Nintendo Nostalgic: How ‘Starfox’ Brought 3D To Console Gaming
Photo: Nintendo Life
In 1993, a game landed on the Super Nintendo that finally brought full 3D to the console world. It was Starfox, and it rocked. It was also a godsend for anyone desperate for cutting-edge graphics in their games. Things were way tougher in the ’80s and early ’90s, and getting a real 3D experience meant spending cash on dumb things, like the Virtual Boy or 3D glasses that were bigger than your head. The sad truth is until Starfox happened, the only way most of us would ever see a “polygon” is by introducing the cat to our neighbor’s parrot.
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In this Nintendo Nostalgic, we give thanks to a raucous, balls-to-the-wall shoot ’em up that kickstarted console gaming’s graphics revolution.
In ‘93, SNES gamers were crying out for a flagship shoot ‘em up, and Starfox filled that void like death fills a Game of Thrones episode. It marked the debut of Smash Brothers legend Fox McCloud who, with his fellow fuzzy starfighter pilots, has to save the Lylat star system from the invading Dr. Andross.
With multiple routes to choose from, each level had a new planet or space sector to liberate, complete with a horde of oncoming enemies. The action was ridiculously fast: it was tough just to keep your ship from flying into the scenery as it came at you at relentless speed.
But the power-ups, including those awesome, screen-destroying smart bombs, made it all worthwhile. Better still were were those end-of-level boss fights. And if fighting giant robot spiders and fire-breathing dragons wasn't freaky enough, the final battle against Andross himself was the creepiest. Plenty of bosses have sucked in gaming’s history, but only one used it as a weapon.
Before Starfox, the idea of 3D happening on a 16-bit console was about as likely as Kevin Hart ever being funny again. But Nintendo found a way. And they required a British developer, Argonaut Software, to achieve it.
In a rare moment of British engineering actually working, Argonaut helped create the Super FX chip, a breakthrough piece of tech that allowed SNES games to render 3D environments.
The unveiling of the game caused a frenzy. Preorders topped over 1.5 million. Demand was so huge that Sears outlets needed airdrops of the game to maintain supply. And it was all because of those sweet graphics.
Sure, they don’t look like much now. But they sure did then.
Mention the word "furry" and you’ll likely remember an accidental sighting of something on Google that you still can’t un-see. But the '90s were a time uncorrupted by sexually deviant subcultures, and it was fine to have a few animals headline your video game.
The Starfox team is as memorable as they come. Noble leader Fox is joined by cocky bird wingman Falco, wise veteran rabbit Peppy, and croaking toad tech-head Slippy.
While you controlled Fox in his Arwing starfighter, the rest had roles to play. Peppy gave you advice on bosses, Falco was an asshole who insulted you all the time, and Slippy was completely useless at just about everything.
Okay, so not all of their roles were equal, but then not all animals are equal either. Wait, you never read Animal Farm?
We'll make this clear: Starfox’s musical score is one of the best the SNES ever produced. Period. And its FX are somehow even better. The explosion after dropping a smart bomb was immense, especially if you played with headphones. Even the little things like laser fire, or the hilarious chirpings of your teammates all add to the game’s epic atmosphere.
And let’s not forget, the first level, planet Corneria, has the best rock track ever put to a SNES. Fight us if you disagree. No further debate necessary.
Fast, frenetic and downright fun, Starfox remains a landmark classic, and 3D gaming just wouldn’t have been the same without it.