The Star Fox series garners numerous fond memories for gamers old enough to have taken an Arwing for a spin during the SNES years. First and foremost, it proved that 3D graphics where no longer a pipe dream, but an up-and-coming technology that should be embraced. Later generations learned of it for its RumblePak or the often annoying anthropomorphic cast of fuzzy characters. With three award-winning titles released, the second half of the aughts ushered in a depressing time for FoxMcCloud and his gang of laser-happy friends and foes. Just take a look through the synopsis of what each brought to the table and you’ll agree, Star Fox needs a reboot, badly.
Star Fox (SNES – 1993): In an age when 2D shmups were all the rage, Nintendo EAD and Argonaut Software through caution to the wind and created a one of the first fully 3D titles. By utilizing the custom designed SuperFX chip, the team designed an on-rails shooter that launched a franchise. The original Star Fox set many staples for the series including the use of power-ups, non-linear storytelling, a diverse cast of animal pilots, and most of all, promoting the use of 3D graphics for all video games.
Star Fox 64 (N64 – 1997): With 3D games now all the rage it was time for Star Fox to make his return. After canceling Star Fox 2 for unspecified reasons, NintendoEAD recycled much of the title for the N64 release. Although Star Fox 64 is a remake of the original title, it brought gamers more innovations. Players can pilot multiple vehicles including the Arwing, the Landmaster tank, and the Blue Marine submarine, complete with their own specialized payload and abilities. Fox’s Nintendo 64 outing also extended gameplay via ship damage, the all range mode andreplayability thanks to further level branching, multiplayer and a batch of unlockables. Not to be out done by the Super FX hardware, Star Fox once again launched an industry standard in the form of an included Rumbe Pak attachment for the N64 controller.
Star Fox Adventures (GC – 2002): SFA doesn’t really fit into this discussion for a few reasons, mainly because it is an adventure title, and not your typical on-rails shooter in any fashion. Not to mention the fact that it started out as a N64 title known as Dinosaur Planet before the Star Fox property was shoehorned in during the change to Gamecube. For the sake of completion, Adventures possessed some of the best visuals at the time and delivered a much deeper story than previous Star Fox titles.
Star Fox: Assault (GC – 2005): The franchise returned to its roots with the second Gamecube installment. The first title to be developed by a third-party studio tried to bring innovation to the table once again, adding on-foot combat as a gameplay staple rather than an unlockable, but the implementation missed the mark. Namco also included a hit counter and combo meter in an attempt to appeal to the hardcore crowd, but ignored the perennial favorite of branching paths. Assault features the most fleshed-out multiplayer of any Star Fox title thanks to a range of modes and customization options. However it falls flat due to poor controls when on foot and balancing issues between the vehicles.
Star Fox Command (DS – 2006): The first handheld title strays as far from the time-honored formula as possible, while remaining an on-rails shooter. Command is perfectly titled because players spend almost as much time plotting the levels as they do in the dog fights. Q-Games attempted to create a Star Fox game that can be devoured in small bits, unfortunately, the strategy elements do not jive with the rest of the title. In the end the first handheld title is the low point for the franchise for any number of reasons. It rewound the clock to the SNES days with gibberish dialog and its modifications to the branching paths through the Lylat system were not well received . Q-Games’ only positive additions to the franchise are the ability to pilot vastly different ships, the large collection of endings that are worked into the main story by replaying the campaign and bringing the franchise online.
It’s not as bad as Sonic, but the timing couldn’t be more perfect for a Wii incarnation to reboot the crumbling series. For starters, Nintendo has already sent its hardest hitters to the Wii, including Mario, his kart/party/paper/sports series, Smash Bros., Link, Samus, the Fire Emblem crew, Wario, and the upcoming release of Punch-Out!!. Outside of Donkey Kong, they could do worse than try to revive the on-rails genre. After all what better use of the upcoming Wii MotionPlus technology than flying a plane?
The starting point for a reboot should be obvious, Star Fox 64. Although the console may not have sold like hotcakes, Nintendo brought plenty of innovation to the software side of things. Hell, the included hardware is now standard on every major console. Grab the best aspects of the Nintendo 64 incarnation, mix in a solid ground mode and hardcore aspects (Assault), diversify the vehicles (Command), expand the multiplayer (various) and deepen the story (Adventures) while maintaining the branching gameplay accomplishments (various) and you have yourself a winning, hardcore title.
They’ve tapped the majority of their resources, the franchise needs the kick in the pants and there is a perfect platform ripe for further innovation available to them. Come on Nintendo, make our E3, make the "core" audience cheer, make a Star Fox announcement.