I have a soft spot for animals, especially those who speak fluent English and star in video games I like. We had a quick chat about one of our favorite mammalian felons last month, and today felt like an appropriate time to dredge up another criminal, one with an intergalactic bounty on his head.
And I alone couldn’t bring this beast to justice, so let me thank my colleagues:
- My bestie for loaning me his copy of Star Fox: Assault.
- Wolfman J, another good friend, for helping with edits.
- AlphaSSB, Source Gaming guest poster and Star Fox fan, for offering valuable commentary.
As you may know, my New Content Approaching column began its life celebrating the Super Smash Bros. series, and while it’s expanded beyond those boundaries, I still periodically hit the dojo. Since Star Fox’s Wolf O’Donnell was formally unveiled on Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s website one decade ago, and since his series’ twenty-fifth anniversary occurred earlier this week, it seemed like the perfect time to cover Fox McCloud’s eternal rival.
Wolf O’Donnell’s History
Wolf is the leader of the Star Wolf mercenary team, and his pack was planned to start antagonizing the heroic Star Fox in the Super NES’s unreleased Star Fox 2. However, Shigeru Miyamoto estimated Star Fox 64, a reimagining of the original Star Fox, salvaged 30 percent of its concepts from Star Fox 2, and Star Wolf was among them. The ragtag group of rogues were on Andross’s payroll in 64, and its namesake leader served as Fox’s analogue. While Star Fox 64 had a branching campaign, players were guaranteed to encounter Star Wolf and, if you managed to fend them off at Fortuna, the squadron would be visibly wounded during your climatic rematch at Venom.
Star Fox 64 served as the aesthetic basis for the brand’s representation in Super Smash Bros. and Melee. Wolf briefly cameoed in the latter’s opening cinematic, partaking in a dogfight against Fox. According to folklore, however, when Masahiro Sakurai decided to include clone characters, Wolf was initially selected to be Fox’s. Sakurai decided against it when he figured Wolf would be too indistinguishable from Fox, opting instead for the more visually distinct Falco. Although that anecdote isn’t true, Wolf did receive some attention from fans back in 1999 when Sakurai asked which characters his audience would like to see in a second Smash.
After missing out on Rare’s Star Fox Adventures, Star Fox: Assault served as Wolf’s next appearance. Set approximately nine years after 64, Wolf’s team endured a few roster changes, but his hostility to Fox remained unfazed. Nevertheless, Wolf began maturing into more of an anti-hero, directly helping his rival and seemingly sacrificing himself for the greater good. Wolf was also a secret character in Assault‘s multiplayer mode, boasting impressive stats and an affinity for Wolfens.
Star Wolf, per Fox’s intuition, survived the Aparoid invasion in Assault, but they still held bounties over their heads for their previous crimes. This leads us into Star Fox Command, wherein Wolf, Leon, and Panther appeared throughout (and could be key players in) its branching story. Wolf’s signature vessel was his iconic Wolfen, which was one of the many ships you might commandeer on your path towards one of Command’s nine questionably-written endings, three of which prominently featured Star Wolf.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl included Wolf as a secret fighter, likely the final one you unlocked. Sakurai noted Sonic was a late addition to Brawl, but a few factors implied the mercenary’s inclusion was a lucky break too, from his non-presence in “The Subspace Emissary” to lacking his own victory fanfare, something the majority of fighters, including the unfinished Roy and Mewtwo, had. Moreover, Wolf is curiously the concluding opponent in the final co-op Event Match, even behind Brawl’s two guests. Sakurai himself confirmed Wolf “just barely made it in,” evidently because the experience garnered from modeling Fox and Falco expedited the creation of Wolf. At one point it seemed Wolf copied Fox’s kicks, but they ultimately specialized in different limbs.
Sadly, Brawl was also the last place where we would see the Star Fox crew for a lengthy period of time, occasional re-releases of Star Fox 64 notwithstanding. But while Star Fox laid dormant, Smash Bros. reawakened for its fourth and fifth installments. Brawl’s roster didn’t have any fat in need of trimming, but cuts are nevertheless inevitable and, given Star Fox’s inactivity, Wolf could be perceived as one of its more expendable members. And any concern proved to be justified, as not only was Wolf cut, Star Wolf was physically absent from Wii U’s Orbital Gate Assault stage despite appearing in the source material. Wolf’s fans held out hope he’d resurface as DLC, but fellow Brawl alumni Lucas was selected to be the Brawl returnee instead. While there was visible demand for Wolf to return, it sadly didn’t pan out.
However, Miyamoto’s affection for Star Fox never waned, and the man was helming a passion project for the Wii U that would revisit the fan-favorite IP, reimagining its simpler, less cluttered Nintendo 64 installment. Star Fox Zero was first seen as a tech demo at E3 2014, and its formal unveiling was Nintendo’s centerpiece the following year. As Zero was deeply rooted in people’s nostalgia for Star Fox 64 (arguably to a fault), its cast reverted to their 64-era characterizations, with Wolf yet again playing the flagitious counterpart to Fox.
Zero failed to recapture the success of its 64-bit predecessor, though Miyamoto is nonetheless unshaken in his resolve to build Star Fox up. Until its next game graces us, however, last year’s Super NES Classic Edition plug-and-play hosted a pleasant lineup of 21 titles, including the original Star Fox. But one of the other titles is a completed version of the formerly lost Star Fox 2, an announcement that incurred surprise and excitement amongst the public. Finally, fans could enjoy Wolf’s intended debut in a fascinating curio of gaming history!
So, what’re my thoughts on Wolf?
Truth be told, I’m not a Star Fox connoisseur. Make no mistake, I do like the franchise and I wish it well, but I haven’t beaten every Star Fox game nor am I in a rush to. I was introduced to Miyamoto’s sci-fi series through the first Super Smash Bros., and I primarily associate its cast with Smash. Brawl, therefore, was the first outlet I had where I could bond with the aggressive anthropomorphic animal.
I must also confess that I was among those who were let down with Wolf when he was leaked prior to Brawl’s western release. In my defense, however, the earliest glances of him were very unflattering, with his bootleg Landmaster and laser instilling a forboarding sense of disappointment that Brawl’s last newcomer would be a Fox clone. Not that I dislike clones – I welcome them, in fact – but it would nevertheless be a tad deflating for Brawl’s final unlockable fighter to be one, especially following up on Melee’s eclectic, two-dimensional Mr. Game & Watch.
That, thankfully, dissipated rather quickly when I gave Wolf a whirl. His specials are thematically based on Fox’s, there’s no ambiguity there, but they have different properties, making them feel distinct enough (aside from his Final Smash). And that’s not to mention his standard moves, which play up the animalistic nature of the character; Wolf’s not the sole fighter who fought using his claws, but he was the only one whose moveset and posture fostered such a feral demeanor. Although Wolf utilized a handful similar moves and shared a few animations with his base, I’d strongly hesitate to decry Wolf for being derivative of his forbear.
However, even if Wolf’s one-off stint fighting on foot is my most vivid memory of him, I’ve appreciated his presence throughout the Star Fox saga. If you’ve been following my work, you’re aware that I’m a stickler for continuity (and rivalries), and Star Fox is one of Nintendo’s more prolific franchises that overtly advanced its cast. I generally liked Wolf’s progression across the series’ chronology; he started as a fairly one-dimensional villain in 64 yet, while he never forgot his feud with Fox, Wolf later helped him out when the situation demanded it in Assault and Command. It was a relatively gradual, believable shift demonstrating how Fox’s morals affected Wolf’s. Even in Command, wherein Wolf potentially backstabs Fox to clear the bounties on his men, a point is made to show Wolf’s somewhat remorseful for doing so in the “Star Wolf Returns!” ending.
Within the context of Smash and Star Fox, Wolf is his own man. He’ll continue to fly in his home series, and I hope he rejoins the fray in the new Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo Switch.
Congratulations, Wolf! I hope you – and your franchise – stay out of hibernation.
So, how about that new Smash Bros., eh? A few different characters were under consideration for next month’s episode in this column, but since we’re all getting hyped over Smash again, I’m going to put the spotlight on another Smash veteran. It’ll even be someone who was present for Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U!