Well hasn’t the E3 rumor mill been churning something wicked these past couple weeks? From overexcited Walmart listings to the leak of Pokemon Let's Go, the skeptics had to work overtime in May. One possibility that seems to have surprised everyone, however, is the prospect of a new Star Fox game. Allegedly titled Star Fox Grand Prix and developed by Retro, it looks like it will forgo the series’ rail shooter format to instead be a space-set racer. Those fearful of the franchise’s new home needn’t worry. Time and time again Retro Studios have proved themselves adept at reinventing long-stagnant Nintendo franchises.
For one thing, a new take on Star Fox is just what the doctor ordered following the release of 2016’s lackluster Star Fox Zero. Admittedly the game did fall victim to releasing on an underselling home console during the end of its lifespan, but it simply ended up feeling somewhat like a half-step. For all intents and purposes, Zero could best be viewed as remake of Star Fox 64, a game that by comparison, was regarded as a technical marvel at the time. A racing game might seem like an odd choice at first glance, but with no indication of F-Zero’s return – outside the odd Smash Bros stage – this could be the much-needed kickstart Star Fox needs.
So why Retro Studios? It all becomes clear when looking back at the previous work they’ve done with other Nintendo first-party IPs. Founded as far back as 1998 for the explicit purpose of creating new kinds of experiences for the GameCube, after a flurry of false starts Retro was finally handed the coveted Metroid series to work on. This wouldn’t just be another back and forth side-scroller, however, but a 3D action-adventure that would translate the general mood, mechanics, and atmosphere the series was known for, retrofitting it for a new console age.
Even 16 years on Metroid Prime remains a modern classic to this day. Largely as a result of Retro’s willingness to stay true to the mysterious vibes and ethereal settings the series was known for, while letting players experience it from a totally new perspective. The game retained familiar Metroid staples like gaining power-ups to access previously inaccessible areas, morph ball platforming sections, letting you run riot in order to solve the mystery of the biological experiments plaguing planet Tallon IV. Awkward controls aside, Metroid Prime saw Retro Studios prove their worth as a formidable developer. Not only were they capable of developing a great game in their own right, but also tackle an established formula and make it feel truly original.
Following two more successful sequels in Echoes and Corruption, the latter being an important title in showing the heft of Nintendo’s new Wii, Retro turned their eyes to yet another classic franchise. With Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Retro Studios once again pulled another U-turn. This time not solely for another revived series, but also for themselves by switching from 3D to 2D — a huge ask considering how well it worked when they did the opposite! Despite this, the goal with Donkey Kong was very much the same: to invoke a sense of nostalgia with art and sound, all while shifting what players could expect gameplay-wise.
In some ways, Retro’s work with Donkey Kong was less about reinventing the wheel and more about reminding people that 2D platformers had plenty of new life. Things that would have proved possible on the NES and SNES were suddenly there for the taking. Tropical Freeze particularly displayed courage in how Kong could move about the levels, shifting between foreground and background, avoiding over-simplification the genre usually implies by keeping the platforming challenge varied and tight. This old-school difficulty stays intact even in the game’s recent Switch re-release.
Suddenly when taking both Donkey Kong and Metroid Prime into account, the outcome of Star Fox Grand Prix – should it even exist – bodes well. So why racing?
Well, other than the fact that Star Fox seems ripe for the format, what with its anthropomorphic characters, ship-based combat, and vibrant vistas, Retro Studios also have some slight experience testing their tires on the track. When rumors began circulating most people were rightly concerned about how the game would stack-up against the juggernaut that is Mario Kart. However, it’s too often forgotten that Retro themselves at a huge hand in that series’ 3DS title.
Co-developed in 2010 alongside Nintendo EAD, Mario Kart 7 continued the franchise’s nature of remastering old tracks featured in previous entries. It’s in doing this that Retro learned the makings of a good track, pulling from Mario Kart’s best and most-loved. This gives hope that Star Fox Grand Prix will not only include many a thrilling track, but that it will be able to shine brightly and craft an identity of its own. Retro Studios have proved themselves the masters of reinvention up until this point and should the apparent Star Fox racing game exist, it’s likely that this will be cemented more so. After all, four years is more than enough time to literally reinvent the wheel for a team so talented!