Round Table: Looking Back at the Star Fox Series
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Back in the Arwing
Fox McCloud is about to make a welcome return to the gaming scene, with the upcoming Star Fox 64 3D ready to blast onto 3DS screens. As a franchise, Star Fox has shown plenty of diversity, so we decided it was time to reflect on the adventures of good old Fox and the gang. Features editor Thomas Whitehead is joined by community administrator Desiree Turner and writer Peter Willington. There’s only one rule: no one can mention a certain phrase that involves the words ‘roll’ and ‘barrel’.
Thomas Whitehead: I’m joined by Desiree and Peter to look back at the Star Fox series so far. Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Peter Willington: My name's Peter Willington, I'm a freelance games critic for a number of outlets, most notably of Pocket Gamer. I'm an EU reviewer here at Nintendo Life and when I'm not writing about games I'm writing about music. I am a rabble rouser.
Desiree Turner: I'm Des, I'm the Community Administrator here at Nintendo Life. There's not much else to say other than maybe my username, theblackdragon — most people here at NL already know who I am!
Thomas Whitehead: Excellent. So what were your first experiences of Star Fox on SNES, and what impression did it make on you?
Desiree Turner: My first experience with it was the commercial. So awesome! I remember it said, 'You are Fox McCloud' and it had that stuffed model of him sitting in the Arwing cockpit. Oh, and there were polygons, and man was that the coolest thing I'd ever heard of. I begged for it for months and finally got it for my birthday that year.
Thomas Whitehead: What about you Peter?
Peter Willington: I saw Starwing (as it was called in the EU) when it was at a GAME store in Tunbridge Wells — my home town — and it was running in a demo kiosk at the entrance. I walked in with my parents, I must have been 11 or 12 at this point, and I just became utterly engrossed in watching some kids who were already on it play through the training section. I waited for maybe half an hour to get a go and when I did, I couldn't play it, my tiny little child-like brain not understanding the whole "up is down, down is up" thing, or the concept of changing control settings. But yeah, when you're a little oik who had only seen NES games until this point, it was just amazing to see, mind-blowing even.
Thomas Whitehead: Interesting that, in both cases, the graphics gave a real wow factor. How important were the graphics in the experience? Did the gameplay stack up as well?
Peter Willington: I think it did, once I grasped how it was played. The thing I think people have to keep in mind is that — apart from maybe Space Harrier or Afterburner — titles like this just didn't exist on consoles, and I don't think those SEGA games gave such an impression of existing within a space like Starwing did. When you understand the basics, it becomes a really tight, quite heavily scripted arcade shooter with some wonderful set-pieces.
Desiree Turner: I can't remember having much experience with an on-rails shooter-type game before Star Fox, other than maybe some of those top-down shooters in the arcade, and I hated those. Star Fox took some getting used to, but once I got the hang of it I was amazed. At the time, the graphics were revolutionary — again, polygons — but now, though they still do their job, they haven't aged well.
Thomas Whitehead: So graphics and gameplay were great. What about the characters — at the time, did you enjoy talking animals flying spaceships?
Desiree Turner: Oh absolutely, and it's great to see people enjoying that kind of thing today in meme form.
Thomas Whitehead: What about you Peter, did Fox and the gang do it for you?
Peter Willington: Nah, I wasn't really impressed by the "characters" of Star Fox because, to me, Nintendo didn't understand who (or what) the real star of the game was, namely the Arwing. That iconic design resonated with me greatly when I was young and I remember thinking "I want one of these in real life". The world of Corneria, the music, the crafts you battle and battle in; they're the real stars.
Desiree Turner: I gotta say I'm a bit mixed on that point: granted, in terms of the original I'll give you that, but 64 brought much more personality to the plate.
Thomas Whitehead: Apparently, Shigeru Miyamoto was inspired by a statue at a local temple and designed Fox based on that. Rumours of a plumber statue are unconfirmed...
Peter Willington: Well there's a great myth in Japanese folklore of a flying fox and he supposedly used to visit that temple quite often. Interesting, extremely nerdy fact: the reason the game features just so many arches is because the path to the temple features them.
Desiree Turner: Ah, flying through the arches and getting power-ups that way is mad fun!
Thomas Whitehead: Moving on in the series, what did you think of Star Fox 64, or Lylat Wars as it was known in the EU. Was it another revolutionary step-up in graphics?
Peter Willington: I kind of skipped Lylat Wars largely as I never owned an N64 at the time. The one thing I really remember from it is briefly playing the multiplayer, which I thought was atrocious, but otherwise I'm looking to you guys schooling me.
Desiree Turner: Well, after the amazingness that was the original and the bazillion times over I'd played it, I remember we got a video as an advert — I think it might've been with Nintendo Power — and I was sold. That was another one I begged hard for, especially since it came with a Rumble Pak. Wasn't it the first Rumble Pak title?
Peter Willington: Yep, first game with rumble on a Nintendo console.
Desiree Turner: It was a definite upgrade from the SNES version. Suddenly everything had textures! It wasn't just flashing shapes and jagged lines, you could see detail on the ships and asteroids and broken parts flying around the various Sectors. As I said before, it also introduced some personality to the characters — especially since they had proper voices this time around.
Thomas Whitehead: The Rumble Pak didn't seem like a big deal to me, though they sure went to town with it! My older brother came home with an N64 bundled with the game, completely out of the blue. The graphics and gameplay blew me away, it was so fast-paced. As Des has mentioned, the voices added something to it as well. For arcade gaming, it was a stone-cold classic.
Desiree Turner: It also introduced the All-Range mode, where you could fly anywhere in a given space. I know that was one of the things they took from the cancelled Star Fox 2, but I really think that the SNES wouldn't have been able to give All-Range Mode the same justice that Star Fox 64 was able to.
Thomas Whitehead: So, would you say that this game took the series forward in a big way Desiree, taking advantage of the N64 capabilities, or was it a classy but un-revolutionary upgrade?
Desiree Turner: I would say it took the series forward for sure. It was a complete reboot.
Peter Willington: It's technically the first game in the canon isn't it?
Thomas Whitehead: I believe it is, yes.
Peter Willington: Is that important do you think? Did they start a strong narrative in Lylat Wars that could be continued in further games?
Desiree Turner: If Star Fox Command is any indication, I don't really think anyone knows where the 'canon' stands at the moment. It had what, 12, 16 endings?