A fantastic miss for Fox.
I was mesmerized by the pastel polygons of Star Fox 2. While abstract ships swirled in a stop-motion dance in front of me, I kept thinking this was one of the most beautiful games I’ve played all year. But where I saw art, others who stopped by to check out Star Fox 2 just saw a blur of awkwardly rotating triangles at about 10 frames a second. Setting aside my appreciation for game history and nostalgia, Star Fox 2 is kind of a hot mess.
Star Fox 2’s primitive 3D is so jarringly bad that Nintendo actually canceled it in 1995 before it came out because it didn’t look good alongside the groundbreaking 3D of the Nintendo 64. Its space battles, assembled from a handful of untextured polygons, barely run on the SNES hardware, or even on its new, exclusive home in the SNES Classic Edition. (Read our full SNES Classic Edition review.) But if you can stomach the terrible frame rate, it is playable – enough that I could beat it on Hard. Sometimes, it’s even enjoyable.
The best thing about Star Fox 2 is its insane polygonal ships, creatures, and cutscenes. I’m drawn to its janky-yet-plucky aesthetic: A huge dragon creature slithers through space, a massive chicken-like bird guards a planet base, and mammoth battleships have swarms of smaller butterfly-like enemies flanking them. There’s also the cast of puppet-like animals that bark, ribbit, and squeak over the radio: Everything that’s not a polygon in Star Fox 2 is rendered in gorgeous sprite work.
Your wingman also serves as your sole extra life.
Speaking of characters, you can choose your animal pilot from the group of six, each with a special ability, like a super bomb, healing ability, or a shield. You also pick and swap out a wingman at will, which is cool because you have two sets of special abilities at your disposal. I also liked that your wingman also serves as your sole extra life: You lose a lot of flexibility if you can’t swap your fox for your frog, which raises the stakes on surviving some of the tougher boss encounters.
Star Fox 2’s main difference from its predecessor is a real-time strategy-like frame built around its third-person battles that puts pressure on you at every moment. Even as you’re dogfighting above planets, cruising through dreadnaughts in Death Star-like trench runs, and exploring corridors, enemy forces spawn on the map and creep closer to your home planet in real time. Juggling defensive attacks on smaller enemies with strikes that take out the sources of the threats on planets and ships makes for enjoyably frantic multitasking. Occasionally, special events like a big dragon boss or invading spiders on a friendly space station pop up to make things chaotic and different each time you play. Hard Mode especially shakes things up with additional levels and bosses.
A good strategy will only take you so far, however: To win, you’ll need to defeat your enemies in space and ground combat, and that’s when things fall apart. It’s incredibly difficult to control your ship and aim at the same time with a SNES D-pad, especially with the graphical slowdown. It’s even harder to dodge incoming fire. I found myself barrel-rolling wildly in space and strafing non-stop on the ground, just mashing the laser button and hoping for the best. But failing in Star Fox 2 isn’t so bad because games are short – I beat Normal Mode in 45 minutes and Hard Mode in an hour.