Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The History of Star Fox (Part 2: 2003-2016)

Part 1 in this series covered the classic era of Star Fox (1993-2002) and can be read here. I also uploaded a video version of it.

Additionally, you can watch a Youtube version of the following article.

Many fans consider the classic era to be Star Fox's peak, but the years since then have been more of a mixed bag.

After Star Fox Adventures, Star Fox: Assault (the fourth game in the franchise), brought the series back to its space combat roots. It was released for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2005 (February of that year in North America and Japan).

The working title was "Star Fox Armada", but the subtitle was eventually changed to Assault. The game was developed by Nintendo and Namco, famed developers of Pac-Man, Tekken, Galaxian, and Ace Combat. Many of the same Namco developers who worked on Ace Combat 04: Shattered Skies helped make this game.

The directors for Assault were Toshiyuki Nakanishi, Hideki Okazaki, and Yutaka Yoshida. As far as producers go, they were Tsuyoshi Kobayashi, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Takaya Imamura, who was a graphic designer on Star Fox and the art director on Star Fox 64.

While the game was being developed a Star Fox arcade game was rumored, but nothing ever materialized from this.

After Adventure's shift in gameplay, Assault brought Star Fox back to being a space shooter. However, there were still on foot missions in addition to using the Arwing and Landmaster tank.

Assault was linear in terms of mission choices; the branching paths of earlier games such as Star Fox for the SNES and Star Fox 64 were gone.

Concerning the levels themselves, some were on rails and some allowed full freedom of movement. Furthermore, the player could even hop in and out of the Arwing at certain points.

The plot takes place one year after Adventures, and Assault introduces a new enemy race called the Aparoids that want to assimilate the Lylat system into their hive mind.

Falco returned to being a part of the main team and Krystal shows up again as well. Peppy is retired now and gives guidance on missions from the Great Fox, although he is an unlockable character. Also Beltino Toad, Slippy's father shows up for the first time.

The Star Wolf team was not in Adventures, but they came back for this installment. Pigma Dengar and Andrew Oikonny are no longer part of Star Wolf; replacing them is a new character called Panther Caroso. Wolf himself is an unlockable character.

The game had four-player multiplayer, but this mode faced some criticism. Assault has only a 67 out of 100 on Metacritic, giving it the worst critical reception of any game in the series as of yet.

The next big game in the series was Star Fox Command, a 2006 release for the handheld Nintendo DS system. Command was the first entry in the franchise for a handheld console.

It was developed by Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 and Q-Games. Dylan Cuthbert served as director along with Takaya Imamura as producer, while Hajime Wakai composed the music.

In addition to being the first Star Fox game on a handheld, it was the first one to have online play. It supported up to four players online, as well as six players in local multiplayer on 5 stages.

Another wrinkle that was added was a strategic map mode that took place before entering battles. It was basically a turn-based strategy game. During battle mode, the player was never on rails, they would always be in all range mode. There were also 14 playable characters, the most of any Star Fox game to date.

Command brought back the branching paths of Star Fox and Star Fox 64, and this resulted in multiple endings. Nintendo has been silent on which ending is canon, or if there is even a canon ending at all.

The game got a decent critical reception. It has a 76 out of 100 on Metacritic and IGN gave it an 8.0. In 2015, it was released on the Wii U's Virtual Console.

Star Fox had two games on the Nintendo Gamecube, but the series was absent from Nintendo's next home console, the Wii. However, it did have some representation in other games.

The first example is WarioWare: Smooth Moves from 2007. It was a collection of minigames, and one of those was Star Fox-themed. The player controls an Arwing and eventually fights R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy, the famous NES accessory) as a boss.

The second and more significant example is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a 2008 release. Fox and Falco returned, but the series also got a third representative in Wolf O'Donnell. Moreover, this entry added Final Smashes a super-powerful attack specific to each character. For Fox, Falco, and Wolf, this move allows them to transform into a giant Landmaster tank.

Brawl also saw the addition of Assist Trophies, which are items players can use to unleash various video game characters. Star Fox villain Andross is represented as one of these.

The series went quiet for a few years, and there wouldn't be a new game until 2011 with Star Fox 64 3D for the Nintendo 3DS. Just like Star Fox Command, it was developed by Nintendo EAD and Q-Games

It was a remake of the classic Nintendo 64 game, but there were many new features and updates. A major one is "3DS Mode", where the difficulty and objectives have been altered to take the 3D and gyro controls into consideration. There is also an expert mode and a new multiplayer Battle Mode.

The graphics and sound quality have been improved and the soundtrack has been altered. Furthermore, there have been a few changes for convenience, such as the ability to save between missions instead of having to beat them all in one go, and the choice to skip cutscenes after missions if the player has seen them at least once.

The game was well received and got a score of 81 out of 100 on Metacritic.

Star Fox characters didn't show up in any more games until 2014 with the release of Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U and Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS. Of course, Fox and Falco returned along with Andross as an Assist Trophy. However, Wolf, who was added in the Wii version, did not come back as a playable character, to the disappointment of many Star Fox fans.

Once it was announced that there would be additional characters released as DLC, and that cut characters such as Mewtwo and Roy would be among them, many suggested that Wolf could return as well. Nintendo may be waiting to announce him until closer to the release of the upcoming game Star Fox game on the Wii U.

This game is called Star Fox Zero and its existence was revealed right before 2014's E3.  It will be the first completely original installment in the franchise since 2006 with Star Fox Command. As the word "Zero" in the title suggests it will be a reboot of the series.

The gameplay appears to be similar to Star Fox 64, but with several twists. One is the addition of optional motion controls. The gyro in the Wii U's gamepad permits the player to aim in one direction while flying in another as opposed to previous games where your aim and flight path were inextricably linked.

Also, the gamepad will provide an alternate POV, showing a first-person view from the cockpit. There will be cutscenes that play out on the TV and gamepad with two different perspectives and the game will run at 60 fps on both screens.

Zero will have local multiplayer, but it appears to only consist of cooperative play where one person is the gunner and the other controls the Arwing or where one player controls the new vehicle called the Gyrowing and the other controls the attached robot. There has been no online play announced as of now, which many have complained about. Star Fox Zero will even have some sort of amiibo compatibility, but it has not yet been announced what exactly this will be.

The game is being developed by Nintendo EPD and Platinum Games, Platinum made two of my favorite games from this generation, Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2, as well as Wii U exclusive The Wonderful 101.

The upcoming title was originally supposed to come out on November 20, 2015, but its release date was pushed back to April 22, 2016.

Star Fox Zero has been, to say the least, controversial and many fans have been highly critical. A major sticking point has been the graphics, with some fans saying that it "looks like a Gamecube game." This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there's no denying the graphics aren't quite up to par with many current-gen games on other consoles. However, given Nintendo's recent track record, I don't think anyone should be shocked by this. It's also possible that the game having to run on two screens at once (at 60 fps, no less) may restrict how great the graphics can be.

Despite the game's potential flaws, Star Fox Zero will probably be popular on a system starved for games and it will be interesting to see the future of the Star Fox series.

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