Update 4/25/2016: Some dates were incorrect in the original version of this article. They have been updated.
The Star Fox series has been through a lot since the SNES game, and Fox and his crew are finally back with after a long hiatus with the release of Star Fox: Zero and spin-off title, Star Fox Guard. Of course, there is some concern with the future of the series. The series has noticeably fallen from grace since, and Nintendo has shown it will end even popular and long-running series, such as F-Zero which has not had a new title in almost 12 years. Will the Star Fox series continue strong, so is it doomed to the same fate as F-Zero? With that in mind, let’s see just how well the Star Fox series has performed and see if the series still has a future.
First,I need to clarify something about my data. Old sales data is difficult to come by. Nintendo’s financial statements (on their investor relations website) only go back to 2001, and, game sales were not recorded well outside of Japan. Only recently have large publishers released more comprehensive sales data. Even still, Nintendo only reports sales if they sell over 1 million during a fiscal year. As such, the sources used for this analysis may be unconventional. If there is not a source available, then I have used VGChartz’s numbers. Keep in mind VGChartz is an estimate, so it has the potential to be incorrect. I have compared the numbers VGChartz reports to the official numbers I’ve found, and, generally, VGChatz numbers are slightly greater than the numbers from the official source. I have marked the sales from VGChartz in the table below, so please keep in mind they will likely be a bit higher.
|Sales (in millions)||US||Europe||Japan||Total|
|Star Fox 64||2.76||0.58*||0.57||3.91|
|Star Fox Adventure||0.96*||0.53*||0.26||1.75|
|Star Fox Assault||0.68*||0.18*||0.20||1.06|
|Star Fox Command||0.38*||0.01*||0.09||0.48|
|Star Fox 64 3D||0.48*||0.25*||0.10||0.83|
* VGChartz Estimates
*** VGChartz data also includes Other, which is unclear what this includes. It is excluded from this data
SNES and N64
The original Star Fox released in 1993 and was developed by Nintendo and London based Argonaut Games. Nintendo’s own Shigeru Miyamoto designed the characters while Argonaut worked on the technical aspects. The game was a technical marvel at the time. Using a unique chip known as the Super FX chip, the game rendered 3D polygon graphics. Star Fox went on to be a huge success. According to the data presented above, the game sold 2.92 million. However, Argonaut’s website claimed the game sold 4 million units in total. Regardless, the game was a huge success which prompted a partnership between Nintendo and Argonaut.
Argonaut then began worked on Star Fox 2, a canceled sequel to the original. However, much of Star Fox 2 was reworked and became Star Fox 64. Released in 1997, this game was one of the first major titles released on the Nintendo 64. The game supported 4 player dogfights and came packaged with a new device, the rumble pack. Like its predecessor, the game was a huge success. According to IGN, the game sold 300,000 in its first five days of release. Furthermore, the article states that. The 300,000 unit sell through broke the prior record holders, Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. Both of these games went off to be huge successes (“platinum”, according to the article). In Japan, the game went on to sell 373,000 copies by the end of 1997. Based on the sales data, the game sold roughly 3.91 million copies.
Both games established what the Star Fox series was about. It was a game about flying and shooting down enemy ships for a high score. Both games encompassed just that, Both games with similar in their game play, structure and even plot. It was a tied a true formula given the breakout success of the Star Fox games so far. Moreover, the series was a commercial success with both games doing very well.
After the success of the first two Star Fox games, the series took an interesting turn. Rare, who was still a Nintendo developer, was working on Dinosaur Planet for the Nintendo 64. As the story goes, the series was changed to use Star Fox characters on the request of Miyamoto. This title was the first spin off for the series. Unlike the first two games, this game emphasized exploration and discovery rather than dog fighting. Arwing sections were limited to few instances where players would travel across the planet. The game sold well at 1.75 million (based on VGChartz estimates), but less than the previous two games. Nevertheless, this decline in sales is easily explained by the weaker sales of the Gamecube and the fact this game was seen as a spin-off.
In 2004, Nintendo released Star Fox Assault which returned to Star Fox’s roots with a larger emphasis on dogfighting, but added ground combat (in the vein of a third person shooter) as well. The game also put a large emphasis on multiplayer. Although this game was more akin to the first two Star Fox game, Star Fox Assault sold 690,000 copies less than Star Fox Adventures. One reason for the decline in sales was the game released later in the Gamecube’s life where the system continued to struggle. Another reason was that the series was moving further and further away from the series core: arcade-based shooting and flying. In many ways, fans were getting frustrated with the games rather and wanted the game to focus on flying like Star Fox and Star Fox 64 did.
In 2006, Nintendo released Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS. Due to fan demand, the game focused solely on flying, but also added a tactical aspect as well. During levels, players would draw paths for the ship to engage enemy squadrons and intercept enemies and missiles headed for the Great Fox. Although the game focused on flying, it took a radically different approach with its focus on strategy and multiple endings, some of which were rather bizarre. The game was not what consumers wanted. The game sold less than 1 million units, a first for the series. Moreover, this was on Nintendo’s best selling console, the Nintendo DS, which sold 154 million units worldwide. Conversely,
Since Star Fox Command, there has yet to be a full fledged Star Fox title released. Nintendo released a remake of Star Fox 64 for the 3DS in 2011, but sales of the game were, again, poor selling under 1 million units. The game was likely hampered by the poor sales of the 3DS (as the system struggled in its first year until its price dropped), and possibly because the game was a remake rather than a new title. For comparison, the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time sold 7.6 million (based on what supposedly came from data released by Nintendo), and the remake, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, sold 2.61 million as of Nintendo’s 2011 fiscal year end. The remake’s sales represent 34 percent of the original release sales. Conversely, Star Fox 64 3D’s sales represent 21 percent of the original’s sales. At the same time, the decline could also be due to waning interest in Star Fox from Japanese players, as Japanese sales of the game have declined with each new iteration.
It’s clear Nintendo has struggled with the series. Sales had been weak since the release of Star Fox Assault in 2004, and sales of Star Fox continue to decline in Japan. Miyamoto commented on the weak sales stating “Of course the goal every time is to try and make it more and more fun but, at least in Japan, the people that purchase the Star Fox games has decreased over the years. But we still try to make them more fun and hopefully people will see the appeal in those games.” He also mentioned, in another interview, that did not have any fun new idea of Star Fox on the Wii. He stated “We originally began working with Star Fox back on Wii, and we had a small group of people experimenting with it for many years, maybe about six years, but we didn’t find an idea that really brought that together for the Wii.” Due to poor sales and the lack of any motivation, it seemed the series was done for. However, Nintendo gave in and began development on a new title Star Fox Zero, likely due to fan demand.
So it’s clear there is a lot riding on the new Star Fox title. But to adequately gauge the newest title, we need to understand why the series fell from grace in the first place. Now, some pundits have speculated that the only reason Star Fox was successful was due to technology. In one article, Emily Rogers claims that the success of Star Fox on the SNES was due to the Super FX Chip and that Star Fox 64 sold well due to being packaged in with a rumble pack. This line of thinking seems to be more correlation than causation. Upon release, Star Fox 64 sold as well as Mario Kart 64 and Super Mario 64 (based on the IGN article presented above), but we do not claim those games were a success because of technology. Likewise, Mario Kart games have continued to sell well, yet Star Fox hasn’t. Star Fox Adventures sold well and had positive reception among critics, with an 82 overall on Metacritic. If the series was so dependent on technology, then why did a spin-off on one of Nintendo’s worst selling console still sell almost 2 million units? Claiming technology is the reason Star Fox sold well is over simplifying the issue. While I’m sure the FX chip for Star Fox and including the rumble pack for Star Fox 64 helped these games, they were likely not the sole reason the games were successful at all.
The more likely reason Star Fox has declined as a series may have to do with the games themselves. When you look at the sales of the game, it’s almost like night and day. Star Fox and Star Fox 64 were blockbusters and sold incredibly well. Conversely, since than, keeping Fox in a cockpit.
Star Fox Zero
So how will Star Fox Zero perform? The biggest issue the game has is that it is being released in the Wii U’s twilight years. There have been rumblings of the NX releasing in 2016, so sales of the Wii U and its games will be negatively affected. Moreover, Wii U game have not done very well. The best selling Wii U game, Mario Kart 8, has only sold 7.24 million with the rest of the Wii U’s heavy hitters selling between 2 million and 5 million. That said, the game is clearly focusing on the series strengths and there has been latent demand from consumers for a new Star Fox game. Star Fox Zero was the best selling game on Amazon shortly before its release, indicating that this style of game is what fans want from the series. Also, while critics have panned the game, consumer’s reviews are much more favorable. Star Fox Zero has a metacritic score of 71, but has a user score of 8.2 (out of 10). Of course, since consumers, not critics, are the ones purchasing the game, Star Fox Zero may do alright.
Given that, I expect to sell over a million units, outselling the prior 3 Star Fox games. If the game sells 2 million units, then I’d personally consider it a huge success, but this might be difficult as only a handful of games have sold over 1 million units on the Wii U. Even though 1 million units is still low compared to other games, the Wii U has been a death sentence to Nintendo’s games. For instance, Super Mario 3D World sold 4.63 million units while Super Mario 3D Land sold 10.63 million and Super Mario Galaxy sold 12.59 million. Star Fox Guard is harder to gauge since it’s bundled with Star Fox Zero and because it’s a spin off title. I expect it to sell less than 1 million. If Star Fox Zero is widely successful, then I think the series will have a bright future.
Only time will tell if the Star Fox team will soar to success or if the G-Diffusers will go out again. All I can really say is “Good Luck.”