The best Star Fox game of the decade?
I've got something of a long view on Star Fox. To me, the series is Nintendo (and originally Argonaut Games) doing their absolute damndest to recreate some of the majesty of Space Harrier. Said game is literally perfect, an absolute zenith of the medium by which all other games must necessarily be measured. The Star Fox takes this mode of shooter and adds the requisite Nintendo touches of "make it easier and give it identifiable characters". Star Fox The First also featured the added magic of the Super FX chip on the original SNES game board, which rendered the original as a slow, flat-shaded polygonal nightmare game that is only worth exploring as a curio today. Still, the game's short length, branching paths and score-oriented gameplay betray the game's arcade sensibilities and that spirit has endured in the "main" entries of the franchise to this day.
Star Fox 2 was meant to be the second iteration on this concept, but was shelved at a very late moment in development to more or less underscore the moonshot-style leap in technology of the upcoming Nintendo 64. It seems safe to say the game itself would have seemed a little outmoded even without that consideration, as Star Fox 2 is perhaps even more arcade-ish than the original. The game take the shooty flying levels of the original, adds in some extended sections of third person mech shooting, and frames these levels in a base defense metagame. The game progresses in much the same manner as Star Fox Prime, but your path through the galaxy is self-selected rather than progressed in a linear manner by the game itself. Added into this progression are enemy mobs that seek to distract you from your goals of relieving fallen planets by harrying your home world of Corneria. You can allow enemy fighters and missiles to slip past your squadron unassailed, but your base can only absorb so much damage before you are kicked out of the game. There is also the matter of points; the optimal route through this game would be to kick Andross and his goons out of the galaxy as quickly as possible, while simultaneously keeping your home world and ship in pristine order.
The combination of time management, base defense, and rail shooting seems like a decent spin on the original blueprint. The issue comes, however, when you are asked to play Star Fox on the Super Nintendo. It is my understanding that there are some people who are very sensitive to frame rate issues in games, such that they experience motion sickness and other symptoms. Star Fox on the SNES seems like it could be the stuff of Hell to such people, and Star Fox 2 pushes the system even harder. There are times, such as some of the space missions to intercept incoming missiles, where the game actually moves quite well. But the walker sections are difficult to stomach, and once you've got multiple effects and objects moving around on screen things can get very dicey. When things slow down, the simple act of controlling your craft and fighting off enemies becomes a chore. That these walker levels crop up several times during the game does not help matters at all.
There are merits to the structure of Star Fox 2, and as mentioned the dog fighting has its moments. Clearly Nintendo saw as much, as many ides from this game would be cribbed into later Star Fox titles throughout the years. I think the game may have even found an audience had it been released in its appointed time, rather than squirreled away for two decades and used as a gimmick to drive sales of miniature Super Famicoms (that I would up buying, cough cough). I'd even go so far as to say it is a better game than the original, which at this point is little more than an extremely aged rail shooter with smeary orchestra hit sounding muffled music don't @ me. But the idea of a strategic layer on top of Star Fox shooting was explored at least as well in Star Fox Command, and this game does not measure up to the series' high water mark in Star Fox 64. Its "I can't believe this is a SNES game" trick was already played by its predecessor, and I think it is fair to say that the game's real novelty is in the torturous release history. Star Fox 2 is the best Star Fox game of the decade. Few things could be damned with fainter praise.