Ah… Those sacred days of unboxing a new console. Is there anything better in life? If you answered “no” then you should seriously get yourself a girlfriend. But hot bother between the sheets not withstanding, new consoles are ace! One of my favorite memories was unwrapping my girlfriends ti… oh, wait. Ahem. One of my favorite memories was unwrapping my brand new Super Nintendo on Christmas day. The game bundled with the console? None other than epic space shooter Starfox (or Starwing as it was called in the UK back then).
Lest we forget, Starfox was a completely unique game when it was released. 3D graphics of this caliber had never been seen on a home console before. To get all the visual splendor up on screen, Nintendo created a new in-cartridge addition called the Super FX chip. It was mindblowing back in the day. The graphics of the future… Today! The game itself was an on-rails arcade shooter. You had your default lasers and superbombs to fire with (power-ups for which could be collected in-level) and barrel rolls, knife rolls, braking and boosting to evade with. Bar being able to switch to an in-cockpit view during space sequences, that was pretty much it. Simple, addictive arcade goodness. The game’s highlights included giant screen filling bosses, branching paths in the hubworld, a shitload of secrets to uncover and a cast of colorful characters (and yes, we all hate that bastard Slippy Toad). Of course, the game wasn’t quite perfect. Firstly, it was very short; you could finish the entire thing in under an hour and there wasn’t much replay value after you’d seen everything. It could also be said that Andross made for a particularly bland final boss (a bunch of squares assembled into the shape of a face. How uninspired is that?). But although it also hasn’t aged so well (what early 3D games have?), it was still an unmissable title back in the day.
Starfox was a very successful game on the SNES, so a sequel was duly commissioned on the N64. Starfox 64 (or Lylat Wars in the UK) mostly kept the on-rails formula intact but did offer up a few innovations. Most interesting among these was the free roam sequences, where Fox and company would switch the wing formations on their ships (that sounds familiar) and the ‘rails’ would be ditched in favor of sweet, free-form dogfighting. They also added extremely slow ground based tank sections, which nobody liked and are best forgotten about. So too for the disappointing multiplayer dogfight mode. In theory, 4 player competitive action sounds like a good idea but it actually developed into a lot of flying around aimlessly, trying to shoot targets that were almost impossible to hit. In a word; boring. Add to that the fact that the already annoying Slippy Toad had, like, a five year old ‘actor’ voicing him (shut the FUCK up Slippy!!) and the title starts to look more and more like a scarred successor. Whilst that is a little unfair (it was, in fact,a very solid action game), the 64 bit iteration didn’t quite make it into the same league the SNES original.
The next game in the Starfox series was Starfox Adventures on the Nintendo Gamecube. This was the last game made by Rare for Nintendo before they left for Microsoft and became absolutely redundant. But actually, Rare were already starting to become redundant before they even left Nintendo. Sure, they had made the amazing likes of 007Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo Kazooie but their last game before Starfox Adventures was the underwhelming Jet Force Gemini. That was a game that looked great but had awkward controls and was boring to play. And so it was with Starfox Adventures too. Heck, the game wasn’t even supposed to be a Starfox title! It was originally developed as a new IP called Dinosaur Planet before Nintendo wrangled Rare into switching it over to the Starfox franchise. Hence, here we have a game that plays nothing like the first few titles and seemingly has nothing to do with the license save for a few grafted on character skins. The gameplay itself was a mishmash of very typical Zelda tropes. Starfox Adventures took it’s place in line with a million other mediocre Ocarina of Time copycats. Simply put, it was soulless to play and an obvious indicator that Rare’s creative fire had all but been extinguished. It isn’t a game that anyone remembers when compiling a ‘best-on-Gamecube’ list and neither will it ever appear on a ‘best games that Rare made’ list. Despite being graphically stunning, it merely ended up as a poor man’s adventure game.
After Starfox Adventures, the series slipped further into despair with Starfox Assault, a lukewarm retread of the on-rails shooter formula and the pointless DS strategy game Starfox Command. A brief ray of sunshine was flashed momentarily by way of Starfox64 3D on the 3DS, which let us all briefly revisit the days when the Starfox brand actually meant something. Who knows what’s next for Fox McCloud, Peppy Hare, Falco Lambardi and Slippy Toad. Can Nintendo ever truly resurrect the franchise in a relevant way? My money’s on the “Slippy Toad Rendition” game, where we finally get to waterboard that motherfucker. I’d buy that for a dollar!