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It’s been a long journey for ‘Star Fox 2,’ which is officially playable on SNES Classic

Image: Nintendo

Star Fox 2 is coming out ………but what the hell is Star Fox 2?

Most Nintendo fans are familiar with Star Fox, the space combat series starring a talking alien fox that launched during the Super NES era. It was Nintendo’s first game to simulate 3D spaces through the use of polygonal graphics, but — more important than that — it was also hella fun.

Now we have news of a Super NES Classic that, as a bonus, includes Star Fox 2. You probably haven’t heard of it unless you’re a big Nintendo fan. It was basically finished, but never released… and over time has taken on an almost mythical quality.

Now, anyone that picks up an SNES Classic will be able to play it. But! Why should you care? What makes some unreleased game such a creature of legend among Nintendo fans?

The original Star Fox launched in 1993 and it made such an immediate impact that Nintendo quickly set to work with Argonaut Software — the game’s co-developer — on a sequel. The follow-up was to adhere to a "bigger and better" philosophy that would really push what SNES hardware’s limits.

Unfortunately for Nintendo, Star Fox came along midway through the SNES console’s life — which meant the sequel would face growing competition from other, emerging forces in the industry.

"It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and [Sega] Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan," former Argonaut dev Dylan Cuthbert told Nintendo Life in a 2015 interview.

"I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision [to cancel Star Fox 2] was made because they didn’t want the old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side. The rivalry between Sony and Nintendo was very fresh and strong back then because of the whole SNES CD-ROM affair."

Cuthbert told Nintendo Life that the unfinished Star Fox 2 was "about 95 percent complete" when Nintendo dropped the hammer. It was so close to finished that Argonaut went and did it anyway.

"Even after the decision was made we went ahead and completed it, taking it to be fully QA’d through Mario Club."

Not long after, the Nintendo 64 launched and Star Fox 64 came along with some of the aborted sequel’s ideas baked in. Cuthbert had since left Argonaut, first to work with Sony and later to found Q-Games, the studio that would build Star Fox Command for Nintendo DS.

It was during Cuthbert’s triumphant return that a miracle happened: Nintendo passed along the most complete version of Star Fox 2 in existence, the one that benefits from all the fixes and QA tweaks that happened after the cancellation was official. A few copies of the game float around in public forums, but this one was far ahead of those.

Star Fox 2 was built as a direct story sequel to its 1993 predecessor, but with vastly different gameplay. Players would have more ships to choose from, a greater expanse of 3D space to explore — the original was largely on-rails — and randomized encounters.

"There are a few ROMs on the net in various conditions," Cuthbert said. "But the ones I checked out are all old and they don’t have the randomizing Rogue-like stuff working or all the encounters in place, so you don’t really get the feel of the game we were making."

That all changes with the launch of the SNES Classic. Star Fox 2 isn’t unlocked at the outset, but all you’ll need to do to check it out is complete the first level of the original Star Fox. The fact that the sequel is coming out at all is hilarious given Nintendo’s previously stated "no plans for a formal release" position.

Cuthbert sat down for a chat with IGN in 2006 alongside Takaya Imamura, the man holding the keys to the Star Fox series at Nintendo; they were there to chat about Star Fox Command — which, remember, carried inspiration from Star Fox 2. At the time, the outlook for an eventual formal release seemed grim.

Asked if the sequel might appear on the DS handheld — either as a cartridge release or a downloadable Virtual Console game — Imamura laughed.

"Probably not," he said.

"It’d be great if that could happen, but we took the old ideas and made them so much better with Star Fox Command," Cuthbert added. "For the history it’d be great if it did make an appearance."

Finally, it will.