It's funny what you take for granted. When we posted a photo of the N64 game Lylat Wars on our Nintendo Life Instagram account, we never thought for a second it would result in confused replies from our followers:
"I've never seen this....what kinda badassness is in that cartridge?"
"Wait what is this?"
"Lylat wars? What kind of crack were they smokin in Europe that made that sound like a good idea?"
You see, we'd totally taken it for granted that every Nintendo fan the world over knew that Lylat Wars was in fact Star Fox 64, just as Starwing on the European SNES is actually Star Fox. It never occured to us for a second that players from outside of Europe wouldn't know this trivial but interesting fact - and this in turn made us want to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all.
Of course, theories regarding the name change are easily found online, and it's always been assumed that the root cause was a copyright issue with either the Atari 2600 title Star Fox (from 1983) or the ZX Spectrum/C64 game StarFox (from 1987). Indeed, such was our confidence in the latter being the reason that we even cited it as such in our Making of Star Fox feature a while back.
Keen to seek clarification, we dropped Dylan Cuthbert a line - one of the British developers who worked with Nintendo on the original game back in 1993. He's ideally placed to comment on this, because in addition to his coding duties he was also responsible for porting the European version of the game. Surprisingly, he wasn't aware of the naming clash with other titles, and instead offered up an alternative explanation:
I can’t be sure but I seem to remember vaguely someone at Nintendo telling me that there was a company or something called StarVox in Germany, and because 'F' is pronounced like a 'V' there they had to change the name to avoid confusion.
The only story I know is the 'StarVox' one, because it was an interesting problem - which is why I remember it.
Cuthbert's story is corroborated by Jez San, who was the head of Argonaut (the UK company which sent Cuthbert over to Japan to work with Nintendo on Star Fox and also created the Super FX chip which would power the game's 3D visuals):
Dylan's right. That’s what Nintendo told us. They said there was a German company called StarVox and that in a thick German accent, Star Fox sounded too much like StarVox. So to avoid a court case that might risk delaying the launch of the game, they changed the name.
Personally, I think both companies overreacted and there was no chance that Star Fox and StarVox would have created confusion between the two brands.
So there you have it, from the creators of the game itself. Another mystery solved by your friendly private investigation team at Nintendo Life!