CANCELLED: Star Fox 2, The Fox That Never Saw The Stars

The legacy of 1993’s Star Fox lies in its early and impressive (at the time) 3D tech. As well as for being Nintendo’s first game to use polygonal graphics....
CANCELLED: Star Fox 2

The legacy of 1993’s Star Fox lies in its early and impressive (at the time) 3D tech. As well as for being Nintendo’s first game to use polygonal graphics. The game itself, however, whilst well-received at the time, holds up today as little more than a basic rail shooter. Future games in the franchise expanded on this foundation, and games like Star Fox 64 went on to achieve considerable success. The cancellation of Star Fox 2 was hardly the nail-in-the-coffin that it may have seemed at the time. Especially considering how the franchise went on to flourish in the future. And now, over 20 years later, Nintendo are finally releasing Star Fox 2 with the upcoming Mini SNES classic.

Star Fox 2 continues the story of Star Fox and their battle battle against Emperor Andross, who seeks to conquer the Lylat system. The player must defend planet Corneria throughout the game, preventing its damage from reaching 100%. To do so, they must intercept fighters and Inter-Planetary-Ballistic-Missiles (IPBMs), whilst dealing with ship-deploying Battleships. The game also had a structure that was unique from the first game. Instead of the linear, predefined levels of Star Fox, the player moves a team of two ships freely around a map screen that represents the Lylat system. The game switches to an action perspective when the player’s ship encounters enemy forces. That’s when it basically turns into the original Star Fox. Star Fox 2 also had an improved 3D engine with its better version of the Super FX GSU-2 chip (the first Star Fox used the original GSU chip).

A map of the Lylat system (Credit: wikimedia.org)

 

Cancelled On Completion: The Developer’s Reward

The most surprising thing about Star Fox 2 is that the game was very close to finished on cancellation. According to lead programmer Dylan Cuthbert, the game was “95% complete” when Nintendo decided to cancel it. Claiming that the team “went ahead and completed it” after the decision had been made. Nintendo first showed the game off at the 1995 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and magazines at the time featured screenshots of the game. But the game was quietly cancelled not long after, with only an unfinished ROM that players would later find.

To understand the reasons for Star Fox 2’s cancellation, you must understand the industry at the time. Cuthbert recalls that “the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan. I think that caught Nintendo off-guard.” 1995 was, of course, the year that both the PlayStation and Saturn launched. The beginning of the 3D era of gaming, and the beginning of fully polygonal games. As Cuthbert said, Nintendo feared “old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side.”

Not all was lost, however. Much of Star Fox 2 carried over into what became Star Fox 64. In 1997, Miyamoto approximated that 30% of Star Fox 64 came from Star Fox 2. Citing ideas like the all-range mode, multiplayer mode, and Star Wolf scenarios. Furthermore, the 2006 DS game Star Fox Command used some features of the game, including the map screen and multiple playable characters with their own fighters.

Star Fox 2 in action (Credit: Unseen64.net)

 

Archiving Star Fox 2: Leaked Prototypes

Although it never got a proper release, early versions of the game leaked in the years to come. The earliest known leak is estimated to have emerged online between May and September 1999, which is suspected to be an early version of the game’s multiplayer. This version was believed to be an even earlier version than the one that appeared at 1995 Winter CES.

However, it wouldn’t be until August 2002 that significant progress would be made. This was when a ROM containing the final beta for Star Fox 2 was released into the world. The process of its recovery is well-documented here by “d4s” (who reportedly had a hand in the recovery of the ROM image). Although at first it was unclear how the leaked ROM came about and there were many rumours about its inception. In reality, however, the truth was quite simple. The game had been leaked as “pure assembled binary” from a former developer who wanted the game emulated. The ROM wasn’t even in a proper SNES ROM format initially. No source code was leaked, either, nor was there ever a prototype or production cart. Soon after, emulator authors implemented proper Super FX emulation, which allowed the community to emulate the ROM successfully.

An example of a bootleg Star Fox 2 cart, which were eventually distributed after the game leaked (Credit: SNES Central)

 

Fan Translation: The Last Hurdle

So it’s 2002, and Star Fox 2 has been leaked, restored and is entirely playable on a SNES emulator. The only problem left? The game is still entirely in Japanese. That’s right, the beta version of the game that had leaked was in Japanese. Since Star Fox 64 did so well in the US, there was now an even bigger desire amongst to play the mysterious unreleased Star Fox sequel. Fortunately, in 2004, a team from ROM hacking community Aeon Genesis released an English translation of the game. They also removed all the debugger information and cheats that remained the final remnants of the game’s beta status.

Finally, in 2017, Nintendo will be releasing the first ever official version of Star Fox 2. It’s one of the 21 games that will be pre-loaded onto the upcoming Mini SNES Classic. The Mini SNES Classic launches September 29. An interesting and unexpected announcement, one that even surprised the developers themselves! The original Star Fox will also come with the console.

Are you looking forward to playing Star Fox 2 on the Mini SNES Classic? Have you tried to emulate the prototype? Let us know in the comments below!

Dan is an aspiring games writer and so obviously he loves games! His other passions include music, movies and tech.
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