Star Fox 2 (found complete build of cancelled multidirectional shooter; 1993-1995)
The title screen of the final version.
Date found: 1999 (Early Alpha)/2002 (Final Beta)/29 Sept 2017 (Complete Version)
Found by: Unknown/Nintendo
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 the summer of 1995.
In February 1994, Dylan Cuthbert, an 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.
The game 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 re-planning alongside a release delay, and to keep customers' attention, they showcased a few of their current projects. The 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 was an exception, however, receiving praise from the attending audience and frequent use of the playable version.
There is a persistent rumor that one of the builds have 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 build, but the thief was detected and caught, and the cartridge was 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 rumors 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 acknowledgment 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.
The Leaked Builds
In May-September 1999, the now-defunct ROM site cherryroms.com, which tracked the status of ROMs, removed Star Fox 2 from its list of dumped ROMs. It is reasonable to assume it had been leaked around that time and turned out to be an early internal alpha build, even earlier than the one available to 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 build appeared on a German website, describing a much later stage of the game's 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 into 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 the 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.
Even though Nintendo had never publicly stated to have continued working on Star Fox 2, on June 26th, 2017, Nintendo announced the SNES Classic. One of the 21 games on the console is the complete version of Star Fox 2. It is also the only exclusive title for the SNES Classic. The game is accessed through beating the first level of the original Star Fox.
On December 4th, 2019, Nintendo's official YouTube channel showcased upcoming games added to Nintendo Switch Online's SNES game service via an update, with one of those games being Star Fox 2. The update released on December 12th, 2019.
- Super FX Chip Games (partially found builds of unreleased video games utilizing coprocessor; 1993-1995)
- Wikipedia page on Star Fox 2. Retrieved 26 Feb '20
- SNES Central article on Star Fox 2. Retrieved 11 Apr '15
- Archived Emulatorium interview with Dylan Cuthbert. Retrieved 11 Apr '15
- digitpress.com Forum thread discussing the removal of Star Fox 2 from cherryroms.com. Retrieved 11 Apr '15
- Archived German website detailing the final beta build of the game (including screenshots). Retrieved 11 Apr '15
- SNES Central page on "THE ULTIMATE STARFOX 2 FAQ V0.9" (see Section 2.3). Retrieved 11 Apr '15
- Official Nintendo page for the SNES Classic, includes the reference to Star Fox 2. Retrieved 26 Jun '17