Fans of the furry intergalactic fighter pilot have been longing for a new Star Fox adventure for quite some time. Ever since the disastrous reception of the Wii U entry, many have hoped the Lylat system-sized void in their lives would be made whole again. For a brief moment several years ago, we Fox fans were able to relive the glory days on a Nintendo 3DS with Star Fox 64. But that simply isn’t enough. It’s time for Nintendo to bring dignity back to the franchise. It’s time… to make Star Fox great again.
In order to accomplish the task of resurrecting the fox following its tragic recent past, it’s important to understand why the Nintendo staple crashed and burned. First, I’ll be clear that Star Fox peaked with Star Fox 64. Everything following that gem has been nothing short of disgraceful. Admittedly, I’ll make Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS the exception to that bold statement, as I’ve never played that title. But Star Fox 64 wasn’t just a remake of the original SNES Star Fox. It was a reimagining of the characters and storyline. The game went on to receive widespread acclaim on the Nintendo 64 and for good reason.
Star Fox and Star Fox 64 offered a simple adventure guided on rails (mostly) that was layered with a range of diverse enemies, upgrades, secrets, and an incrementally challenging atmosphere. Star Fox 64 even brought a couple of other vehicles into the mix including a tank. The adventure was simple, yet engaging. That is a prime recipe for replayability. As a person who remembers playing Galaga on his dad’s Atari in the late ’80s/early ’90s, Star Fox 64 felt like the natural evolution of that arcadey type of game.
… the fall
Then along came Star Fox Adventures for the GameCube, which threw players in a Zelda-like setting, controlling Fox from a third-person perspective with a few weapons to boot. The flying came when transitioning to a new area. However, the stale third-person boots-on-the-ground action was rather slow and not anywhere close to what fans of the series were expecting.
By comparison, Star Fox Assault had some great moments and more frequent vehicular combat than its predecessor. But it still felt like the flow of action was hampered by a degree of openness and another intrusion of third-person ground-based “run and gun” areas.
Star Fox Zero attempted to take the series back to its roots. I have never owned a Wii U or played the entirety of Zero. But it was clear to me from the time I did spend with it that the controls were highly undesirable. I basically agreed with the many reviews I’ve both seen professionally and heard from close associates.
In summary, it feels like the franchise lost a piece of its soul and desperately tried to reclaim it with Star Fox Zero. The series should never be about running and gunning. There are plenty of other third-person titles in the world that do that and execute it well. Furthermore, the series should have never tried to overcomplicate itself with confusing controls or pointless open-world areas that aren’t designed well.
Relevancy in the modern age
Arcade-style games that operate on rails aren’t entirely popular with modern gamers with the exception, possibly, of the older crowd. So how exactly could Nintendo make Star Fox great again in the modern age while still honoring its legacy?
You might remember Starlink: Battle for Atlas that released just last year. Both critically and from the general gaming community, it was fairly well-received. The toys-to-life game from Ubisoft featuring aerial combat also brought Fox McCloud and crew into the mix on the Nintendo Switch version.
This wasn’t just a simple skin swap for the pilot and ship. Fox was integrated into the story with full dialogue and cutscenes where he interacted with the main cast and crew. He was truly a part of the universe within Starlink.
The game featured open-world flight and even allowed players to exit the atmosphere of planets into outer space. Here, bounty hunters could attack, materials could be found amongst asteroids, or players could simply hyperdrive to the nearest planet to begin exploring another world. The flight controls and shooting felt great. All in all, I just considered it a Star Fox game.
A surefire solution?
I believe there is a way to incorporate the open-world (galaxy?) approach of Starlink with the on-rails structure of the past. I loved the idea of traveling between planets, fending off hostiles, and exploring derelict ships. That could all be a part of a future Star Fox entry that would appeal to modern gamers. Open-world games are popular. But it’s also important to incorporate simplicity, to focus on the action and vehicular combat that the old Star Fox games did so well.
Each planet could contain starting points for missions that would then flip into an on-rails affair, bringing us the classic Star Fox we know and love. Furthermore, the game could feature an “arcade mode” that is simply the story-dictated on-rails missions within the game, for those who don’t want the open-world aspect in the mix.
And lastly — there must be controls that feel natural and intuitive!
I believe there could be a bright future for Star Fox where the past meets the present and Star Fox becomes great again in both the eyes of fans and newcomers. The potential is there. It’s now up to Nintendo to execute. But whatever you do, Nintendo, for the love of all things sacred, stick to vehicular combat — the very thing that defines Star Fox. We don’t need a third-person Muppet shoot-em-up.