For some gaming franchises, the transition to another generation can be a daunting undertaking. From a 2D landscape into the polygon-fuelled world of the third dimension, some iconic characters have stumbled when compared to their contemporaries – Sonic the Hedgehog is a renowned example of this, with Sonic Team failing to successfully recapture the essence of what made a 2D Sonic title so playable upon inception.
Strangely, Starfox has been a mixed bag of experiments and half-baked concepts over the years, beginning life as a technical showcase that demonstrated the power of the Super Nintendo’s 3D FX chip while eventually turning into an in-house behemoth production for the Nintendo 64. After the critical and commercial success of Starfox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe due to licensing issues), the prospect of a next generation Starfox title for the Nintendo Gamecube sounded incredible in its inevitability – the result was a Legend of Zelda clone, namely Starfox Adventures, and a Namco developed action-adventure hybrid known as Starfox Assault. While Starfox Command for the DS attempted to reign in on the experimentation, it still featured overbearing touch screen mechanics that became integral to the map-oriented gameplay – it truly seemed that Nintendo’s affection for pushing ideas forward have somewhat hindered a perfect formula.
Now, it’s unfair to say that the aforementioned games are poorly designed; they all have moments that worked and should be commended for trying to branch the Starfox universe into something more varied and grandiose. However the core gameplay mechanics are what defined the series – games like Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were incredibly successful in sustaining that original feel while expanding the world simultaneously. Starfox has sadly delved into a amalgamation of different play styles – third person shooting mechanics, dungeon exploration, puzzle solving – it’s quite frankly a mess. Starfox Assault was a game that seemed intent on pushing the series forward, and while it seems admirable in retrospect, it ultimately falls short by a lack of focus.
And that’s the key issue that the Starfox series has suffered with over the generations – the lack of coherency in terms of mechanics, story and characters. Where Starfox 64 had a patriotic and gung-ho charm that helped drive the story, Starfox Adventures’ fictitious language and obnoxious voice acting took it one step back. Where the core gameplay was focused on set pieces and inventive brick-laying level design, other mechanics deterred from this foundation and included a Tamagotchi style pet in the name of Tricky or a non functional vehicular control scheme that makes on ground missions a real pain.
Starfox 3D is what many could ironically consider the rebirth of the series, despite being a remake of the legendary Starfox 64. The fact that it plays flawlessly after all these years suggests a game series that is in dire need of a resurrection – it encapsulates what made the original so thrilling with its new lick of paint and 3D slider-effect. In essence, what Nintendo needs to do is understand what made the game such a hit – the idea of heart-thumping boss battles and on rails obstacles with the power of the Wii U would be a fantastic addition to the series, not to mention online co-operative play and multiplayer. While Shigeru Miyamoto has been tinkering with the second screen integration for the Starfox tech demo for Wii U, it needs to be addressed that a blockbuster experience is really what the console needs, especially when games such as Bayonetta 2 and Xenoblade Chronicles X are paving the way for action gaming on the system.
Over the years, Nintendo have been highly successful in morphing the overall format of certain games while keeping its charm and atmsophere. Starfox desperately needs to go back to its roots if it wants to maintain relevance in the company’s grand canon of franchises. A focus on characters, acting and set pieces are a must, with current generation standards such as online and co-operative play – all these features would be the push it needs. To take a step backwards and understand what made the game such a massive hit in the 90’s, Nintendo must reassess what works and what does not.
At the end of the day, sometimes less is certainly more.