Star Fox 2 Review

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Star Fox is a game known for pushing the graphical capabilities of the Super Nintendo thanks to the Super FX chip inside the cartridge. Plus, it’s a good game. It was going to be followed up by Star Fox 2 which was to use the Super FX 2 chip. Star Fox 2 has quite the development history but long story short it was almost completed when it was cancelled in 1995 and from what I understand, Nintendo decided to prioritize its upcoming Nintendo 64 console. In the years following its cancellation, ROMs of incomplete builds of Star Fox 2 were leaked online and the game wasn’t officially released until its inclusion with the Super NES Classic in 2017. I actually played and beat one of the leaked ROMs, a beta version, some time ago and remember enjoying it. I also remember it being very short. Developed by Nintendo EAD and Argonaut Software and published by Nintendo, Star Fox 2 was released in 2017 on the Super NES Classic Edition. It was also made available on Switch and that’s the version I played for this review.

After his defeat in the previous game, Andross returns and launches an attack against Corneria. General Pepper again reaches out to the Star Fox team for help. With new Arwings, a Mothership, and two new members, Star Fox sets out to defend Corneria and defeat Andross’s forces, including the mercenary team hired by Andross, Star Wolf. The story here is pretty simple, not unlike that of the first game. Andross is bad and needs to be stopped. That’s the gist of it. I would say Star Fox 2 does retain the charm of the original and it can also be very short. The difficulty, your actions, and certain variables will dictate the length. The game can beaten in under thirty minutes on the Normal difficulty level and you are scored and ranked at the end of each playthrough based on your performance.

Star Fox 2 is quite different from its predecessor. I’ve seen it described as a rail shooter but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. The game is very much non-linear and the gameplay isn’t always on rails. In fact, most of the time, you’re free to go anywhere within the stage or area. Star Fox 2 does incorporate elements of strategy. The objective is to defeat all the enemy forces present on the map and prevent them from destroying Corneria. Each member of Star Fox comes with different stats and special items and before jumping into the gameplay, the player must choose their pilot and wingman. After that, you are brought to the map screen where you can choose to fly to any location and engage the enemy. You can also fly to the Mothership at any time to replenish shields and warp to any free planet.

When you move your ships on the map, the enemies also move. You can travel to any planets and intercept enemy missiles, fighters, carriers, and even viruses that can infect the satellite platform helping defend Corneria. Andross will command his forces to do certain things like fire missiles and also deploy additional forces as you progress. Whenever you reach a planet or intercept enemy ships or missiles, you enter the battle gameplay where you can freely move around the area and engage the enemy. On planets and carriers, you can transform the Arwing into a bipedal Walker. When engaging enemies, time does advance and things are still happening on the map. This means Corneria can come under attack while you’re battling so choosing your targets wisely and dispatching them quickly is encouraged.

Star Fox 2 comes with three difficulty levels; Normal, Hard and Expert which needs to be unlocked. On Normal, I found the game to be quite easy but things really ramp up on Hard. Hidden around the locations are Medals to collect and they are in different locations for each difficulty. If you just play on Normal, Star Fox 2 may not appear to offer a whole lot. You need to play on multiple difficulties to see everything the game has to offer. There are things you can unlock by meeting certain conditions. In addition to the Expert difficulty level, you can unlock an alternate title screen, permanent twin blasters for your pilots, and a secret base which contains items.

I love the new stuff in Star Fox 2 and the non-linear gameplay does add a good amount of replay value. At the start of each campaign, certain planets are occupied by Andross’s forces and it appears to be randomized meaning the occupied planets will be different on subsequent playthroughs. Star Fox 2 very much banks on the idea of freedom. You can travel to any locations and intercept enemies in any order you wish. The higher the difficulty the more challenging the gameplay. On Normal, the game can be beaten fairly easily and quickly but on Hard, there’s more going on and more threats to deal with. The higher difficulties are not only more challenging but they also make the gameplay feel more intense in my experience.

One aspect of the game I feel is a bit of a missed opportunity is how the wingman is handled. But it may be the result of technological limitations so I can let it go. As I mentioned earlier, before jumping into the gameplay you must select your pilot and wingman and you can switch between them on the map screen. Bringing two pilots or ships with different stats can be beneficial and the wingman doubles as an extra life. If one pilot dies, you can continue as the other. I think it would have been cool if you could deploy the pilots to different locations. Instead, the two simply travel everywhere together but your wingman doesn’t assist you during battles. They’ll give you tips but they don’t act as AI companions. The Star Fox team is made up of six pilots in Star Fox 2 but only two are deployed to defeat Andross and his fleet and only one of the two will engage enemies. Seems a little odd to me when I really think about it. But as I indicated earlier, I’m guessing what I’m asking for would have been too demanding for the technology or hardware. That said, what is here is still pretty impressive.

As for the battle gameplay, much of what’s here should be familiar but there are some additions and new mechanics. Just like the first game, you fly the Arwing around the stages and shoot down enemies. You can roll, brake, boost, and fire your blaster. As mentioned before, each pilot comes with a special item that can be activated or unleashed like Smart Bombs, Space Relief which replenishes shields, and a Super Shield. You can acquire these items along with other pickups like Repairs and Twin Blasters in the stages. A reticle or crosshair is now visible in any view which is great and now you can charge up your blaster for a more powerful shot. One of the biggest new features is the ability to transform the Arwing into the Walker as mentioned earlier and you can switch between them freely.

The locations and stages don’t play out like the stages in the first game. You’re not always being pushed in a specific direction and enemies don’t come at you in waves. As it relates to space battles, you can see the enemies on the map so you can see what you’re up against ahead of time and the planets and carriers will have foes scattered about. I am happy to report that many of the issues I had with the first game are not present here. The frame rate is still choppy but I would say the game does perform better, overall. Dips in the frame rate rarely had a negative affect on anything I was trying to do. I found depth perception to still be an issue at times but I definitely didn’t have as much trouble avoiding things here. I think part of what alleviates the issues is the freedom you’re given here and also the screen doesn’t seem to get as busy this time around. At least not in my experience. You’re not forced in a specific direction with numerous buildings, structures, and other obstacles to avoid as enemies continuously appear and fire at you. Star Fox 2 lets you navigate around freely and focus more on specific targets.

Star Fox 2 showcases a colorful presentation and while the 3D elements certainly look primitive in today’s world, I think the presentation still holds up rather well. I expected things like rampant pop-in and flat textures but I like the ship models, some areas showcase impressive details, and visual effects like explosions, fire, and smoke look pretty good. As for the audio, I would say the sound work is on par with that of the previous game but I don’t think the music reaches the same heights. There are some good tunes here but I think Star Fox has the better soundtrack. On the technical side, the frame rate is choppy but I would say the overall performance is better than that of its predecessor. I do want to mention again that I played Star Fox 2 on Switch and encountered no major bugs or issues.

Now that I’ve played the officially released Star Fox 2 and invested quite a bit of time into it, I think it’s safe to say I enjoy it more than the previous game. There’s a lot of improvements here. From the gameplay to the performance to the presentation. Overall, it just feels better to play. Plus, I enjoy the freedom and strategic elements. You really do need to play through it on each difficulty to get the most out of it, or at least on Normal and Hard. Because if you just beat it on Normal and then stop, you may leave it thinking it’s too short and feels lacking. It is a short game, even on higher difficulties, but it’s definitely meant to be replayed. Star Fox 2 retains some of the best gameplay elements of its predecessor and introduces some cool new ideas. It’s a shame it took so long for it to be officially released but I do think what’s on display here is quite impressive for the hardware it was originally developed for.

I would absolutely recommend Star Fox 2. Just like the first game, one of the big draws here is flying around space and different planets engaging enemies. So if you like that kind of thing, I don’t think Star Fox 2 will disappoint. Personally, I think its better than its predecessor. It features refinements and introduces several cool new ideas including strategy, freedom, and transforming crafts. Overall, it feels better to play and comes with a good amount of replay value. Definitely check it out.

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