Star Fox 2 is a video game that was in production by Argonaut Software from 1993 to 1995 that was set to be the sequel to the hit SNES game Star Fox. The project was first revealed around December 1993, promising much better texture quality and frame rate along with a new story.
Development and Cancellation
Development on Star Fox 2 started on February 16th 1993 and continued without public announcement throughout that year. Perhaps the first mention in public press happened in an issue of Game Players from January 1994. In that article, the development of the Super FX 2 chip and the split screen multiplayer feature were revealed. A commercial release was generally expected to happen in summer of 1995.
In February 1994, Dylan Cuthbert, employee with Argonaut and closely involved with the development, revealed in two Usenet postings that Star Fox 2 would make use of polygons as opposed to sprites. He also mentioned a delay in the development schedule by 6 months as the gameplay appeared generally unsatisfying.
Star Fox 2 was first publicly shown at the 1995 Consumer Electronics Show with a playable build for the public. Nintendo's spearhead project, the Ultra 64, underwent heavy replanning alongside a release delay, and to keep customers attention, they showcased a few of their current projects. Critical reaction towards most the demonstrated efforts on the show was poor, likely due to a combination of the difficulties the industry experienced with the switch from 2D to 3D graphics as well as the upcoming first E3, scheduled for May that year, taking away media attention from the event. The Star Fox 2 display being an exception however, receiving praise from the attending audience and frequent use of the playable version.
There is a persistent rumour that one of the builds having surfaced over the years was stolen from this display. The truth is that there was indeed an attempt to steal one of the cartridges containing the Star Fox 2 build, but the theft was detected, the thief caught and the cartridge returned. This build has never surfaced publicly.
Star Fox 2 was not on display for the E3 in May 1995. Instead, Nintendo showcased the N64 hardware, called Ultra 64 at the time, alongside the Virtual Boy and several games to put emphasis on the 3D technology. Things have gone silent around the SNES game, giving grounds for rumours that it had been delayed and reworked for the upcoming Nintendo console one the one hand, allowing and perpetrating hear-say that it had been cancelled.
In the September 1995 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly it was stated that the game had been cancelled quietly. This garnered a response from the Nintendo Power magazine, stating that the game's development had not been put on hold. Instead, additional gameplay features and better graphics were promised, but it was also admitted that a definite release date is not there yet. A release in the first half of 1996 was supposedly likely, however.
This central promise of the Nintendo Power response turned out to be false; it was the last official word from Nintendo on Star Fox 2. It was never released, quietly cancelled without an official statement or acknowledgement of reasons. Retrospectively, it can be concluded that a game like Star Fox 2, while setting standards for the console it was developed on, simply didn't fit into the direction video games were taking at the time, as full fledged 3D accelerator hardware was more powerful and far more capable than what a system with half a decade of age in an influential time period for 3D technology could hope to achieve.
On an interview on the now defunct website emulatorium.com, uploaded on 11 October 1999, Dylan Cuthbert revealed that Star Fox 2 was, from a programming standpoint, complete.
Elements of the game were recycled in later games:
- Star Wolf reappeared in Star Fox 64 as secondary antagonists, going on to become recurring antagonists throughout the series. The character Miyu had her flirtatious personality transferred to Katt Monroe.
- The overworld and ability to use multiple characters with different stats reappeared in Star Fox Command.
- The Arwing's walker mode reappeared in Star Fox Zero. In addition, Katt Monroe gained an earring on her right ear, mirroring Miyu.
The Leaked Builds
In May-September 1999, the now defunct but undeniably influential ROM site cherryroms.com, tracking the status of undumped ROMs, that is, not available or not transferred to a personal computer for backup, removed Star Fox 2 from its list of undumped ROMs. It is reasonable to assume it has been leaked in this time slot and turned out to be an early internal alpha build, even earlier than the one available for the public at the 1995 CES show. Despite it coming from an early stage of development, it included a multiplayer mode with a split screen, an impressive technical feat for 3D polygon rendering at the time. On the other hand, it clearly displays the infancy stage of the game, as the screen flickers noticeably black and it freezes when a level is finished.
In 2002, screenshots of a Star Fox 2 build appeared on a german website, describing a much later stage of the games development. The ROM that these screenshots originate from is readily available today. Claims are divided, however, about the way that this particular build surfaced and even how it came to existence; one account claims to have found it on a production cartridge, one primary source, supposedly directly involved with surfacing the ROM, claims that the ROM was compiled from Star Fox 2 source code and that more than one build found its way to people not involved with the development . Other sources claim that it came from an already compiled binary dump that a former developer provided; this particular claim goes so far as to say that there never was a source code leak that led to the assembly of the ROM and no production cartridge was available to dump from.
Whatever the case, the particular ROM that is available on the internet today is considered to be a final beta, with the game features and the single player mode intact and fully developed. It also contains hard coded cheats, a frame rate counter and other debugging features. It does not, however, contain a multiplayer mode and was written in Japanese. Given Cuthbert's statement that the game was finished, it is likely that either further progress was made to remove programmer cruft and prepare a public release or that this version is as far as production ever got. Today, this ROM can be played on recent SNES emulators that support Super FX chip emulation.
The Belated Official Release
In 2017, Star Fox 2 was given an official release on the SNES Classic, with official English translations of the Japanese text.
- http://www.snescentral.com/article.php?id=0077 - main reference for the entire article
- http://www.snescentral.com/0/0/7/0077/sf2_faq.txt, see Section 2.3