Star Fox 2 is not fun at first. That most likely would have been the case for most players in 1996 as much as it is now in 2017. Belated release on the SNES Classic aside, however, this sci-fi sequel is still a worthy follow-up to the original Star Fox and is a lot of fun once you learn the quirks of the game.
If you have played Star Fox, Star Fox 64, or Star Fox Zero, you likely think of this series exclusively as an on-rails shooter, but Star Fox 2 takes things in a completely different direction. This title is all about real-time strategy. At the start of the game, the player will choose two members of Team Star Fox to send out into the Lylat system. These wingmen will then have to balance time and other resources, including health and special weapons, in order to most effectively take on Andross's forces. Failure to do so results in Andross's forces reaching the planet of Corneria, and if they inflict enough damage on that planet, it's game over for you.
The main bulk of the campaign sees Team Star Fox attempting to take on battle carriers, overrun planets, and all matter of free-roaming enemies, including missiles, drones, viruses, and the pilots of Star Wolf. Each enemy serves different functions, and all must be wiped out before Andross himself can be challenged. That being said, there is hardly any danger of the bad guys overwhelming planet Corneria on normal difficulty. In order to experience the challenge of the game, playing on hard or expert (once unlocked) is recommended.
This strategy-style game design is one of the most crucial elements of Star Fox 2, and it would later go on to inspire a large chunk of Star Fox Command. It's not the only effect this never-before-released title had on other games of the series, though, as another major gimmick went on to inspire a big aspect of Star Fox Zero: the walker transformation for Team Star Fox's Arwings.
Assaults on battle carriers and planets in the Lylat System are where you'll see the most use of an Arwing's walker transformation. Controlling it is somewhat similar to how it was moved in Zero; strafing with the directional pad and aiming with the triggers is a must. Honestly, not much else can be done with the walker other than press switches down over and over. At least shooting and bombing one's way through enemies is satisfying, but once the replays stack up and Star Fox liberates the same planets or destroys near-identical freighters repeatedly, the game's fatigue begins to show.
Tracking down fast-moving missiles and viruses that can turn a defense satellite against you picks up the game's pacing and usually provides a needed sense of urgency to the game. Star Wolf, on the other hand, really does not. Even though dogfights with the pilots are among some of the highlights from Star Fox 64 and Zero, I guess it makes sense that the game that technically preceded those installments could not get the encounters done right. They consist of little more than turning around every time the oncoming fighter passes the Arwing and hoping you can land a charged shot on each new pass, because normal blaster fire does very little damage.
In frustrating scenarios like this, Star Fox 2's lack of polish shows. Aiming with the reticle is not seamless with the graphical capabilities of Super FX technology, and annoying, repetitive dialogue boxes from your wingman pop up occasionally only to give the same generic advice and block nearly half of the screen. In fact, there is less personality in the Star Fox characters than ever before in this title; Fox, Falco, Slippy, Peppy, Miyu, and Fay only ever talk to spout tutorials at you and almost nothing more. As someone who plays Star Fox games in part to see these lovable furry characters, that comes as quite the disappointment.
Visually, this game cannot be judged by modern standards. If this game would have released in the '90s, it would have been a marvel in its time before the launch of the Nintendo 64. Star Fox 2 is ambitious in many ways, and it shows. Even so, I only ever experienced slight drops in the frame rate, even when taking on giant bosses and reactors spewing fire at me.
One last thing to praise is the music in this title. Since it is easy to breeze through some levels in a matter of seconds or a couple minutes, the songs can be easily overlooked. That being said, the title music, staff roll, and themes to each planet are all a joy to listen to if you crave the same kind of techno-inspired beats the original game delivered. Do yourself a favor and at least check out Eladard, Meteor, and Macbeth.
For me personally, Star Fox 2 is my least favorite Star Fox game. The strategy provides an interesting dynamic (although I appreciate the more calculated, diverse levels available in Command), but when the stages interspersed through the real-time map are so repetitive and thin, it is hard for each play session of Star Fox 2 to feel different even though it technically probably is. Back in the day, this title would have blown some minds to be sure. But even today, it is still a fun enough extra for gamers to finally experience on the SNES Classic. Star Fox 2 retains its pick-up-and-play accessibility; shooting down fighters as Team Star Fox is still fun no matter the era.