Format: Super NES Genre: 3D Shooter/Rail shooter Released: 1993 Developer: Nintendo/Argonaut Software
I remember seeing the first screenshots of Star Fox* in a games magazine and being totally confused by what appeared to be a random jumble of triangles. But when I finally saw the game in motion (probably on the mediocre ITV games show Bad Influence) it completely blew my tiny little adolescent mind. 3D? On the Super NES? What black magic is this?!
That’ll be the Super FX chip then, which not only made all them fancy polygons possible, it also made the game pretty damn expensive (about £55 I seem to remember, although correct me if I’m wrong). Still, it was worth every penny, if only to score bragging rights in the playground. And do you know what? The game felt expensive.
For a start the cartridge was noticeably heavier than other SNES carts – and everyone knows heavy equals expensive – but beyond that it was obvious that a lot of time, effort and money had been put into polishing and tweaking every little bit of the game. The music was fantastic, a sweeping orchestral score that perfectly fitted the grandiose space opera storyline, and the sound effects were also spot on (except for the noise of your Arwing being hit by laser fire, which sounded oddly like someone punching through a sheet of A4 paper).
Graphically, Star Fox was leagues ahead of anything else around at the time on home consoles – there just wasn’t anything like it. It seems odd to think now, but in 1993 3D was a rare novelty that was almost entirely confined to cutting edge arcade games (I remember when my local Quasar centre got a Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet – swarms of us gathered round it in awe like it was the Holy Grail). But the key thing about Star Fox was that it had the gameplay to back up the good looks, with varied and interesting levels and some ingenious bosses. I particularly liked the final confrontation, when old monkey-faced villain Andross conjured up an enormous floating head that promptly tried to swallow you whole.
It’s a shame there weren’t a few more Super FX games – apart from Star Fox, the only ones I remember are the brilliant Stunt Race FX and the not-so-brilliant Vortex… although a quick look on Wikipedia reveals that the chip found its way into Doom and Super Mario World 2 as well. It seems a shame that Argonaut went to so much time and trouble on building their little magic chip only for it to be used so little… although I suppose it was pretty expensive to manufacture, which must have put off most developers.
Star Fox wasn’t a particularly long game, but the branching routes and secret levels made it eminently replayable. I must have played through the whole thing at least a dozen times, which is partly a reflection of the game’s brilliance and partly a reflection of my limited games collection (I think I had about six games in all).
It’s hardly surprising I didn’t have many games – this was in the days when the secondhand games market didn’t really exist and most games kept their value for much longer (as opposed to today’s games market, where new titles drop to half price a couple of months after release). Games took months to save up for, and I could only afford to buy two or three a year – but Star Fox was worth every penny of my pocket money.
*Well, technically it was called Starwing in the UK for interminably dull legal reasons (and presumably for the same reasons, the sequel was called Lylat Wars instead of Star Fox 64). But everyone I knew called it Star Fox anyway.
(Screenshots from http://www.vgmuseum.com/)