Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to Make a Star Fox Sequel

Hey y'all.  So I've been watching let's plays of Star Fox let's plays lately, and now I'm watching Star Fox Assault.  It's really boring.  To watch anyway.  I'm not really going to get into a review of SFAs, but I'll just say that it's a bit lacking.  If you're trying to make Star Fox recover from that "Adventures" debacle, then maybe you should add features rather than cut them.

So a quick summary.  Assault was at least a little less ridiculous than Adventures.  You get to go more into the arwing, but there are a lot of foot and landmaster (tank) missions.  However, there is only one route to go, which is a betrayal of the main Star Fox gameplay.  The voice acting is annoying for several characters, and even where it's acceptable it just doesn't sound anything like the previous incarnations of those characters: Wolf and Leon in particular.  Also, the lines that they're given are very dumb, and the mission briefings are needlessly goofy.  And General Pepper has really creepy eyes.

But, on the plus side, it has good gameplay....hey, is that Fox standing on a wing of a space vehicle?  ...Okay...that's...logical.  Well, this is a video game, and it does look kinda fun.

That's not what this blog is about.  It's just that, while I've been watching the let's plays, I've been thinking of some ways to make the Star Fox franchise find its way again.

The weird thing about Star Fox is, the history of the game makes it pretty clear that the makers of this game don't really know why it became popular in the first place.  At the time there's no telling who knew about Star Fox 2, because at that period the internet wasn't huge, but it's significant.  You see, the first Star Fox was a more or less straightforward space shooter game, but the planned Star Fox 2 was a real time strategy game.  You would have to defend Corneria from various attacks, and every attack you did took time, giving the other enemies more time to reach Corneria.  So if you take a long time saving a planet, that means a missile is that much closer.

Now the gameplay of Star Fox 2 is actually pretty good.  It's not perfect, especially since it was never officially released, but you could see how a system like that would work.  Problem is, this would have been the second Star Fox ever, and it has entirely different gameplay from the first.  This means that the game developers thought that Star Fox would not be successful enough if it stayed similar to its first game.  They had a hit, but then suddenly wanted to change it.

That's pretty weird.  I mean, normally any sensible businessperson with a good product would try to sell what he knows people will like before trying to adjust that product.  Crap, Mega Man sold 6 games on the SNES before changing their formula significantly in 7 and 8.  And the next Mega Man game?  A throwback to the older ones.  People are creatures of habit, and while Mega Man did need more variety, it is a witness that routine sells pretty well.

So why change Star Fox right off the bat?  Fortunately for the series, the Nintendo 64 came out and the developers decided to hold off on Star Fox 2 and make Star Fox 64, the favorite of the series.  I personally like the original better, but that's just my taste.  I'm fully aware that 64 was a better game, because it improved on gameplay issues I didn't even know existed in the first.

Now, one can guess that Nintendo did a more or less remake on Star Fox because they wanted to have a game made quick enough so that they would be able to capitalize on the newness of the 64.  They didn't have time to do any huge gameplay changes.  However, the very next game they do (several years later) is a game that is literally made from a Zelda engine.  What the crap?

I've already done a review of that game, so for now I'll just say that if you're a Star Fox fan who waited ten years for another Star Fox game, you don't want to play a radically different, cheese-fest platformer.  If we wanted to play Zelda, we'd buy Zelda.  You have to wonder if Nintendo had just given up on Star Fox, and gave Adventures Star Fox characters just on a whim, or if they actually thought fans would like it.

It's been said that Star Fox Adventures would have been a good game on its own, without the Star Fox characters.  However, even when mild supporters of the game talk about it, they just talk about all the negative stuff in it.

Moving on!

So, if ever Nintendo should read this, here's my advice to them to make a good sequel.

1. Remember all of the things that made Star Fox 1 and Star Fox 64 good.  There are three keys to this:

- The weird stuff.

The thing I loved about the original game is that it was weird.  It had strange enemies, bizarre retrofuture graphics, and asteroids with evil grins on their faces.  If you find one of the secret endings, you get to fight a giant lotto machine.  When playing the game you discovered all sorts of strange things and you looked forward to whatever weird thing you were going to have to fight next.

64's Star Fox was less weird, but you still looked forward to a bunch of weird stuff, like that thing you fight at Solas.  You also have different gameplay aspects to have fun with, like fighting the train on Macbeth or piloting a sub.  There was a sense of discovery as you played the game, and you never really knew what to expect next.  And the final boss on hard  Now that was weird.

- Being a fighter pilot.

Despite the fact that you're playing as an anthropomorphic animal, the better Star Fox games have always maintained a sort of "realistic" approach.  Realistic as in you really felt like a fighter pilot, and even though you were fighting the weirdest enemies, you were still behaving as a fighter pilot.  You can even do first person shooter mode...but nobody ever does.  Still, the option is fun.  And dizzying.

So yeah, we're fighter pilots.  We pilot ships.  We don't wander around on the ground, we don't stand on airplane wings, and we don't do stupid fetchquests for lazy, cowardly dinosaurs.  We shoot baddies and get paid for it.  How hard is that to get?

- Alternate pathways.

Do I really have to mention this?  The entire replayability of good Star Fox games comes from being able to choose a new path when the game starts up again.  So why do only two games in the series have these?  There are alternate endings in Star Fox Command, but that's not quite the same.  It's just so wrong that Nintendo doesn't understand that all the players want is just a traditional Star Fox.  It's not that hard to get.

2. Cut down on the story.

This seems like weird advice, but it makes sense when you think about it.  How much story did the most popular games have?  Almost none.  Gameplay is king in a game, not the plot.  Also, the plot that was already forced on Star Fox means that Peppy, one of the funniest characters, is no longer a pilot.  This plot forced on the fans things like a planet of dinosaurs, a cheap love interest (though I guess they could fix that), and a monkey named Oikenny.  Ugh.

So just ease up on the plot, alright?  Instead of driving plot, which forces the story to a conclusion (i.e. Peppy getting older forces the other pilots to age as well, because you can't just ignore time), work on dwelling plot, like about how the Star Fox world works.  Just because there was like ten years between Star Fox 64 and Assault doesn't mean ten years had to pass in-game.

Now, Fox and his team are not a part of the Cornerian army.  They're separate fighters, basically hired guns that save the day.  Doesn't that make the Star Fox team mercenaries?  So, for the next Star Fox game, allow the team to be hired by somebody besides Corneria.  Note that this plot opens up gameplay options rather than takes away from them.  There's no telling what another boss might hire Fox to do.  Like, you could be hired to protect a space transport, and the more segments of the transport that get destroyed the less you get paid at the end.  Or an evil person could hire the team, and once Fox figures out what's going on, the player will have to stop the evil guy.  Isn't that a great idea?

3. Weird colors and art.

One of the things I just loved about Star Fox originally was the stuff you could look at.  Everything was so cubic and interesting.  If only the gamecube had produced a traditional game instead of had great colors, and if you were flying through it rather than puttering around it would have been a lot more interesting.

So yeah.  More colors.  Add things like: warp zones, flying through jungle areas, going through a planet's atmosphere, enemies that reflect light, and weird space thingies that nobody knows what the crap they are.  Because weird things are awesome.

4. Please, no more walking.

While on the surface it seems fine for Fox and the bunch to emerge from their ships at times, there's a business problem with this.  How many other games out there where people walk on foot and shoot stuff?  It's so common!  Halo, Mario Sunshine, Metal Gear Solid, Wolfenstein, and forty bajillion other games feature this.  So, in a purely business sense, you have to ask yourself why someone would buy a Star Fox game like this when they can buy another game which is probably going to be better at it.

And then ask yourself a second question.  How many games feature fighter pilots?  I personally can think of a few mildly popular PC games that came out several years ago, but for the most part this genre is empty and open.  So it's perfectly natural for Star Fox to fill this gap.  I mean, he is a STAR fox, after all.

Now, if you MUST have the guys emerge from their ships, then I have three ideas for how to work it.  All of which require less walking.

- Make walking the "all range mode" in the landmaster missions.  No real person can travel a long way on foot, so maybe it could be possible to get out of the landmaster for a mission.  Like say, you have to rescue someone from a building and then get back to the tank before other people destroy it.  Or maybe you have to run from the landmaster to the arwing on foot.  I'm not sure about this one.  It maybe could have too much walking.

- Allow the player to walk on foot not during a mission, but on the Great Fox.  Like, you could go to Fox's bunk and take a nap, look up planet information on the computer, access soundtrack songs on the radio, talk to your team who are scattered about, that sort of thing.  It would be cute, wouldn't it?

- Allow the player to walk on Corneria.  There was a good mission on Star Fox Assault where you could walk about the city, except that there were no civilians and it was basically a nice environment.  My suggestion is to turn this into a town you can hang out at between missions.  You could go to the Great Fox for the main story, but also go to stores for repairs and to buy bombs, or go to other places (and this is where the mercenary thing comes in) and be hired by other bosses.  Maybe there could be one mission where Corneria is attacked, and you have to save it.  However, if this a mission was done this way, you should have the option to go to your arwing or landmaster, but if you're too slow your arwing or landmaster will be destroyed before you get there, and you might have to fight with a gun instead of a vehicle.  But that's as far as it goes.

5.  More arwing!

I've basically said this several time during my other suggestions, but just to emphasize it one more time, MORE ARWING!  This series won acclaim because of its piloting gameplay, so stop trying to change the gameplay into something different.  I said stop it!

6. The switch.

Okay, I'm gonna reverse myself a little.  There was something I really liked about Star Fox 2 that isn't quite traditional to the good games.  It was that you could switch from the arwing to a walker form.  In SF2 you would have to enter enemy space ships and take them out, and you could either stay as a plane or go into walker mode.  You would go faster in arwing mode, but you could actually stop and do detailed work with the walker.  At any time you could switch, and if there was a game specifically designed to be able to have this sort of optional gameplay, it could work.

So that's today's rant.

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