I used to sleep under a blanket of price-scalped NES Classics

Logo-star-fox-2

Star Fox 2 (2017)

Even when the NES Classic was announced, I found a way to be snooty about it. Here was a wonderful, official little gizmo from Nintendo, with a good price point, perfectly replicated aesthetics, and heaps of retro goodness. How could I possibly look down upon it? But you already know that that’s a silly question, because nerds will look down upon anything to suit their own agenda. In this case, I already had a NES plus a lorryload of games that, in any case, were mostly clag, so what was I missing out on?

The anticipation was mighty, although I’m not too sure why. It’s crazy how Nintendo do it – people who I knew never even had a Nintendo in their house suddenly wanted one, expecting it to sate all of their nostalgic dreams. Are you joking, have you played Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts?!? Nostalgia must carry more buying power than gold.

Of course, Nintendo inevitably fueled the demand even further by purposefully making the supply low (though they deny it). You can pick one up now, and for far less than some of the ghastly prices that the hoarders tried to flog them at. Those scalpers were a laugh, weren’t they? They became some of the most hated people on nerd forums. I saw someone with a literal wall of NES Classic boxes. He could have made the Iron Throne out of them he had that many. Disgraceful scenes really, even if I admired his panache.

But lo and behold, I’m a hypocrite once again. A SNES Classic was announced, and the games list was simply to die for. Well, there was Kirby’s Dream Course and Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, and no Chrono Trigger or Nigel Mansell’s World Championship Racing, but you had to expect a few turkeys. Two controllers out of the box, great games, multiple save states, visual options, and a lovely small size – plus easily hackable if you wished. Muggins here had 15 of its 21 games in physical cartridge format already. Muggins here bought it anyway.

I’m almost sad to say that I love the thing just as much as I thought I would. My old controllers are a bit knackered, and save states are a lot better than passwords. Also, I’m pretty sure my Yoshi’s Island battery is buggered, so that saves me on the soldering. And it meant that a whole new generation of gamer would be exposed to how bad Kirby’s Dream Course was. Our pain from back then is now theirs, too.

There was one extraordinary selling point of the SNES Classic however, and that was the first official release of the hitherto cancelled Star Fox 2. A new Star Fox game, oh boy! Well, not so new, because us leet hackers had already played a leaked ROM of the game which was just about complete and just about matches this 2017 version of the game. Unfortunately, Nintendo elected to cancel it right at the last knockings, took large swathes of code from the product that Argonaut Software had delivered, and recycled it for 1997’s Star Fox 64 without giving the British boys so much as a mention in the credits.

A bit harsh, wouldn’t you say? That’s what the Nintendo of old was all about – sheer ruthlessness. If any of the wags from Argonaut had piped up at the time, they’d have probably conveniently disappeared or at least been paid a visit by guys with their little fingers missing. What eventually came out for us gamers was probably a far better product in the shape of the N64 title. After all, no Super Nintendo game ever had tetchy rabbits telling you to do a barrel roll. You did once get Falco telling you to rock and roll, however.

Here we are then – legit for the first time, and with probably an even worse frame-rate than its predecessor, it’s Star Fox 2. Over twenty years in the waiting, it has to be absolutely incredible, right?! Well, you’d certainly have to damn it with faint praise by calling it different. The typical Star Fox flow features you as everyman Fox McCloud, surrounded by dreadfully incompetent teammates that serve only to hinder you, never to help you.

It was probably a biting comment on Japanese office life at the time. One wonders if Slippy Toad is some kind of master at karaoke, because he’s no ruddy good as a fighter pilot. Nonetheless, with your crew together, you fight through levels full of enemy ships and bosses, blow them to pieces, try not to lose your wings and eventually blow up a gynormous monkey head.

Star Fox 2 subverts this flow in several interesting ways. To begin with, you don’t even have to play as Fox. So if you’re the type of discerning weirdo who always wanted to play as Slippy, maybe even fancied him, then now’s your chance. And this time you’ve only got one gormless teammate with you, which turns out to be a shame because you’ll be having to take control of the second Arwing once your first one gets bummed up too badly. Die once in this game and that’s it, so resource management is crucial.

But most startlingly, the game invokes plenty of strategy elements, something I hadn’t seen on the SNES before. In short, the clock is always ticking while you’re in flight, and your home planet of Corneria is really getting shellacked by the enemy monkeys. As a result, you’ll need to divvy up your time between shooting down missiles, confronting an early form of Star Wolf, and pestering your furry female teammates for nudie pics. Every battle in the game takes place in what later games would term ‘All-Range Mode’, and there is enough randomness in Star Fox 2 to keep it fresh on multiple playthroughs as you strive for an A-Rank (S?).

I mustn’t forget to mention the Walker. Do you know the overused Walker mechanic they kept trying to push in Star Fox Zero? That came from Star Fox 2, and they didn’t elect to bring it back in any other game before the Wii U arm-workout instalment came out, so you’d wonder why someone thought it a good idea. You’ll be switching between the cool Arwing and the wretched Walker often as you run fly and run through 3D environments backed by the Super FX 2 chip.

This upgraded chip lended even more processing power to the SNES, although really this only had the questionable benefit of making the SNES look even less capable of handling 3D environments than it already was. If you wear those old red and blue early 90s 3D glasses while playing the game, you can actually get stabbed by some of the environmental polygons. I did it once and lost my eye on Andross’s face – it does happen.

The downtrodden lower species, otherwise known as legitimate gamers who never use emulation, they’ve been waiting an awful long time for this game. I, the demigod of retro gaming, was already well acquainted with it. But the length of time barely matters because ultimately, Star Fox 2 is an interesting venture, a nice sort of what-if gaiden scenario to complement the first game.

I love the first game, I always will, but I could hardly take any umbrage if you peered at it for just 5 seconds, witnessed 10 frames on screen during that time, and concluded, “My God, it’s equal parts ugly and depressing”. Star Fox 2 isn’t too ugly and isn’t too depressing either, and it’s certainly fun in spurts. Ironically though, history has probably been kinder to its older brother. But that’s alright, there’s 20 other games on your SNES Classic, isn’t there?

13 September 2019

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