When Eurogamer leaked the Super NES Classic Edition and everyone started making their lists, no one included Star Fox 2. Hell, we made two lists and even we didn't mention it. The reason? It was never actually released, and there was no reason to suppose that it would ever escape the murky realm of emulation.
That makes it easily the biggest and best surprise from today's SNES Classic Edition announcement. At last, Star Fox fans will get to play the sequel that has to this point been lost to history. Whether or not it's actually good, it's a great moment for the fans.
The only question is whether it's actually complete.
Unfinished prototypes have been floating around the Internet for years, which fans have used to patched together into ROMS. There is a semi-complete version with a fan translation, but it's still buggy, and it lacks some key gameplay features and encounters. Dylan Cuthbert, who programmed both the original and the sequel, claims that a finished version does exist, and that he played it while working on Star Fox Command, but this version has yet to see the light of day.
If it is just a prototype, then it will at least be a cool chance for mainstream fans to see the game that almost happened. But if it is the complete version, then that's huge for fans and historians alike.
Star Fox 2 History Before the SNES Classic
Star Fox 2's story is of course well-known among retro fans and gaming historians. Originally developed in the wake of Star Fox's breakout success on the Super Nintendo, Star Fox 2 was to have been released in 1995—roughly a year before the launch of the Nintendo 64. It would have dramatically expanded on the original game with two new characters, new vehicles, all-range mode, and most importantly, multiplayer.
As originally conceived, it would have been very different from the first Star Fox. The sequel would have eschewed the level-by-level shoot 'em up gameplay of the original in favor of a more tactical experience. It was to have featured a map screen in which players would have piloted their Arwing around the Lylat System and engaged enemy forces as they made contact. The goal would have been to protect Lylat from interplanetary missiles while taking on various bosses, including Star Wolf.
With the Super Nintendo still going strong thanks to Chrono Trigger and Donkey Kong Country, there was plenty of room for a Star Fox sequel, but the advent of the 32-bit generation changed Nintendo's calculus.
"It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan," Star Fox programmer Dylan Cuthbert told Nintendo Life back in May 2015. "I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision 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."
Star Fox 2 was subsequently shelved despite being functionally complete, relegating it to the status of historical curiosity.
Since then, many of Star Fox 2's most innovative features have filtered into other games. All-range mode, multiplayer, and the villainous Star Wolf were all introduced in Star Fox 64. The more tactical gameplay became a fixture of Star Fox Command on the DS. The transformable walker made its debut in Star Fox Zero.
Indeed, Star Fox as a whole has been largely missing in action on Virtual Console. Star Fox 64 was released on the Wii and the Wii U, but the original remains conspiciously unavailable. There is some confusion as to why this is the case, with speculation ranging from the built-in SFX chip being difficult to emulate to Argonaut demanding licensing fees. That it's included in the SNES Classic alongside its lost sequel makes this release all the more momentous.
Prominent gaming historian Frank Cifaldi, who recently founded the Video Game History Foundation, praised Nintendo's decision to dig into their catalog of unreleased games, and added that he hoped it would indeed be a feature complete version with an English language script. "As archivists, there's only so much we can do to help preserve history like this on our own. There is no way that a final version of [Star Fox 2] (assuming that's what this is) could have been seen by anyone without Nintendo finding a way to sell it, so this is good news for everybody. I don't honestly know how much unreleased material still exists over there, but hopefully the positive buzz this is getting will inspire others to dig through their vaults too."
Hopefully Nintendo does indeed seize the moment and release a master version of Star Fox 2, assuming it still exists. Regardless, it's great to see them use the SNES Classic as more than an opportunity to cash in on the same games we've seen time and again.
Look for the SNES Classic on September 29. Go here for everything you need to know about its release date, as well as its full lineup of games.