February 21st, 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Star Fox for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, but by proxy, it also marks another anniversary of note: The debut of the “Mathematical, Argonaut, Rotation & Input/Output” chip, or “MARIO” for short, though it’s better known by its more public-facing name: The Super FX Chip.
Though superior in many ways to the rival SEGA Genesis (aka Mega Drive), Nintendo was nonetheless in for a tough battle against a fierce foe who had managed to eat away at nearly half of their marketshare in the United States. One tool in their battle would be the aforementioned chip, a custom RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processor that acted as a graphics accelerator, not only assisting the Super NES in rendering more advanced 2D effects, but also in rendering 3D polygons as well.
Nintendo was impressed enough with the Super FX Chip’s capabilities (which ran laps around the DSP chip that was being used in Pilotwings) that, according to Argonaut founder Jez San in an interview with Eurogamer, they were going to include it in the console itself for the then-unreleased North American version of the Super NES. “[I]n the end it had to go into the cartridge to keep the initial cost of the console low,” he recalls. “It’d have been awesome if it was as standard on every SNES, so it’s a shame that didn’t happen.”
Still, the Super FX Chip would go on to lead a somewhat prosperous, albeit short, life. Over the course of three years, eight games would be released with either the original or second iteration of the chip, the Super FX 2. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the majority of those titles would be from third-party publishers, including Doom and Vortex. As for the inaugural voyage, Star Fox would reportedly sell more than four million copies worldwide by 1998, according to PC Zone magazine.
Interestingly, the lack of any sort of re-release of Star Fox and other games powered by the Super FX Chip for many years has led to speculation about Nintendo’s ownership of the processor, and their right to publish the games enhanced by it. Fortunately, whatever issues might have been in the way appear to have been suitably wrangled, as Star Fox, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, and the then-unreleased Star Fox 2 were all included in the list of 21 games built into the recent Super NES Classic Edition.