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SNES A Day 161: Star Fox


Approximate Release Date: March 23, 1993
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Nintendo/Argonaut Software
Publisher: Nintendo

Star Fox was a remarkable achievement in 1993.

There are polygons!

Nintendo cheated a bit to make Star Fox look so impressive on the underpowered Super Nintendo hardware. Every copy of the game included a secondary processor called the Super FX built into the cartridge. This chip was much more capable than the SNES processor at rendering 3D objects. If you compare previous 3D games like Race Drivin’ to Star Fox you can see the immediate advantages to having the Super FX.

That doesn’t mean the game looks good, mind you. Star Fox looks like complete garbage to modern eyes. Even with the Super FX chip, the SNES can’t quite manage what Nintendo is trying to do here even by windowboxing the on-rails shooter gameplay. Nearly everything is made of flat geometric shapes that aren’t well differentiated and will pop into view out of nowhere. When enemies are tailing your friends it can be difficult to judge which two-colored textureless blob is friend or foe. And despite the simple graphics Star Fox struggles to keep a steady framerate somewhere in the teens. If you want to even try to enjoy this game, you’ll need patience.

I just don’t know if that patience would be justified. I have a lot of memories of playing Star Fox as a kid, and I have the resulting childhood fondness for it. It’s a really simple shooter, though. There’s no lock-on mechanics or extensive weapon system … there’s not even an aiming reticule most of the time! The one wrinkle is the teammate system, where you need to protect your squad from damage by blasting pursuing enemies and helping them out in general. If they die they’re gone. It’s a stressful mechanic.

I have mixed feelings about Star Fox. It’s not a bad game, just one that has aged poorly in every single respect. Will people who didn’t play this game when it was released find anything enjoyable here? I really don’t know, and I would steer those people toward the much more playable Star Fox 64.

It’s too bad Nintendo never released Star Fox 2.

For more information about the development of Star Fox, Eurogamer has a fantastic article about the process.

Tomorrow: I don’t know how Inindo: Way of the Ninja is supposed to be pronounced, but I’m saying it like Nintendo with a few letters removed.

2 thoughts on “SNES A Day 161: Star Fox”

  1. This was one of the games I thought was so fantastic I would actually sit and watch a friend play.

    It looked so cool I never questioned whether there was a good game underneath it; I just accepted it as awesome.

    I’m sure there’s a moral there, but I still enjoy a good dogfight 🙂

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