Remembering the Classics: Star Fox

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Nintendo once again stood out from the pack this year at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles. As representatives from Sony and Microsoft came out to strut their upcoming games, Nintendo bigwigs instead chose to host a digital event. Their goal? Convince people why it’s still a good idea to buy a Wii U. Current lifetime sales for Nintendo’s latest is a much reported disappointment. Clearly the big guns had to be brought this year as competition is starting to heat up. Thankfully once the event was over, it really looked like Nintendo succeed in their mission. All people can talk about is the upcoming open-world Legend of Zelda, Pac-Man appearing in Super Smash Bros., and the brilliance that is Mario Maker. It was amazing how, despite the financial misfortunes, Nintendo can still deliver one of the most entertaining features. Seriously, who didn’t love that brawl between Reggie Fils-Aime and Satoru Iwata?

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I myself watched the digital event live on my computer. While the games they were showcasing were all outstanding, one particular feature stuck out to me from the video: the live comments section. Throughout the entire presentation, people were practically begging for new material on two premier franchises: Star Fox and Metroid. The last Metroid we got was the disappointing Metroid: Other M in 2010, and we haven’t seen Fox McCloud on a brand new adventure since Star Fox Command in 2006. Yet as the presentation was ending, people began to lose hope. Over 45 minutes dedicated to brand new games and nothing on two absent major properties? Could Nintendo really let E3 2014 go by without any news?

And then it happened. In the final few minutes, the ever familiar face of Shigeru Miyamoto appeared. He wanted to take some time out to address a couple new projects he’s working on. In his hand was a Wii U gamepad and the screen behind him was blurred out in attempt to hide what he was playing. However, the attempt was clearly pointless as the movement of Fox’s famous Arwing fighter is unmistakable. Miyamoto was undeniably playing a brand new Star Fox game right there, and then later gave some new details about the upcoming Wii U release. In that instant, nearly a decade of waiting was over. A brand new Star Fox adventure is finally coming.

Unlike Nintendo’s other big franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, or Donkey Kong, Star Fox didn’t first come out on the NES or earlier. The series officially began on the Super Nintendo in 1993. It followed the journey of Fox McCloud and his teammates Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, and Slippy Toad as they save the Lylat system from the villainous Andross. It was one of the earliest games to be fully rendered with three-dimensional polygons and the combat was done as a rail shooter. The game was well-received and sold enough units for Nintendo to work on a sequel. Yet even though it was finished, Star Fox 2 was scrapped in lieu of the upcoming Nintendo 64.

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As it turned out, dropping Star Fox 2 for a newer, more advanced title was a brilliant move. It lead to the creation of Star Fox 64 in 1997, a reboot for the series that gave it the proper start it always deserved. The story was essentially the same, but Star Fox 64 also boasted an “All-Range Mode” for the Arwing that allowed it to fly in a three dimensional plane, engaging multiplayer, and a whole slew of technological advancements. It also had killer catch phrases like “Do a barrell roll!” and “Can’t let you do that Star Fox!” In terms of story, one of the more engaging options was being able to choose which path you wanted to go to beat Andross depending on how you finished each level. You could either get “Mission Complete” by finishing the immediate objective or “Mission Accomplished” by performing a special task. Ultimately how you finish each level dictates how you beat the game as the only way to really defeat Andross is by heading down the “Accomplished” route.

For many gamers who are old enough to have owned a Nintendo 64, Star Fox 64 was one of the must have games. The amount of secrets available to you and the different ways you can actually finish the game gave it a replayability unlike any other. The enjoyment never went down either regardless of how many times you blew up Andross’s base on planet Venom. The multiplayer was nothing to shrug off too. Few games at the time really made arial fighting with your friends so freaking enjoyable. To date, Star Fox 64 is widely regarded as the finest Star Fox adventure ever released. It was the game that made players fall in love with anthropomorphic animals that can fly planes and operate submarines and tanks.

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Considering how popular the series suddenly became, Nintendo tried to branch out the brand with Star Fox Adventures for the GameCube. The 2002 release ended up being controversial as the gameplay was a huge diversion from the previous smash hit. A lot of people compared it to The Legend of Zelda, which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but many felt the two styles should never interact. Star Fox without actual flying was practically criminal for some. The game did succeed however by delivering a relatively strong follow up with positive reviews and great sales. Nintendo tried to capitalize on the grounded combat of Adventures by combining it with the aerial dogfighting of Star Fox 64 to form Star Fox: Assault in 2005, but it ultimately resulted in mixed reviews. Assault is currently the last Star Fox adventure on home consoles..

Star Fox 64 was easily one of my favorite games growing up. The amount of times I played it were endless, and eventually I discovered every separate way to actually beat the game. My own love for the series made playing Star Fox 64 again a must for me when my girlfriend brought me to YESTERcades earlier in May. Even though it’s been nearly 20 years, the game was still incredible. My favorite level by far is on Katina with a mission that is literally a giant homage to the film Independence Day. The alien spaceships look just like the ships from that 90s sci-fi hit, down to the giant sky covering spaceship that you fight. Fox’s ally in the mission is even a bulldog named Bill Grey, named after Robert Loggia’s character General William Grey. Homages really don’t get better than that.

Nintendo will need to make several steps before they can erase the Wii U’s misfortunes, but a brand new and innovative Star Fox adventure is a definite move in the right direction. The fact that the entire Wii lifespan came and went without a new installment is absurd. In truth, there has actually only been five original Star Fox releases since 1993, six if you count the 2011 remake Star Fox 64 3D. Clearly Nintendo has a lot of catching up to do with one of their most popular brands. The timing really couldn’t be better either. The Wii U is in dire need of some big ticket items, and Fox McCloud might just have the exact piloting skills necessary to right this ship.

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Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.

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