Nintendo is defined by its franchises. The company has produced an array of classic series like Super Mario, Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, and Pokémon, as well as newer ones like Super Smash Bros., Animal Crossing and Splatoon. We associate these games with a level of excellence (and a bit of reverence) not found on other platforms. When Star Fox dropped on the SNES 30 years ago, gamers didn’t think about legacies or decades-long franchises. They wanted something cool and fun. And on those metrics Star Fox delivered.

It boasted a “Super FX” chip on the box which, for its time, absolutely was super. It allowed true rendering of 3D objects on the console for the first time. Previous titles like Pilotwings and F-Zero had a 3D feel that came from painstakingly animated pixels. Star Fox was different, and everyone who played it knew it was a look at the future of video games.

“Everyone” is a pretty strong guesstimate for how many people played Star Fox. At the time, it was the fastest-selling release in gaming history. It’s not hard to understand why. The graphics were cutting edge, but the gameplay and worldbuilding were exceptional. Both were inspired by Nintendo exec Shigeru Miyamoto’s visit to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine in his hometown of Kyoto.

The shrine, an austere pathway of thousands of large, orange Torii gates, gave Miyamoto the idea to make the game a rail shooter. And because the god Inari is associated with foxes, Miyamoto created the heroic Fox McCloud as a tribute.

The initial success of Star Fox made it seem like Nintendo had another surefire franchise on its hands. A sequel, Star Fox 2, went into development right away. It was a bigger, bolder and more ambitious use of the SNES hardware designed to push the system to its very limits. Early demos of the game were showered with praise. Everyone was ready for it. Then, nothing happened.

Because the game was so ambitious the development took too long, and Nintendo was worried it wouldn’t seem as impressive compared to the titles launching on competitors Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. It was completed, and canceled (and eventually uncancelled in 2017), in order to make a clean break between the SNES and the upcoming Nintendo 64, which would soon host the best game in the Star Fox franchise, Star Fox 64.

Like its predecessor, Star Fox 64 was a technical showcase on top of being a flawless action game. The very first game to use a rumble feature, via the N64 Rumble Pak accessory, Star Fox 64 was a must-own title on the must-own console of the 90s. The failed launch of Star Fox 2 would be a distant memory because now the franchise was on the path to … total mediocrity?

Subsequent releases Star Fox: Adventures and Star Fox: Assault on Game Cube and Star Fox: Command on the Nintendo DS were just OK. Star Fox: Adventures ditched the spaceships for a Zelda-esque action adventure style that was fine, but not the white-knuckle dogfight action fans wanted. An attempt was made in Assault and Command to bring it back, but both games failed to garner the commercial and critical success of the first two titles. And none of the three rose to the level you’d expect from a premiere Nintendo franchise.

The franchise seemed to bottom out with Star Fox Zero for the Wii U, a divisive game with the wonky controls emblematic of awful Wii U game design. Since then it’s been radio silence for McCloud and Co. There is a Star Fox title rumored for the Nintendo Switch, alongside an animated series, but no official word has come from Nintendo. If history is any guide, it’s more likely a new Star Fox title will show up on whatever Nintendo’s next console is given that Miyamoto has viewed the franchise as a vehicle for showing off new hardware. Regardless it’s clear after three decades, and a little turbulence, there’s still some wind beneath those Arwings.

Star Fox, Star Fox 2 and Star Fox 64 are available in the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack.

Share This