Furry Tails: The History of Star Fox

(Written as of 2014)

Back in the third generation of gaming, when the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) occupied living rooms all around the world, Nintendo had been working very closely with Argonaut Games. Together, they developed a prototype game codenamed NESglider, inspired by an early Nintendo game called Starglider. The prototype was subsequently ported to the Super Nintendo, but there was internal concern surrounding it. A programmer at Nintendo called Jez San pointed out that this prototype was as good as it was ever going to get, unless they used some form of custom designed hardware in order to enhance the 3D effects of the Super Nintendo. What San and a group of chip designers came up with was the Super FX chip, the first ever 3D graphics enhancer used in a consumer product. It was joked about by San, who said that the Super Nintendo was just a box designed to hold the chip.

As with many of Nintendo’s big-name franchises, the design of the original Star Fox game was overseen by the creator of Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong; Shigeru Miyamoto, who was accompanied by Katsuya Eguchi. Takaya Imamura was behind the character design and Hajime Hirasawa was charged with composing the game’s musical score. The idea of using space ships in the game was suggested by Argonaut after Nintendo said they wanted the game to be an arcade-style shooter.

Shigeru Miyamoto wanted the characters in the game to be animals simply to defy convention. He thought that having human characters or robots in a science fiction setting would be far too cliché and typical. According to him, he designed the main character, Fox McCloud, to be a fox because it reminded him of the fox statues at the shrine Fushimi Inari-Taisha; a fifteen minute walk from Nintendo’s corporate headquarters. To create the characters Peppy Hare and Falco Lombardi, Takaya Imamura was inspired by Japanese folklore; the pheasant being part of the story of the hero Momotaro, and the hare being associated with the legend of the Moon Rabbit. A staff member of Nintendo EAD, who used a toad as his own personal mascot, inspired the creation of the fourth pilot of the Star Fox team, Slippy Toad.

The two armies in the game, the Cornerian army and the Venomian army, were both populated with dogs and monkeys respectively. This was born out of a popular Japanese simile, to fight like dogs and monkeys. At first, I thought the overall concept of the two armies was pretty weird, but now it all makes sense. To make the artwork for the game, Shigeru Miyamoto created four puppets of the game’s four main characters, Fox, Peppy, Slippy and Falco, as he wanted the artwork to specifically feature puppets; a desire born out of his fascination with the Thunderbirds series.

The game was a massive success, and was soon considered one of Nintendo’s biggest name franchises. Nintendo immediately started work on a sequel, but it faced a few derailments. At one point, they decided not to work on the game for some time, and it was subsequently cancelled. Nintendo blamed the cancellation of Star Fox 2 on reasons such as lack of quality and technical difficulties with the game. But what was really going on was a lot more interesting than that, and it would leave a very outstanding legacy in the world of gaming.

Star Fox 2 was actually finished at the time of its cancellation. There was promotional material, box art made for the game, and even a strategy guide published by Game Pro as well as the game having an ESRB rating. The true reason behind the game’s cancellation was that Shigeru Miyamoto stepped in and saw that the game would be released in 1995, and at that point, work had already begun on the Nintendo 64. Miyamoto decided that the Nintendo 64 should be used to create 3D games, and that they should stick to developing 2D games for the Super Nintendo. For some time, there was actually talk of Star Fox 2 being released for the Wii Virtual Consoles, but when asked if this was true, Imamura simply said “probably not”.

From the ashes of Star Fox 2 came Star Fox 64, or Lylatwars as it was called in Europe, released in 1997 on the Nintendo 64. This game was even better received by critics and fans alike, making it one of the Nintendo 64’s top-selling games of that year; second only to Mario Kart 64. It’s currently listed as the 45th greatest game of all time in the gamer’s edition of the Guinness Book of Records, and it sill stands as one of my personal favourite games of all time. It was also the first Nintendo 64 game to make use of the new Rumble Pak peripheral. The game was also re-imagined on the 3DS in 2011.

What I personally like about Star Fox 64 is that the personalities of the four characters were properly established, with Fox as the influential leader, Peppy as the reliable and trusted advisor, Falco as the cocky ace pilot and Slippy as the somewhat clumsy and naïve fourth member. Although their personalities would more or less stay the same, the beginning of the next game would change their situation. Some time in between the two games, Falco actually leaves the team and Star Fox spend some time out of work until the start of Star Fox Adventures.

Star Fox Adventures, released for the GameCube in 2002, was actually the last game for a home Nintendo console to be developed by Rareware before Microsoft bought the company in 2003. Rather than it being another arcade-style shooter, it was developed as a game extremely similar to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which was something I was personally very lukewarm to. This game actually brought out a division between fans who could appreciate the game for what it was, and fans who preferred the old rail-shooting style of gameplay, and who thought the new Star Fox concept was too weird. But that doesn’t make any sense to me, as the overall concept of Star Fox had always been fairly strange anyway.

However, in my opinion at least, the series would subsequently take a severe dip in quality. After that, there would be two more games released; not counting the remake of Star Fox 64. They were Star Fox Assault for the Nintendo GameCube, and Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS. I haven’t ever played Star Fox Assault, but through word of mouth, I have heard pretty bad things about it, such as the controls are clunky in certain gameplay sequences and that the overall design of the game was far too simplistic.

However, I can personally vouch for the lack of quality in Star Fox Command, as I have regrettably played it. The ships in the game are steered using the DS stylus, and for me personally, it just made the game far too difficult and frustrating to play. Much to my surprise, critics found Star Fox Command to be astounding, and even better than some other entries in the series. Even though the character’s personalities are built on further, I didn’t like the direction in which the series was taken.

Chances are that Takaya Imamura felt the same way, as after he had announced that there would be a sequel to Star Fox Command, he later took a u-turn and said that Star Fox Command would be the last game in the series. I personally have mixed feelings about that, as on one hand, I feel relieved that the story would not be taken any further, as it would only involve one of the four characters that I and most of the fans are familiar with, but on the other hand, I found it tragic that this once great video game series would suffer this fate.

However, I personally think that there is something that can still be done with the Star Fox series to re-vamp it for a future Nintendo console. I’ve toyed with this idea for some time but I’ve never actually had any feedback from fan regarding this opinion of mine.

To Be Continued…

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