Welcome back to my Nintendo article in the “needs to make” series. Nintendo’s list of stuff they should be doing is so deep that I’ve had to split it into two parts (Part 1 can be read here
), but I’m forging ahead nonetheless. Moving on to the other game genres Nintendo has yet to explore, let’s look at:
Genre 4: The sandbox
Technically, you could say that both Zelda and Metroid are sandbox games, at least in the sense that they both consist of open continuous worlds, particularly since the introduction of Ocarina of Time and Metroid Prime, respectively. Even then Nintendo hasn’t done an honest-to-goodness, GTA style sandbox game filled with diverse locations and wandering pedestrians. This is probably because they want to avoid tarnishing their family friendly reputation with the acrid controversy that always surrounds a GTA, like the smoke billowing out of a torched Infernus. Nintendo doesn’t have to get grim, violent and sophomorically immature to do a sandbox game, though—in fact, they already have a property that would fit the genre quite well: Star Fox.
If you take a minute to think about it, sandbox gameplay is the best way to put the identity-confused space combat series back on the path to success. Let’s be honest—we haven’t had a real triple-A Star Fox sequel since Star Fox 64. SF Adventures was a decent Zelda clone but it was clear that originally, it was never meant to include Fox and his gang. SF Assault was an ambitious attempt to return the series to its arcade action roots, but in the end it came off a little too arcade and, despite a good multiplayer, a wide variety of gameplay styles and a fantastic orchestral musical score, it felt rather schizophrenic and way too short.
And then we have SF Command, the DS game where the original Star Fox developers basically recreated the SNES sequel that got cancelled so many years ago. Command had some interesting ideas but the RTS elements and stylus controls didn’t exactly fit the series like a flight suit glove, and the actual flight combat got pretty repetitive. It’s kind of like Zelda Phantom Hourglass: cool experiment guys, but don’t do it again.
To be honest I’ve been waiting for somebody to do an open-universe space combat game for years, particularly involving Tie Fighters, X Wings and Lucasarts. The technology wasn’t there a generation or two ago, but now that consoles can handle big, continuous worlds, why not take that landscape into space? Let me give an example to illustrate my point.
Let’s say there’s this huge crisis tearing the Lylat system apart. Fox McCloud is busy mopping up bad guys at the edge of the solar system, on Titania or something. Then a call comes in from General Pepper, about his base on Corneria being attacked. Fox leaves Titania, shoots up through the atmosphere and docks with his mothership. It warps to Corneria and Fox flies out of the hanger into a huge blockade. He batters his way through an epic on-rails level and zips down to the planet’s surface, just in time to defend the Cornerian base from the attack. To do a clean sweep, he punches his Arwing into overdrive and flies clear to the other side of the planet, wiping out enemy ships and liberating small bases as he goes.
Just as he’s wrapping up business on Corneria, he receives a transmission about pirates in the asteroid belt. Once again he boards his mothership and arrives at his destination, but this time he’s outnumbered and must sneak into the pirate stronghold on foot and take out their leader. When he’s finished there he explores a bit, surveying various planets, flying over their landscapes and landing whenever he wants to take in the on foot.
All of this happens without a single load screen, and all within the same big space environment; rail combat, all range fighting, and in-depth infantry combat, all without a level change or other break in the action. Pre-set missions could happen randomly or more likely be assigned when the player goes to accept a mission, like in GTA or Farcry 2—after all, Fox and his team are mercenaries. The point is that Fox isn’t restricted to the limited, level-based system of the older games. He can enter and leave planets at will, explore them in vehicles or on foot at his leisure for things to do, and travel around the entire Lylat system in his mothership.
Including the other members of the Star Fox team as playable characters would also diversify the gameplay more than any previous entry in the series. Each character could specialize in a certain field—air combat, Landmaster tank control, infantry, infiltration and the like. I liked how you could play as the whole team in Command, with different attributes for each member’s ship, so applying this idea to character traits seems like a natural direction to take. Different characters could tackle missions suited to their skills; Falco is best for air defense, while Krystal could sneak into bases and beat enemies up with her staff. The solar system map could even be broken into patrol sectors for each character—maybe Fox can’t make it to a besieged planet in time, so he calls up Falco or Bill because they are closer to the action.
Of course, to get this kind of wide ranging solar system sandbox game, Nintendo will have to write a decent story that plunges Lylat into some huge disaster. I’m not asking for Shakespeare here; just something coherent, fun and simple. The biggest issue is getting Fox and friends a new bad guy to fight. Ever since Andross died things just haven’t been the same—the Aparoids and Anglars just weren’t compelling substitutes. It’s like if Bowser or Ganondorf kicked the bucket. A unifying threat is all a new Star Fox game needs to really direct the action.
Fragmentation and loss of direction has been Star Fox’s biggest problem since SF64. Command had nine different endings, most of them involving Fox breaking up with his girlfriend. If the goofy, sci-fi action plot of the Star Fox games is ever to get back on track, Fox and his buddies need to work out their relationship issues and get back to shooting lasers at things. If I’m playing Star Fox, I want to do a barrel roll and use bombs wisely, not slog through lines of fanfiction fodder.
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