We're hearing a lot about the downsides of social media at the moment, but one of the upsides is that you can find and follow interesting figures in any given field. One of these is Dylan Cuthbert, who's had a remarkable career as a programming genius, and was basically brought in-house by Nintendo as a teenager as part of the exceptional Argonaut Software team.
This bunch and Cuthbert would go on to work on some key Nintendo products including the classic Star Fox which, thanks to the "Super FX" chip that Argonaut also designed (why don't they name stuff like this anymore), was a polygonal 3D shooter that at the time seemed visually remarkable. I'd argue the aesthetic still holds up.
The game is now the subject of a mod so impressive that Cuthbert's the one who's brought it to everyone's attention. Star Fox EX ("Exploration Showcase") is a huge mod-slash-romhack by Kando and others that runs at 60 fps, includes a 5 player multiplayer mode, customisation, a "no borders" mode, and a new campaign with 17 levels where the Star Fox team battle against Nintendo's other icons.
This will run with a Star Fox ROM and an emulator but also can run on the original SNES hardware. Quite incredibly in the latter case, it also includes support for the SNES mouse, NTT Data Pad, Multi-Tap and Super Scope peripherals. The Super Scope! Those names really were great.
"This guy is a madman," writes Cuthbert, followed by a smile emoji. "Great work getting it running so fast! Back in the day we were kind of flailing around in the dark and with only ten months to make the game so there are probably lots of places to optimize in there."
The trailer is a riff on the trailer used for the original game, mimicking the boomy male voice and claims of grandeur. It's funny too that the mod's setup is the Mario Bros. deciding Star Fox no longer has a place in Nintendo's wider IP lineup.
This is just straight-up impressive: the new campaign has new enemies, new bosses, new music, and new environments. As well as being able to play with up to four other players, you can also choose to go with AI-controlled teammates or even control all the Star Fox ships at once yourself.
What's even more surprising is the customizability and options baked-in to this project: wireframe mode, grid lines, palette changes, ship customization, corsair style, a model test viewer.
You can grab Star Fox EX here (opens in new tab) though you'll also need a ROM of the game (and of course to own an original copy of it). In their way, all mods are love letters. And Star Fox EX shows just how much some folks adore and revere a game that's now three decades old.