Developed by Nintendo in conjunction with British company Argonaut Software, who impressed with their 1986 Amiga release Starglider, and released in Japan and the US as Star Fox, the title was changed to Starwing for European audiences due, apparently, to concerns that there might be confusion with something called StarVox and not, as one might assume, anything related to either the 1987 Spectrum/C64 release Starfox or the 1983 Atari 2600 release Star Fox (ranked 7th in a list of the worst Atari 2600 games!). Though Starwing, as a name for a space-based shooter, seems about as frightfully generic as one could get, a cursory google suggests that, by contrast, it stands in conflict with no other games, or anything else save for a “boutique management agency specializing in sports and entertainment” founded in 2011. It does, however, skirt somewhat close to being the same name as Star Wars: X-Wing, a game to which comparisons in this post were already essentially mandatory.
I mean, it’s abundantly clear playing either game that neither would exist without the Star Wars film franchise. With small spaceships called ‘Arwings’ and missions involving flying said small spaceships down the corridors of huge space stations in order to hit the weak point at their core, Starwing isn’t exactly subtle about its influences on that particular front. And while, unlike X-Wing, it may not have the license to use things like the iconic music or, y’know, the name to scream “STAR WARS!” at you, Starwing actually does a much better job at translating the general feel of watching a Star Wars film to the medium of video games.
In both games, you are accompanied on your missions by wingmen who are ostensibly there to assist you; in X-Wing they… blow up a few enemy ships for you before hyperspace jumping away (I think?), while in Starwing, they fly in front of you, calling out for help from the enemy ships chasing them down and generally getting in the way. Now, clearly, only the former is of any actual assistance to you, but it’s also by far the less noticeable of the two, to the point that I’m not entirely sure if it was actually happening or not. Similarly, the identities of the wingmen of X-Wing are totally invisible to me, whereas Starwing’s characters come across loud and clear; there’s Slippy, the bumbling comic relief, Falco, the brooding jerk, and Peppy, the… other one. OK, but still, two out of three ain’t bad. Now, none of them are exactly overflowing with hidden depths, but frankly, neither were Han Solo or Obi-Wan Kenobi. The point is, the easy camaraderie their dialogue displays brings across that feel of a ragtag band of misfits coming together to fight off an oppressive and overwhelming force against all odds.
And this aspect of the game is, very specifically, what Nintendo brought to the table here. They took what would have been a workmanlike and perfectly enjoyable, if unmemorable, shooter and added a touch of magic that turned it into a minor classic that spawned a handful of successful sequels over multiple console generations. For many companies, this would be the flagship franchise, the one that put them on the map. For Nintendo, it probably doesn’t even break the top five.