Sunday, October 25, 2015

The History of Star Fox (Part 1: 1993-2002)

You can also watch a video version of this article here.

While never as massive as Mario, Zelda, or Pokemon, Star Fox has been one of Nintendo's flagship series for over two decades. It all started in 1993 with a revolutionary game that brought 3D gaming to the masses.

The first game in the Star Fox series actually had its roots in a prototype called NESGlider, that was being developed for Nintendo's first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System. The prototype was inspired by a game named Starglider, released in 1986 for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS, and Apple II, among other platforms. Starglider was developed by a British company named Argonaut Software. Argonaut was formed in 1982 and eventually worked on Star Fox with Nintendo EAD.

The prototype was then ported to Nintendo's next console, the SNES. However, the developers weren't satisfied with the 3D abilities of the Super Nintendo, so they decided to make special hardware in order to increase the SNES's 3D capabilities. This led to the creation of the very influential Super FX chip.

The Super FX was a coprocessor that allowed the SNES to render 3D polygons. The chip was included in the cartridge itself, which made games with the chip more expensive than other Super Nintendo games. Partly because of this fact, only a few games were made with the chip, including Dirt RacerDirt Track FX, and Vortex.

Star Fox was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Katsuya Eguchi. Miyamoto is one of the biggest names in gaming and had a hand in creating iconic Nintendo franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, F-Zero, and Pikmin. He created puppet characters for Star Fox that were eventually photographed for the cover.

Eguchi had previously worked as a designer on Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES/Famicom, but this was the first title he directed. He would go on to direct Animal Crossing, Wave Race 64, and serve as a producer on Wii SportsNintendo Land, and Animal Crossing: New Leaf.

The characters were designed by Takaya Imamura, who would later be a producer on Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS. Hajime Hirasawa composed the music.

Star Fox was an arcade-style rail shooter, meaning that you usually didn't have direct control over where your aircraft went, it was "on rails."

The SNES game was historically significant for Nintendo as it was only the second 3D game they developed and their first using 3D polygons.

It was released on February 21, 1993 in Japan and March 26 of that same year in the United States. June 3 was the European release date, where it was known as Starwing. The exact reasons for the name change are in some dispute, but according to a Nintendo Life article, it was because the name sounded similar to a German company named StarVox.

The main characters of the series were all introduced in this game. The story revolves around Fox McCloud, a talking anthropomorphic fox, and his three wingmates: Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, and Slippy Toad. These four would be the focus of much of the rest of the series.

The villain of the game was Andross, who would also be a huge part of the Star Fox universe going forward. Also introduced in this game was the supporting character General Pepper, whose name and look may have been inspired by The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (suggested by a Did You Know Gaming video).

The game was extremely hyped up and highly anticipated by gamers. In fact, there were over 1.7 million preorders and Nintendo shipped a million cartridges for the opening weekend. The game's popularity even led to a European competition version called Super Star Fox Weekend.

Star Fox was relatively short. According to, it can be conquered in an hour. However, this doesn't take into consideration the three different branching paths that were included in lieu of difficulty settings.

The first game in the Star Fox series had a huge impact, but it may have been overshadowed by Star Fox 64.

Like most successful games, Star Fox was going to get a sequel. The sequel was supposed to come out on the Super Nintendo, but it was never released. Commonly referred to as Star Fox 2, it was developed by Nintendo and Argonaut Games, just like the first installment. Eguchi returned to direct and Miyamoto produced.

It was supposed to feature many improvements on the first, including a better 3D game engine, new ship types, and a higher framerate. Also, there was going to be a two-player split screen mode, unlike the first game which was solely single-player. Another difference was that instead of following a linear path, the player would have been able to freely move about the map in order to choose a level.

Star Fox 2 had six playable characters. These included the four main characters from the first game, Fox, Falco, Peppy, and Slippy. However, there were also two new playable characters that were never seen again: a dog  named Fay and a lynx called Miyu.

Supposedly the game was very close to being completed, especially the Japanese version. Nintendo never gave an official reason for it being canceled. It has been stated that a major factor in the cancellation was the fact that Nintendo's next home console was coming soon. Star Fox 2 was going to come out in the summer of 1995, and the N64 was released in Japan in 1996.

Many of the gameplay elements ended up in later games, such as Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Command. If you want to play the game, there are beta roms available online to download.

There was also work done on a Star Fox game for Nintendo's ill-fated Virtual Boy console, but it never got further than a tech demo. It was shown at the 1995 E3, as well as that year's Winter Consumer Electronics Show.

The series reached what many fans consider to be its height in 1997 with the release of Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 64.

The game was a massive success, receiving critical acclaim (it has an 88/100 on Metacritic) and was the second highest selling game of 1997 behind Mario Kart 64. It even sold over 300,000 copies in the first five days alone.

Miyamoto again served as producer, but this time the director was Takao Shimizu, who worked on the first game, as well as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for SNES and Kirby's Adventure for the NES. He would also go on to direct Pokemon Stadium for the N64 and produce Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii.

Considered a reboot, Star Fox 64 brought back all the main characters from the SNES game, including Fox, Falco, Slippy, Peppy, General Pepper, and Andross.

However, there were also some significant new ones introduced. The most important may be villain Wolf O'Donnell, who even ended up making it as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii. He was in Star Fox 2 but didn't yet have his eyepatch. As that game was never released, this was his first official appearance.

Two other reoccurring baddies also made their first showing here. One was Leon Powalski, who appeared in Star Fox Assault and Star Fox Command, and the other was Pigma Dengar, who was in Assault and Command and will show up in the forthcoming Star Fox Zero for the Nintendo Wii U. Both of them are featured as trophies in Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U.

There were several improvements over the first entry in the series. One was the addition of four player multiplayer. Also, there were new vehicles such as the Landmaster (similar to a tank) and the Blue Marine (a submarine). Furthermore, there was a new "All-Ranged" mode for multiplayer as well as some single player stages where one could move around freely as opposed to being on rails.

The player could collect power-ups such as shields, extra lives, and smart bombs, but there were no continues.

Like the first game, there were branching paths the player could take, so the two hour time given on may be a bit misleading.

This game was also significant because it was the first N64 game to use the Rumble Pak, which caused the controller to vibrate. This feature eventually became standard on many controllers.

Star Fox 64 also features the origin of the famous meme "Do a Barrel Roll", spoken by Peppy Hare to the player in the early parts of the game.

In 1999, Star Fox's main character Fox McCloud was featured as one of the 8 initial playable fighters in Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. This was an indication that Star Fox had become one of Nintendo's heavy hitters as he was fighting alongside characters from series such as Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, and Metroid.

In Smash, Fox was very fast, but a relatively weak fighter. His Up-B move was the "Fire Fox" where he shot flames out in a recovery move that also dealt damage. His neutral B allowed him to shoot a blaster and his down B gave him a blue reflector that sent projectiles away from him.

In 2001, Fox also appeared in the sequel Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube and was joined by his wingmate Falco Lombardi. Falco had to be unlocked and was basically a clone of Fox.

In this installment, Fox's blaster can now be rapidly fired, but doesn't make enemies flinch. Conversely, Falco's blaster does make the target flinch, but can't be rapidly fired. Falco also walks and runs slower than Fox.

Finally, we come to a bit of an oddball in the Star Fox series, the 2002 Gamecube game Star Fox Adventures.

It's an oddball partly because it started out as a completely unrelated game called "Dinosaur Planet" for the Nintendo 64. Rare Studios, famous for titles such as Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, was developing it when Miyamoto convinced them to make it a Star Fox game. For awhile it was going to be called "Star Fox: Dinosaur Planet" but the phrase "Dinosaur Planet" was eventually dropped entirely.

Star Fox Adventures was the last game Rare made for Nintendo systems before they were bought by Microsoft.

Pretty much the entire plot had to be rewritten to accommodate being in the Star Fox universe and reportedly some working on the game were not happy with the change.

Set eight years after Star Fox 64, it features the main four characters and General Pepper, but Falco is only in it at the end. It introduced the character of Krystal, who would be a love interest for Fox McCloud and appear in later games Star Fox Assault and Star Fox Command. Krystal was actually in the game even before it was Star Fox-related.

Adventures is somewhat divisive among fans, but it got decent reviews, earning it an 82 out of 100 on Metacritic, with many complimenting the graphics. Some were also happy with the fact it took longer to beat than previous entries, with the average on currently sitting at 11.5  hours. However, many fans complained because you weren't in the Arwing that much, which was previously a defining feature of Star Fox games.

It was directed by Lee Schuneman, who is now a studio head of a company called Lift London.

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