Tag Archives: Star Fox

Star Fox Needs A Real Identity, Here’s Why

Star Fox is one of the biggest tragedies in gaming to me.  I can’t believe a series so charming, original, and out-right cool is so rarely done right.

The series follows ace pilot and anthropomorphic fox, Fox McCloud, leader of the space combat team “Star Fox.”  His friends, Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, and Slippy Toad, back him up.  Under the command of General Pepper, they serve as peacekeepers in the Lylat System.  Their enemies include the parallel team of mercenaries Star Wolf, and the evil galactic conqueror Andross.

Star Fox has broken ground since the 90s, but has since fallen from grace.  The games struggle to find a common identity, and that’s what I hope to figure out.

Star Fox 64 Sets the Perfect Tone

It sounds great.

Star Fox 64 is the major example of how to execute the idea behind the series.  The soundtrack is a masterful blend of sci-fi, space opera, and 80s action overtones, similar to what you’d hear in Top Gun.  The N64’s sound chip had distinctive horn and synth channels that complemented the soundtrack perfectly.  The puppet-like 3D models of the N64 look somewhat silly, but they come closest to echoing the game’s artistic influences.

The same thing goes for the voice acting.  Star Fox 64 was the first fully voice-acted Nintendo game, and it contributed massively to the game’s character.  The actors’ delivery is consistently campy, but it became iconic as well.  One-liners like, “Hey Einstein!  I’m on your side!” or “Do a barrel roll!” are so self-aware that they bring the player firmly into the game they’re playing, and make them laugh at the silliness of it all.

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Star Fox 64 3D art, from the reboot of the N64 version. (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)
It looks great.

Shigeru Miyamoto said that one of his biggest influences for creating Star Fox was Thunderbirds, one of his childhood shows.  It was a futuristic kids’ show made entirely with puppets and practical models.  The aesthetic of Star Fox is a play on the usual perception of puppets as the kind of juvenile medium to tell stories about woodland creatures, and also a tribute to the cheesy action serial style of Thunderbirds.  By combining these two styles, Star Fox flips them both on their heads and makes something that surpasses them.

Star Fox 64 also has some great tropes from other media.  If it wasn’t already clear, the series is also similar to Star Wars.  The game has several homages to the films, like the medal ceremony at the end, and the voice of Fox McCloud’s father in his head at the climactic moment that echoes Alec Guinness as Ben Kenobi.  Even the way the members of Star Fox communicate with each other reminds me of X-Wing pilots.  The idea of playing with multiple vehicles also seems to reference not only Thunderbirds but things like Gundam and Power Rangers.

It is great.

All style aside, the game also plays remarkable well.  The levels are full of well-placed enemies, and secret hidden paths that lead to tougher challenges.  The fun of Star Fox is learning how to get the full experience.  It reminds me of what I said about Crash Bandicoot: the game makes a lot out a little.

The sense of camaraderie within the Star Fox team is also great.  Your teammates help clear out enemies and give you hints as long as you keep them safe.  They have distinct names, faces, and personalities too, and that makes me feel attached to them as a player.

How Nintendo Did Star Fox Dirty

Nintendo is no stranger to leaving cool and promising series behind for lack of sales, but Star Fox actually suffers something worse.  It’s now Nintendo’s testing ground for gimmicks and fads.

And when I say a testing ground, I unfortunately mean that a lot of the tests fail.  This excellent video by HeavyEyed explains what I mean, but I’ll lay it out myself as well.

In the early days, it wasn’t like this.  The very first Star Fox was essentially the first fully polygonal shooter, and Star Fox 64 was the first ever game with rumble.  This made it the first game to give physical feedback to the player, a revolutionary move.

But then we got Star Fox Adventures.

Adventures Threw Everything Off

Star Fox Adventures is a 3D Legend of Zelda clone that overhauled a Rareware game with a Star Fox skin.  The game was uninspired, poorly designed, and completely abandoned everything that made the other games stand out.  Instead of a ragtag space shooter, we got a game about fighting lizards on a dinosaur planet.

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Star Fox Assault artwork. (Photo: BagoGames via Flickr)

After this divergence we got Star Fox: Assault, which was decidedly a step in the right direction.  The problem is, it sacrificed a lot of its dog-fighting action roots in favor of third person shooter combat.  Maybe not terrible, but certainly a far cry from where the series started.

Star Fox Command went even further down the rabbit hole by heavily integrating turn-based tactics.  Again, this came at the price of good aerial combat.  The game also had a branching story that bordered on fanfiction, which added insult to injury.

Star Fox Zero was a Near Miss

Then, along came Star Fox Zero, and I had my money at the ready.  Everything about the game was promising at first.  Miyamoto talked about how he was planning to create the best example of Wii U GamePad integration on the system.  It brought back the original cast of characters, and the old presentation.  What could go wrong?

Star Fox Zero
Promo art for Star Fox Zero! (Photo: BagoGames)

Well, Zero delivered on a lot of fronts, but missed out on something important: good controls.  The game required its players to split attention between two screens: the TV and the GamePad screen, both of which are essential.  The TV lets the player maneuver, while the GamePad lets them aim properly.  What it feels like is playing two different games at once and failing at both.  This is the same kind of problem I had with The World Ends With You, although that’s one for much later.

To make matters worse, the story and levels are mostly a copy of Star Fox 64 with a little Assault mixed in.  Secret-hunting and multiple paths are there, but less robust.  So playing Zero essentially amounts to playing a worse version of 64.

The Problem and How to Fix It

If you thought Sonic the Hedgehog has trouble trying to create consistent gameplay, Star Fox blows it out of the water.  It’s basically a series with no idea what to do next.  It either experiments with ideas that don’t fit, or lives in the shadow of its one great installment.

What Star Fox needs is to work off of its 64 formula, optimize it, and set it against a completely different backdrop.  Different planets, different levels, different story, and possibly new characters would be ideal.  Going back to basics was a smart move by Nintendo.  The problem is, they never went past the basics.

No Innovation Without Representation

Having a formula doesn’t mean the series can’t try new things.  I wouldn’t ditch the original formula completely, because I think it works.  If it were me, though, I would add in some ground combat sequences myself.

For example, in Star Wars Battlefront II, there’s a Space Assault mode.  The object of the mode is to destroy as many enemy ships and freighters as possible.  One of my favorite things to do is infiltrate an enemy ship and sabotage it on foot from the inside.  This might be an interesting way to give players options for secrets and defeating bosses.  Just as long as it doesn’t make it most of the game the way Assault did.  It might even be interesting to give the player a way to temporarily hijack ships mid-air.

Nintendo has plenty of room to commit to a major Star Fox game without having it be a remake or a re-skin.  I sincerely hope that the mixed reception of most Star Fox games makes them stop bringing the games back.  It’s probably one of the most brilliant concepts they’ve ever had, and no other game has managed to imitate its fun, intense style.

The thing is, Nintendo will never make the series sell if it keeps throwing in gimmicks without refining them properly.

I want to see Star Fox return to its old-fashioned charm and unique gameplay, without sacrificing the wondrous possibilities on the table.  A good Star Fox game makes me feel more like I’m in Star Wars than an actual Star Wars game would.  That’s saying something, and Nintendo shouldn’t waste the opportunity to make it great.  Here’s hoping we get some space fox on the Switch.

My Top 10 Favorite Super Smash Bros. Characters

I watched a lot of great top 10 videos during my early days on YouTube.  Since I love ranking things, it wasn’t long before I started making them myself.  I thought it might be fun to start putting some on ScreenLooker.  Why not list my my top 10 favorite characters in my favorite crossover/fighting game ever?  That’s right, it’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

So without further ado, here it is, my top 10 Smash…brothers…I guess?

10 – Mewtwo

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One of Nintendo’s greatest decisions in developing this game was bringing Mewtwo back into Smash Bros., ready for round two.  I remember being super-excited because I’ve always thought Mewtwo was cool, but I never really felt like I got to experience the true extent of his power in the actual Pokemon games.

This was my first taste of Mewtwo in Smash, and it did not disappoint.  Although he’s fairly easy to KO, Mewtwo has some great aerial attacks, amazing mobility, and great mix-up options.  You have to remain firmly in control of the battle to play as Mewtwo, and his play style is unique.  He’s joy to play, and a joy to have back in the game.

9 – Mega Man

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I never grew up with the games, but I still love the Mega Man series – it revolutionized the action platformer and is a massive influence on gaming as a whole, not to mention a super-cool universe in its own right.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when Mega Man was brought into Smash, and was one of my early favorite newcomers.  His projectile game is extremely complex but rewarding, and very faithful to the series.  I’m insanely glad that Mega Man has returned to the spotlight for once, and I hope that he stays there for a while.

8 – Ness

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My attachment to Ness started when I got a Ness amiibo as a gift.  Before that, I mostly ignored Ness.  When I actually started committing to learning the character, though, I discovered that the little guy has a lot of strengths and fun complexities.  His moves are incredibly varied, but come together in a beautifully chaotic harmony.  He may take the title for quirkiest character in Smash for me, keeping his fantastic series, Mother, relevant for years, and I don’t think the game would be the same without him.

7 – Zelda

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I have a tendency to root for underdogs a lot of the time.  I’m well-aware that Zelda is considered the least competitively viable character in this game.  That doesn’t stop me from thinking she’s a good character.  She’s fun to play if you like trapping opponents in complex maneuvers.  Mixing up gameplay between her ranged and close-quarters combat is also a lot of fun.  Zelda is better than ever before, and I prefer her to a lot of high tier characters.

6 – Fox

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Straight-up intense speed in a fighting game really appeals to me. When I was first getting into Super Smash Bros., I liked Fox, but recently, I started getting into the competitive Smash scene.  Like many, I started by watching competitive Melee, in which Fox is considered the best character.

I developed a fascination with the character that I carried into my own experience with the game.  It also helps that, in my opinion, Fox in this most recent version of Smash is the best he’s ever been.  Overall, Fox is one of my favorite characters.  His speed and technicality in high-level play embody what I think the series is all about.

Plus, who wouldn’t love playing as a talking space fox?

5 – Cloud

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I never grew up with Final Fantasy games.  I’ve mostly observed the series from afar, but I always thought Cloud Strife from FF7 was a really cool character, the best representative of the series.  He was also one of my most desired Smash newcomers, but because of the complex licensing deals that would be involved, I never expected him to join the roster.

Needless to say, I was just as jaw-droppingly stunned as the rest of the Smash fanbase when Cloud joined Smash.  I remember seeing his reveal trailer late at night before going to bed.  When I woke up the next day, I wasn’t sure if it was actually real.  But as excited as I was about Cloud, he exceeded expectations.

His unique limit break mechanic not only adds a new layer of strategy to his gameplay, but it adds value to the little pauses in-between attacks during each fight to charge the limit meter.  This unique limit mechanic means that Cloud plays like no other character.  I’m incredibly happy about his inclusion and what it means both for Smash and for gaming as a whole.

4 – Lucina

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Lucina has frequently been written off as a pointless character because she has the same moves as Marth, a three-time Smash Bros. veteran.  Personally, though, I feel like Lucina is actually a better version of Marth.  In fact, despite their identical movesets, I think Lucina is a more accessible character.  She’s less floaty, she’s quicker, and she can do damage more consistently due to her lack of a tipper.  ZeRo (AKA Gonzalo Barrios) has expressed this same opinion.

All of her moves do a consistent amount of damage regardless of where her sword hits the opponent.  This is opposed to Marth, whose attacks do more damage when they make contact near the tip of his blade and less damage when they make contact near the hilt.  On the whole, Lucina is better for players like myself, who like diving into the fray more than being precise.

Above and beyond all this, I have a prior attachment to Lucina.  Her original game, Fire Emblem Awakening, was the first Fire Emblem game I ever owned, and it has since become one of my favorite games.  After playing it, I found Lucina to be an interesting character.  I like that she’s fiercely loyal and kind, but awkward and unsociable because of her lonely upbringing.  A lot of people would have preferred other characters over Lucina,  but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

3 – Sonic

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I’m no longer sure of whether I can still call myself a fan of Sonic games due to its lengthy series of ups and downs, I’m definitely a huge fan of the character himself.  I originally got into Sonic with the release of Sonic Generations in 2011, and since then, I’ve gotten pretty good with Sonic in Smash despite the fact that I used to hate him in the game.

His speedy movements and great recovery make him a serious threat, especially because his moves have gotten stronger since the last game.  Although Sonic as a franchise has gotten a bad reputation recently, I sincerely hope this character doesn’t go anywhere — after all, if anyone deserves to be in Smash Bros., it’s Mario’s greatest rival!

2 – Link

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I have a soft spot for Link because I’ve always been a fan of The Legend of Zelda.  When I first got Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the third game in the series, Link quickly became my favorite character.

Although he’s never been particularly viable in advanced, competitive play, Link has always been one of my go-to characters for his nicely weighted movement, decent capacity to do damage, and variety of powerful projectiles.  He has a lot of potential for technical play, particularly on unusually constructed stages. Watching a skilled Link player in action is an amazing experience.  The amount of planning that goes into an effective Link is staggering.  He’s a character who you can play with easily, but takes extreme skill to truly master, and that makes him one of my favorites.

1 – Shulk

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Before the full roster had been revealed, Shulk was my first choice for a Smash Bros. newcomer.  This was mainly because I owned his original game, Xenoblade Chronicles, and to this day it remains my favorite Japanese RPG, a truly underrated gem.

After I played Xenoblade, I knew Shulk would transition beautifully into Smash Bros.  I was even more right than I thought.  The ingenious designers on Masahiro Sakurai’s team turned him into one of the most complex and interesting characters in the series.

I think Shulk’s greatest strengths are his unique Monado Arts and his incredible range.  His Arts, called Jump, Speed, Shield, Buster, and Smash, are based on his unique abilities from Xenoblade Chronicles.  They allow him to greatly enhance particular attributes for a short time at the expense of giving him temporary weaknesses.  For instance, Buster causes Shulk’s attacks to deal more damage, but while using it, he takes more damage himself.  Arts can be switched out at the drop of a hat as the situation requires, making Shulk a force of nature in the proper hands.

These compliment Shulk’s extreme close quarter range — although most of his moves leave him open when they miss, a clever and patient player can do wonders with him.  To this day, he remains my favorite character to play as in Smash Bros. for Wii U.   It was a tough decision, but Shulk’s great design as a character combined with my love of the Xenoblade series make him my absolute favorite character in Smash to date.

And there we have it!  I hope you all enjoyed my long-considered Smash ramble.  To close, I suppose all I can say is, get the game if you haven’t already.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best games out there.