After spending several years on the shelf, Nintendo officially unveiled the next big entry in the Star Fox series at this year’s E3. With Star Fox Zero only months away, now would seem to be a perfect time for a look back at Nintendo’s groundbreaking series.
Star Fox, with its anthropomorphic animal take on epic space fantasy, has always stood out as a bit quirky, and some of the details of how the game was made are equally surprising. Here are a few things you might not know about the game that blew all our little minds back in the early ’90s…
1. Star Fox began life as an unauthorized 3D demo for the original Game Boy. Despite the fact that Shigeru Miyamoto is usually cited as the “creator” of Star Fox, the game didn’t begin its life in Nintendo’s offices in Kyoto, Japan. It all started with a small, scrappy developer from London, called Argonaut Software.
Argonaut had been making games for British PCs for a while and laid claim to some particularly talented young programmers (most Argonaut employees were in their early 20s or late teens). When the original spinach-screened Game Boy hit Europe in 1990, the kids at Argonaut wasted no time breaking the system’s copyright protection, then started messing around with the hardware. Unbelievably, they managed to get a simple 3D engine working on a system that was barely a step up from those $10 Tiger Electronics games.
Now you’re definitely not Playing with Power.
Rather than just pat themselves on the back for their programming prowess, Argonaut decided to show their (totally illegal) demo to Nintendo. Much to their surprise, Nintendo didn’t unleash the lawyers. In fact, they invited Argonaut founder Jez San and top programmers Dylan Cuthbert, Giles Goddard and Krister Wombell to Japan to teach Nintendo how to make 3D games. That original Game Boy 3D demo would become X, a Japanese-exclusive shooter, and Argonaut’s 3D experiments with the Super Nintendo would lead directly to Star Fox. So, basically, if a bunch of British kids hadn’t totally overstepped their bounds, Star Fox would have never existed. Never respect your elders, kids.
2. The world of Star Fox was influenced by classic British puppet adventures like Thunderbirds. While Argonaut crafted the tech behind Star Fox, the gameplay and characters were created internally by a group led by Shigeru Miyamoto. A lot of different things influenced the world of Star Fox — Star Trek, Star Wars, the Shinto shrines that Miyamoto would pass on his way to work — but it was perhaps most influenced by classic British marionette shows like Thunderbirds, which Miyamoto loved as a kid. If you’ve never seen Thunderbirds, well, it’s basically Team America: World Police, except with a lot less f-words and Kim Jong-il.
Also less sex scenes, not that the guy in the glasses would be getting any either way.
Ever wonder why the characters in Star Fox and Star Fox 64 flap their mouths robotically when they talk and have weird unnatural animations when they run? It’s because they’re supposed to be marionettes. The Fox on the cover of the original Star Fox is actually a real puppet. As a weird aside, the opening of every episode of Thunderbirds boasted the show was filmed in “Supermarionation”. Hmmm, seems like Star Fox wasn’t the only Nintendo series influenced by Miyamoto’s love of Thunderbirds.
How has there not been a game named “Super Mario Nation” yet?
3. The Super FX chip was almost included in every American Super Nintendo. Star Fox didn’t come out until mid-way through SNES’ life, but Nintendo’s 3D experiments with Argonaut started well before the SNES (or Super Famicom, as it was known in Japan) even came out.
Unfortunately, the SNES was, in some ways, even less capable of 3D than the Game Boy. Nintendo simply hadn’t designed the hardware with polygons in mind. The only way to make 3D work on the SNES was to create a new chip that boosted the system’s processing power. Despite not having much hardware designing experience, Argonaut got to work, and the Super FX chip, the first true Graphics Processing Unit, was born. Being that the Super FX chip was created before the SNES hit the market, Nintendo seriously considered including it in every console, but ultimately decided it would be more cost-effective to pack it in the cartridges of games that specifically used it. It’s hard to say if Nintendo made the right decision, but the 16-bit era certainly would have been very different if all SNES games had access to Super FX power right off the bat.
All games could have looked this amazing!
4. Falco is actually a pheasant, not a Falcon. Oh, Falco. A lot of people say the hapless Slippy is the most annoying member of Team Star Fox, but, for my money, the haughty Falco is far more of a pain in the ass. Well, here’s a little something to knock Falco down an notch: Despite his name, he’s not a falcon. According to Star Fox character designer Takaya Imamura, Falco is actually a pheasant, not any sort of menacing bird of prey. No wonder he’s typically so useless in a fight.
The fact that I feel hungry whenever I see Falco is suddenly less confusing.
5. The Star Fox team may have voluntarily amputated their own legs. Okay, here’s a slightly disturbing detail you probably never noticed: Look at any early Star Fox art from the SNES or N64 era. All the members of Star Fox Team have robotic metal legs. Check out this Nintendo Power cover. Those definitely aren’t boots.
Guys, you probably could have just worn tighter underwear.
Why would Fox and pals have robot legs? Well, fighter pilots wear special suits that restrict blood flow to their legs. If they didn’t, the g-forces would force their blood to their lower extremities, causing them to black out. For this reason, some of the best early fighter pilots during World War II were actually amputees.
See where I’m going with this? Star Fox Team clearly no longer have their natural legs, and because they’re all missing their limbs, it seems like they may have removed them intentionally in order to make them more reliable pilots. That, or they were all amputees to begin with, who just happened to form the galaxy’s greatest fighting force. The latter is a bit less dark, so maybe we’ll go with that.
6. Nintendo made a second SNES Star Fox game which they never released. You never saw it on shelves, but Nintendo actually made a Star Fox 2 in the mid-’90s, and I’m not talking about Star Fox 64. Star Fox 2 was a totally separate game designed, and completed, for the SNES, but never released. Why did Nintendo can it? Because it would have been late 1995 by the time it hit stores, and Miyamoto felt it would look dated beside Nintendo’s upcoming slate of 3D games for the N64.
Make no mistake, though: Star Fox 2 was ambitious, and many of its ideas were reused in later Star Fox games. Star Fox 2 featured free-flying, all-range stages, which were later incorporated in Star Fox 64 and the ability to transform Fox’s Arwing into a walker robot, an idea that Nintendo is reviving 20 years later for the upcoming Star Fox Zero.
Being that Star Fox 2 was completely finished before it was canceled, a fully playable version of the game leaked onto the internet some years back. You can find the ROM for Star Fox 2 fairly easily, or you can check out a playthrough of the game below.
7. Kellogg’s gave away a watch version of Star Fox as a prize. Star Fox 2 didn’t meet Nintendo’s standards, but this odd little collector’s item apparently did. Back in 1993, if you sent in two Corn Flakes box tops, Kellogg’s would send you a pretty dang radical watch with a little LCD Star Fox game on it. These fetch a pretty penny today, selling for up to $200 if you still have the packaging. Definitely worth two Corn Flakes tops, I’d say.
Back in the day, even friggin’ Corn Flakes had awesome prizes.
8. Nintendo also planned to make a Virtual Boy remake of Star Fox. This series has a lot of weird and/or canceled projects to its name. In addition to the watch game, and Star Fox 2, there were also plans to remake Star Fox for the Virtual Boy. Obviously, those plans were called off when the Virtual Boy crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. Below is the only footage of the Virtual Boy version of Star Fox known to exist…
9. You’re not actually doing a barrel roll in the game. I hope you were sitting down before you read the previous sentence. Yes, despite Peppy’s constant harping on about barrel rolls, you can’t actually do one in Star Fox. The “barrel roll” maneuver you do is actually an aileron roll. Here’s a little diagram describing the difference between the two for non-aviation nerds.
10. Entering Star Fox‘s most famous quote in Google will get you a very interesting result. At this point, barrel rolls are so associated with Star Fox that whatever they say a barrel roll is ought to be the official definition. By the way, if you want evidence of the influence of Star Fox, enter “do a barrel roll” in Google and check out the slightly mind-blowing results.
And there you have it, a few factoids about the fuzziest fighter pilots in the galaxy. Know any interesting Star Fox-related info I missed? Just want to share some fond memories of the series? Fire your comments at will.