Game Retrospective: Star Fox
On the 21st of February 1993, Star Fox was first released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in Japan. The game would release in North America a month later, with a European release following in June.
Star Fox was co-developed by Nintendo EAD and British developer Argonaut Games. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo would handle the game’s design, including level concepts and characters, while Argonaut would handle the game’s programming and technology. Super Mario Bros. 3 designer, and later Animal Crossing creator, Katsuya Eguchi would take on the role of game director. The game would be Nintendo’s first to use 3D polygonal graphics, achieved using the Super FX chip built into each game cartridge.
Taking place in the Lylat System, Star Fox sees Fox McCloud, leader of the Star Fox mercenary team, and his companions, band together to take down Andross; an evil scientist who is waging war against the peaceful planet of Corneria. The game is a rail shooter which tasks the player with navigating McCloud’s Arwing spacecraft, through a variety of environments, all while defeating enemies and collecting power-ups. A boss enemy, encountered at the end of each level, must be defeated to unlock each new stage.
By the late eighties, after releasing several games for a number of home computer platforms, including the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64, Argonaut Games shifted their focus towards home video games consoles. Argonaut founder, Jez San, and his team were keen to work with Nintendo and approached the company at the 1990 Summer Consumer Electronic Show with a 3D tech demo for the Game Boy created by Argonaut programmer, Dylan Cuthbert.
Nintendo was suitably impressed and, soon after, summoned San to Nintendo headquarters. In a 2014 interview with Eurogamer, San says: “They wanted me on a plane to Kyoto first thing in the morning to meet with Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi,” he explains. “They told me they wanted to do three games with us and explained their desire for us to teach them our 3D technology.”
The two companies would subsequently collaborate on several small projects including the 3D space shooter, X (based upon Cuthberts earlier demo). To help Nintendo in their desire to embrace 3D graphics technology, San suggested the use of a dedicated 3D chip, housed within a game’s cartridge that would theoretically boost the processing ability of Nintendo’s SNES console. This suggestion led to the development of the MARIO chip (Mathematical Argonaut Rotation I/O chip), later to become the Super FX chip.
Wanting to develop a game that would really showcase and demonstrate the capabilities of this new chip, the two companies collaborated in the creation of a title that would make effective use of the new hardware. Argonaut suggested including spaceships and an intergalactic setting, while Nintendo came up with the premise of the game being an on-rail, arcade-style shooter. Both Miyamoto and artist, Takaya Imamura, would draw inspiration from such areas as Japanese folklore in creating the game’s anthropomorphic animal cast. Each of these ideas eventually came together as the game, Star Fox.
When it came to releasing the game in Europe, its title would be changed from Star Fox to Starwing. While long thought to be due to a suspected copyright issue with two previously released video games bearing the same name, one for the Commodore 64 released in 1987 and one for the Atari 2600 title released in 1983, the actual reason is far more specific to the European market. The key individual responsible for porting the game for the European market would be Dylan Cuthbert, who, in a 2012 Nintendo Life interview explained: “There was a company or something called ‘StarVox’ in Germany, and because ‘F’ is pronounced like a ‘V’ there they had to change the name to avoid confusion.” In the same interview, Jez San confirms this story. “Star Fox sounded too much like StarVox”, he shares. “So to avoid a court case that might risk delaying the launch of the game, they changed the name.”
Upon release, Star Fox would receive numerous positive reviews, with critics commenting on the games ground-breaking visuals, tight gameplay and colourful cast of characters. The game would go on to sell 4 million copies worldwide and become an established Nintendo franchise, spawning numerous sequels and spin-offs.
Although the first of these sequels released would be the much-loved Star Fox 64, debuting in 1997 for the Nintendo 64, Star Fox 2, a sequel developed for the SNES was due to release in mid-1995 but was cancelled by Nintendo, despite being complete, to make way for the imminent Nintendo 64 console. There would be no official release of this sequel until 2017 when the game would appear on Nintendo’s SNES Mini Classic console.
🕹Are you a fan of Star Fox?
🕹Which has been your favourite instalment in the franchise?
🕹What would you like to see next from the series?
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