Back in the 90’s 3D gaming was in its infancy. You can forget about what we have now, none of that existed and certainly not on a home console. The only way of playing a game with 3D graphics would have been through a PC that employed a 3D graphics card. Any attempt to run 3D games on console architecture would result in terrible performance issues where technically it could run 3D, but actual playability was another matter.
Then along came a game called Star Fox on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Star Fox was unique in that it employed the power of Nintendo’s secretive Super FX chip, an advanced graphical chip capable of rendering polygons on the SNES
This put Nintendo way ahead of its main rival at the time – Sega in what their 16-bit console could do. Star Fox was a scrolling space shooter fully rendered in 3D polygons, it was a leap forward for graphics in the video games industry. This was affordable 3D, and long before 3dfx Interactive made its Voodoo cards on the PCs, this was on fixed hardware underneath our television sets (or in bedrooms). Not only did they manage to produce a technical feat, they also produced a very good and challenging game. If you consider this was running on a 16-bit console at the time that’s pretty damn impressive.
With sales just under 3 million, a sequel was ordered, one that would go beyond the gameplay of the original and offer additional ways to play. It’s common in the video games industry for sequels to be cancelled or games to be shelved halfway through production, but Star Fox 2 wasn’t shelved because it wouldn’t be popular, neither was it left unfinished, the game was cancelled after it had been completed and put into the archives of Nintendo. Star Fox 2 became a legend without ever being released – it was the game that fans wanted to play, fuelled even more by it was the game we couldn’t play.
And what was the reason Nintendo pulled the game from release? It was the N64. The company didn’t want to release a game when the new console could offer a much more immersive experience for a new Star Fox game. Whilst it was sound reasoning, it hasn’t stopped the game becoming a game that to this day still springs up as prototype ROMs every now and again on the internet. There was also Sony and Sega’s releases of the PlayStation and the Saturn that were far superior in firepower and according to lead programmer of Star Fox 2, Dylan Cuthbert, Nintendo didn’t want the game to look inferior compared to their rivals products.
But the cancelled game lived on in some ways. A lot of the elements made their way over into the N64’s Star Fox 64, whilst some of the game mechanics crept over into other titles, such as the camera setup was reused in Super Mario 64. Still, fans wanted a full release.
Despite repeated calls for the game to be released on Virtual Console, Nintendo actively refused all of these requests. They seemed adamant that the game would not be seen by the public. A move that left many fans upset that they wouldn’t even be able to play an official version of the game.
But that was about to change…
In June 2017, Nintendo announced a sequel to their massively popular 2016 re-release of the NES console – the Nes Mini, the SNES Mini was making its way to the home market. It had all the usual games we could expect from Nintendo’s best-sellers at the time, Super Mario World, F-Zero, Street Fighter II Turbo, Star Fox, oh and a little game called Star Fox 2.
Imagine if The Beatles recorded, mixed, and produced an album that never saw the light of day – a fully mastered Beatles album that for some reason was never released, well you get the idea. Star Fox 2 was a lost game that has finally been ‘found’. What also makes it so unusual is no one was expecting it, and certainly not from Nintendo, who are notoriously secretive in their business practices.
Despite the high price tag if you’re only buying a SNES Mini for this one game, it is a chance to play a new game from a bygone era and one that was developed by the biggest hitter of that period, and that is a rarity. So come September 29th it will be interesting how many people are tearing through the first level of Star Fox on their SNES Minis to unlock Star Fox 2, I imagine it will be the first game most of us boot up, and not for nostalgia reasons, but to give us a chance to play what was denied.
Whatever the reason for buying a SNES Mini, come September 29th Nintendo will be releasing a new SNES game, and that has my inner twelve-year-old excited as hell.