In 1993, Nintendo released the game Star Fox on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Renamed Starwing in Europe (for fear of confusion with the German company Starvox) the game was a first-person rail-shooter in which the player took control of an Arwing spacecraft piloted by Fox McCloud. Fox and his fellow space mercenaries Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad formed the Star Fox team, charged with repelling the invading forces of a renegade scientist named Andross and saving the Lylat system – a solar system inhabited by a variety of anthropomorphic life forms based on various animals.
And what was one of the biggest inspirations behind the concept and overall look of the game? Yep, Thunderbirds.
A game based on a team of fighter pilots was nothing new even back then, and if that was all that was required for a game to earn the ‘inspired by Thunderbirds’ label we’d be looking at a very long list. While the game itself features no direct reference to the series (with its early 3D graphics now perhaps more closely resembling the video game played frequently by Tiger Ninestein in Terrahawks) the Anderson influence was most noticeable in how it was marketed. Puppets were built of the four main characters for promotional material (appearing on the box art for both Star Fox and Starwing) specifically because the game’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, was a fan of the Supermarionation series. In a 2011 interview he recalled not only the inspiration they had had on his work, but also a plan to use Star Fox to lure Gerry Anderson back to the world of puppets;
“Back when we released it, I imagined Star Fox selling a lot and the company that produced Thunderbirds coming all the way from England for negotiations to adapt it into a puppet drama. And then I would say, “To be honest, I’ve always loved Thunderbirds.” Licensing it out by saying so was a dream of mine. And that’s all it ever was!”
If you don’t recognise the name of Shigeru Miyamoto you will certainly recognise the names of his other world-famous video game creations; the Mario, Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, F-Zero, and Pikmin franchises. Although he didn’t mention Gerry Anderson by name and it’s doubtful Gerry ever even heard of Starwing it remains a tantalising ‘what if?’ thought to wonder what might possibly have come from a collaboration between the two, whether that had been a Star Fox series or a new iteration of Thunderbirds.
Star Fox 64 (known to PAL-region players as Lylat Wars), a sequel which arrived on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, once again took inspiration from Thunderbirds; “even though we would usually want the character animation to look natural, we had puppets in mind, so the characters’ mouths pop open and closed.” Coincidentally (or perhaps not), this approach also saved time and money on animation…
Star Fox soon became one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises. As recently as 2014 Miyamoto was still looking to Thunderbirds for inspiration for future Star Fox adventures (“One idea that I had for Star Fox is something like the Thunderbirds TV series, where they had all these different vehicles and Mechs that they could use.”) and the characters – plus Miyamoto himself – once again appeared in puppet form in 2015 in material produced by the Jim Henson Company.
Sadly the fate of the original 1993 Star Fox puppets is unknown, but Thunderbirds’ continuing influence on the Star Fox game series proves once again that there really are Gerry Anderson fans in all walks of life – even in the top ranks of Nintendo! Do you think an Anderson-produced version of Star Fox would have been a good fit for his style of television series and storytelling? Let us know in the comments below!