Star Fox games. Free-range flying and tank gameplay were implemented into Star Fox 64, as was the character Wolf. Nintendo and Q-Games played Star Fox 2 to gather inspiration on its strategic gameplay elements for Star Fox Command. Miyamoto asked Cuthbert to make Command more similar to Star Fox 2 than Star Fox. The transforming Arwing ability and walker vehicle were re-introduced in Star Fox Zero (2016). The game also drove ideas for future Nintendo 64 games. Cuthbert believes a lot of the platforming experimentation they ran in Star Fox 2 gave Miyamoto confidence for Super Mario 64.
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