In 1995, Star Fox 2 was inescapable. The followup to Nintendo’s cutting-edge space fighter game, built by the British team behind the original, it promised to be the Super Nintendo game to beat. And then, it vanished. Until today, when Nintendo surprised everyone by announcing that finally, Argonaut Games’ followup would be playable for the first time on the SNES Classic. So why did Star Fox 2 sit in Nintendo’s vault for more than two decades?
The original Star Fox was a groundbreaking game when it arrived in 1993, offering full, three-dimensional, polygonal graphics. Until its release, “true 3D” graphics were only found in arcades. The ability to render the polygons and shading that offered the illusion of three-dimensional depth was simply beyond the technology of the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis. “3D” games at the time pulled off the effect with clever art design, layering 2D graphics on a 3D plane. The first Mario Kart is a good example. Star Fox was Nintendo’s attempt to prove that with a little help, the SNES could deliver true 3D graphics.
Compare that to Star Fox:
By modern standards, both are crude. And in truth, Star Fox in the end is more of a tech demo than a full game in many respects. Nintendo got around the SNES’ limitations with the help of the Super FX chip, a graphics booster, built into the cartridge of every game. For its time, it was one of the most advanced games on the market, and production on the second game started almost immediately. The goal was to deliver on the promise of the first game with a full-fledged sequel that upgraded the gameplay, expanded the story, and illustrated the power of Super FX. By the beginning of 1995, the game was finished and was being heavily hyped at electronics shows and to Nintendo fans. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the plug was pulled.
What happened? Star Fox 2 was the victim of changing times and changing tastes. Nintendo was working on the Nintendo 64, an attempt to leapfrog former collaborator turned competitor Sony and its Playstation as well as Sega’s upcoming Saturn. The PlayStation and the Saturn, whatever their flaws, were completely unlike Nintendo’s consoles at the time. Both had advanced processing power and the ability to deliver true 3D games and advanced graphics. Star Fox, while incredible by 16-bit standards, was being outpaced by the competition. Programmer Dylan Cuthbert, in a wide-ranging piece at Kotaku, remembers the heartbreak of discovering the game was canceled:
“The thinking was that if Nintendo released another 3D game on the Super Nintendo,” said Cuthbert, “then it would be compared with the PlayStation 1, and the quality was completely different… I could understand the reasoning – the PlayStation and Saturn had come out and were obviously superior to the SuperFX chip. Considering the rivalry between Sony and Nintendo I could see exactly where they were coming from.”
Star Fox 2 was dead, although a new game in the series was developed for the Nintendo 64. But fans wouldn’t let it go quietly. The game has, technically, been out there on the internet for years, but in a barely playable state. Fans have spent untold hours attempting to rebuild the game according to the various code versions that have leaked over the years, translating the dialogue, patching the bugs, and attempting to restore the game they heard so much about.
That Nintendo is finally giving fans a shot at the game is a surprise. But it’s a welcome one. Video game history is difficult enough to assemble as it is, and that fans will finally get to see just what all the hype was truly about is excellent to see. Now you just have to get an SNES Classic in the fact of what will likely be overwhelming demand. But, hey, baby steps.