Who Killed Star Fox? Nintendo, or the fans?
By Kevin Douglas Femmel
( Aug. 2010) — As someone who really began their love for all things video game related during the late 90’s I have a special place in my gaming heart for certain mascots from the era of colorful gender bending game representatives. I may criticize every move SEGA makes at rebooting Sonic the Hedgehog but it’s only because I can still look back on those memories fondly. I want new moments in gaming that I talk about with my friends a decade later and say, “That’s when things were good!” Is it so wrong of me to feel entitled to a game that lives up to my unyielding and unrealistic demands of pulling my hearts strings with classic nostalgia while still moving forward in bold ways without changing anything?
Yes, it is. Well, sort of.
A lot of us share those feelings and incoherent ramblings about franchises that we love in all forms of art. Asking an artist to produce something that we at one moment in our life loved to consume to evolve the product without alienating the core fan base is a very difficult task to demand. Yet, as gamers we never blink when we ask this of our favorite publishers and developers. It really comes down to whether you believe the risk of something you enjoy expanding in creative ways is worth it. The cost of expanding a property in exciting new ways is that it may become a shell of what you once enjoyed. But do you allow this thing you enjoy to continue on with its tried and true formula without experimenting thus jeopardizing your marginal utility for the product until the point that you no longer think it is worth your money due to lack of change?
That is the dilemma Nintendo faces everyday with multiple game franchises and they chose to do something about it with Star Fox years ago. Nintendo had quite a hit in the original Star Fox game for the SNES. It boasted (at the time) cutting edge graphics and fun (if not a bit shallow) game play. The follow up to that hit was Star Fox 64. Also known as Lylat Wars in Europe, the second entry in the series is still widely regarded as the best entry in the series today.
Star Fox 64 had an engaging story told in ways that didn’t take you out of the action while delivering multiple endings. It also gave us more barrel rolls than you can shake a stick at. Every core idea of the game play translated well to the N64’s hardware and was made better. Beaming with personality and good 4 player dogfights, Star Fox 64 is still the most successful Star Fox game. Gamers demanded more Star Fox and they demanded better Star Fox. They kind of got what they asked for years later in Star Fox Adventures.But it originally wasn’t going to be a Star Fox game at all.
Following in the foot steps of Super Mario Bros. 2, Star Fox Adventures up rooted a game that was made for other characters and substituted a more familiar universe in its place. The game focused heavily on adventure and on foot combat that didn’t involve as many barrel rolls as the previous game. It did not feel like a traditional Star Fox game but nonetheless it was a good game. It did not attain the commercial response Nintendo had hoped it would. They experimented with Star Fox like gamers had asked. The fans had pulled Nintendo in one direction and they obliged. But when everyone arrived at their destination and got to try their new and exciting Star Fox most people put down the controller and waited for a more traditional vibe of on rails space combat to return to the series.
They did just that in 2004 with Star Fox Assault. Well, they sort of did that. Assault brought back a heavy emphasis on flying missions with air combat that played just as well as Star Fox 64. It also added something new while trying to retain the attributes that fans adored. That new feature was more on foot ground combat. Fox McCloud was out of the cockpit yet again, this time he didn’t spend as much time talking to dinosaurs like in Star Fox Adventures. Every moment Fox spent on his furry little feet he was blasting away at alien threats with extreme prejudice. While this part of the game play slowed down the pace of the game it was by all intents
and purposes a logical addition to the successful Star Fox formula. Nintendo heard the feedback and decided to bring more subtle changes, yet this still was met with a reaction from consumers that Nintendo did not expect. Gamers complained that the on foot parts of the game were boring and not nearly as fun as the flying sections.
Nintendo tried again, to a lesser extent to shake up things in Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS. It was all flying missions. It had the thing gamers said they loved the most about Star Fox. It had multiple endings and sported online multiplayer for the first time in the entire series. It even added a bit of turn based strategy as you had a limited amount of turns to make your decisions on which enemies to engage within a certain time frame. I enjoyed this particular installment in the series a lot. I spent weeks completing all the endings and playing it with friends. Still it was met with a less than average response from gamers. It was largely overlooked on the popular Nintendo DS platform and it was heavily discounted at many retailers within months of release.
Star Fox now sits on the brink of oblivion. No, that isn’t the subtitle for the new entry in the series. Nintendo has publicly stated that renewed interest in the series from both hardcore gamers and people new to the series are necessary for them to fully resurrect Slippy, Peppy, Falco and Fox. They are treating gamers to a full remake of the most beloved Star Fox 64. It seems logical that if Nintendo wanted to give the franchise one last chance it would be with some sort of retooling of the only game in the series that doesn’t spur a divide in the fan base. Star Fox 64 3D for the Nintendo 3DS will release on September 9th in North America. It will include better graphics and 3D visuals for an extra sense of depth as you decide which incoming enemy fire is more urgent to barrel roll out of.
I know what you’re thinking. If they really wanted to have the series rise from the ashes and transform back into the dominating series it once was so many years ago why wouldn’t they simply work really hard at making a new game that was so awesome it fixed any concerns about the series sustainability as a popular and profitable franchise? Well, it’s because they already have. They tried to change things up with what essentially equated to a spin off in Star Fox Adventures. Sensing that they strayed too much of the established path they return with an evolution of the game play from Star Fox 64 on the Game Cube in 2004 with Star Fox Assault. Again, it had issues and they listened and attempted to add some new spice while retaining the flying segments fans had always said they adored in Star Fox Command. None of those games really ever took the franchise to new heights. It peaked after Star Fox 64.
Nintendo has been trying to give gamers what they want. They want you to have the cake you want, and eat all of it too. Trying to add new elements to the series evidentially hasn’t helped much in the last 13 years. They now have to resort to a remake of the most acclaimed Star Fox game and hope that a new, younger fan base will be created with this remake. Perhaps if Star Fox 64 3D sells very well and attracts a slew of new Star Fox fans they will be a little less unwavering with their demands. Nintendo should be held accountable of course. I have enjoyed every Star Fox game for what they were, but if Nintendo feels like they can’t evolve the series in a fantastic way then I would rather see it fade away only to be resurrected in 20 years as Fox makes his triumphant return in Super Smash Bros 7 then see it dragged through the mud.
Maybe Fox McCloud’s best days are ahead of him. As we look for someone to blame for the demise of one of our favorite gaming series we need look no further than ourselves. Nintendo did put out games that weren’t as good as we wanted, but we didn’t embrace those games for what they were. Even if they weren’t the Star Fox games we wanted, they still were good and that has to count for something.Though it is disappointing to see that its come to this we shouldn’t be surprised.
Perhaps Star Fox is doomed to suffer a fate similar to the recently revived Kid Icarus and disappear for decades only to spark curiosity as an old school throw back for the long time gamers in a Nintendo character mash up game similar to Super Smash Bros. I will do my part and purchase Star Fox 64 3D if for nothing else then to replay one of my favorite games of all time with some new bells and whistles. Whether the Star Fox series is reborn in a few decades or another year or so, I’ll be waiting to give it a chance.
It appears that at this time Fox McCloud and the evil Andross finally have the same enemy, and that’s being future endeavored by the big wigs at HQ in Kyoto. If the death of the series is the enemy that Fox, Andross and Falco are fighting now then you can rest assured, there enemy is my enemy.