When it comes to Star Fox games, people tend to expect certain things. Fox McCloud and his team will be attempting to save the universe. Most likely, this will be accomplished through bite-sized missions across a solar system. People from other groups may come in to aid or impair proceedings. The day is saved. They have always been good about conveying a sense of scope with their paths. With Star Fox 2, players see it accomplishing another objective. This installment offers a sense of movement, showing the world doesn’t revolve entirely around Fox and his actions.
First, a bit of background. Star Fox 2 is the game that, for a very long time, didn’t officially exist. Argonaut Games created this Super FX game and it was prepared for a 1996 release, but was canceled due to the Nintendo 64 launch and introduction of other 3D games. The Super NES Classic Edition is the first official release of the game, which is unlocked by completing the first level of Star Fox. The previous leaked prototype, which appeared online, was an early alpha. This iteration we all now have access to contains the final version of the game.
In Star Fox 2, Andross is again attempting to defeat Corneria and invade the Lylat system. Despite being thoroughly beaten in Star Fox, he somehow has a full army ready to attack. This is key to how this installment manages to convey the sense of activity present in this installment. An invasion is coming. You can’t follow one set path to victory. You will need to travel around the Lylat system and prioritize. The map shows you where danger is coming. You can see when enemies are heading for important areas. There are notifications when planets are occupied. Damage to Corneria is always shown on the screen. Things are always changing, even as you take on each mission, and there’s this sense of awareness and time management that must be maintained here that had not been broached in the series before.
This means flexibility is required. Star Fox 2 doesn’t just offer a chance to choose what to do and when on the map screen. During missions, pressing Andross attacks can interfere with your activities. When I was playing one mission on Fortuna, I suddenly received a message from General Pepper. He said that Corneria was being attacked. I could have stayed in the mission, but I chose to abandon what I was doing and go to the planet’s aid, all to keep its overall damage down. It was only at 20% damage and I was playing on the standard difficulty level, which meant things wouldn’t get out of hand quickly, but the game gave me that option to choose and prioritize, and I took it.
Another key element in making things feel more populated than before is the number of fighters available to the player. In Star Fox 2, you are not just offered Fox as a character. but every member of the Star Fox Team. This means more diversity, both in terms of races and strategy. Fox and Falco are the balanced characters, each flying a Prototype Arwing with Smart Bombs. Peppy and Slippy are defensive characters that move slowly and have Space Relief as their Armored Arwing’s ability. But it is the new characters that bring the most to the game. Fay and Miyu were the series’ first female characters. One is an aristocratic dog, while the other is a tough bobcat. Each one has a Light Arwing is that is swift and deals quite a bit of damage, but is more susceptible to enemy attacks unless its Super Shield ability is used. This gives us a greater range of genders, races, and equipment to work with, offering more options to save Corneria.
Star Fox 2 takes us into a world that does not offer relatively linear paths to difficulty. Enemies will not wait for us to reach certain points before they begin attacking. Everything is happening at once. There are no convenient stops so we can find our footing, though enemy activity does temporarily pause when regrouping on the map screen. Andross’ invasion is constantly ongoing, which makes the Lylat system seem more alive. And we have six people to choose from, both men and women, making it feel more real. It may feel incredibly experimental, but it does do a great job of developing atmosphere and building up a world that feels filled with activity.