When the Nintendo Gamecube was released here in the U.S., the game my friend looked most forward to was a next generation adaptation of one of his favorite Super Nintendo games, Star Fox Adventures. He wasnít exactly sure how the game would turn out in terms of quality, but with the Star Fox named attached to it, he knew Nintendo couldnít disappoint. Needless to say, my friend was both surprised and sorely let down to find out first hand that this wasnít a Star Fox game. It was a Legend of Zelda-esque adventure game with Link somehow disguised as Fox McCloud, going on fetch quests and figuring out puzzles, but hardly spending any time in his trusty Arwing fighter plane. Needless to say, my friend felt robbed of a hard-earned fifty dollars and the promise of a real Star Fox experience.
Now, Nintendo presents Star Fox Assault, the unofficial apology and throwback to what die-hard Star Fox fans wanted all along. With Namco sitting in as the developer, Nintendo sought to put Fox McCloud back to the skies and to return to the simple, yet involving, gameplay that the series is renown for. However, they could not stop there. As the world of gaming progresses, fans demand a much greater variety in their gameplay, and Nintendo was more than willing to adapt to these expectations. Along with the traditional on-rail and free-roaming shooting missions (and donít forget the multiplayer mode), Namco has also included on-foot missions to help keep the game from becoming too repetitive. However, these do not measure up to the quality of the intergalactic space-ship fighting missions and it hurts the rest of the package as a whole.
The story is basically useless and only serves as an excuse for the Star Fox team to go kick some ass in a galaxy far, far away, but for the sake of completeness, the story is as told. Corneria (or is it the Lylat galaxy? Iím not entirely sure) is once again at risk by the hands of the Androids, a parasitic life form, out to take over the whole galaxy. It is up to the much evolved animals (does anyone else find it weird that Fox McCloud stands upright on two feet?) of the Star Fox team to bring peace and civility to the Galaxy. The story is mostly laughable, not to mention the on-again, off-again romance of Krystal (from Star Fox Adventures) and Fox, but this doesnít exactly spoil the package. It is the simple, yet involving gameplay that will make Star Fox Assault stand out from the rest of the crowd.
Star Fox for the Super Nintendo and Star Fox 64 for the, well, Nintendo 64 relied on one simple gameplay mechanic: dodge and weave through opposing gunfire and return the favor when the opportunity presented itself. Thankfully, Star Fox Assault revives this concept and the result is more than exceptional. As you undergo your first mission, Assault throws the player onto a classic on-rail shooting bit that the series is proudly known for. Both veterans and novices alike will quickly adapt to the controls, which are now more versatile, smooth and responsive than ever. With so many enemies (and their gunfire) packed onto the screen, donít be surprised if you see yourself dodging enemies frequently. This creates an incredible sense of immersion due to the fact that you feel that you are literally darting around the screen for your life. The possibilities for creative game design are nearly endless.
Fortunately, Namco has delivered with some creative boss fights, even if they donít really present anything new. One of the first boss encounters in the game is an Andross clone, a big head ten times as big as your ship and two unattached floating hands, ready to swipe your ship away and lower all of your health. Once he is done attempting to attack you, he will present a chance for you to either pound continuously on the A button, hold down the A button, charging up the blaster on your ship for much more deadly attack, or use weapons found throughout the stage with the B button. Nothing here is terribly challenging, but it does demand your complete concentration, and most importantly, they are extremely fun. There are some negative aspects of these aerial battles. Your teammates constantly ask for help, often taking you out of the moment of your own priorities. If they die, they wonít be able to help you out with your missions, but that doesnít really matter considering they never help you out AT ALL. These are only minor quips with the aerial battles, and you wonít even seem to mind them once you see what Namco forces you to do when you step out of your Arwing.
In order to spice things up a bit, Namco has taken Fox out of his ship and put him onto the ground. The first mistake Namco makes with this is designing how Fox controls. The controls are customizable and are easy to get a hold of, but considering all the enemies on screen, you never feel in total control of Fox. There are times when Fox has to approach different platforms in order to advance through the stage, but I found it more troubling and complex than it needed to be. When enemy fire hit Fox, he would stutter, not allowing him to move as swarms upon swarms of enemies kept hitting Fox. It was very frustrating indeed, and the strafe and dodge button didnít help much either (set to the L trigger), since the strafe button doesnít work quite as naturally as the PS2ís Rachet and Clank sequels.
There types of missions that are free-roaming and non-linear, and some even allow for Fox to use vehicles at his disposal. Standing near either an Arwing or a Land Master (a tank like vehicle with a hover function, yet it doesnít feel quite as refined as the Arwing), a simple press of the Z button will allow Fox to control that vehicle. However, these missions do not take much skill as they do luck, as I was excessively pounding on the A button until something ended up dead. One mission where you return to Dinosaur Planet to save Sauria, requires that Fox destroy eight targets that are producing Androids. In addition to this, the checkpoints werenít as lax as I wanted them to be, and the archaic life system didnít help much either, especially towards the end of the game.
After you finish the game, which is disappointingly very short, there is a survival mode that is unlocked and the gameís multiplayer component that can be accessed. Survival mode is just a rehash of the single player game, except much more difficult, due to the lack of checkpoints that are purposely taken out. Needless to say, if you didnít like the single player mode, you probably wonít like this, but it does provide a decent challenge. Multiplayer on the other hand is fun maybe for an hour or two, but it doesnít really have any lasting power. There are not many game modes to choose from and the customizable options are very limited. It provides a diversion for the night, but donít be surprised if you find yourself popping in Super Smash Bros. Melee quickly after you pop in this game.
Even if the gameplay is uneven, the graphics are anything but and show off one of the smoothest games on the Gamecube, even if it isnít the best looking. In my preview of Star Fox Assault, I feared that all the particle effects Namco was throwing into their game would get in the way of the gameplay, in fear that it may have caused confusion with what was going on. Luckily, this doesnít seem to be the case. Even if it isnít as luscious as Star Fox Adventures (do these games even deserve comparison?), the frame rate rarely drops, even with so many enemies on screen at once. The environments are pretty big, but they sure are boring to look at. Character design is also somewhat boring, with dull texturing and low polygon counts. For example, the creatures are not impressive looking and suffer from a boring design. To put it bluntly, these are the enemies youíve seen in basically in every other game, ugly looking creatures or machines with the sole intent of destroying you. In the end though, Star Fox Assault is a visually consistent game, not something that can be said about most games coming out nowadays.
There is nothing too special here in this department. Along with a menu theme song that will be stuck in your head for days, most of the tracks here are reused from the older Star Fox games, but this isnít necessarily a bad thing, given that the themes do have a triumphant feel to it. Not many Nintendo published games feature voice acting, but when you listen to some of these characters speak, maybe Nintendo shouldíve relied on the text boxes. Most of it is cheesy, but this isnít necessarily a bad thing, seeing how I got a great laugh out of it (SPOILER!-One of the scenes where General Pepper asks you to kill him is just classic, but for all the wrong reasons- END SPOILER!) The sound effects are what you would expect from a shooting game, yet they donít exactly stand out. Not too bad, but nothing great either.
Nintendo and Blockbuster decided to release this game for rental two weeks before the actual release date. That might have been a bad idea, considering this is rental material at best. The game isnít very long (it took me around six hours to finish it), there arenít many stages that scream to be replayed and the multiplayer has little to no depth to it. However for Star Fox and shooter fans alike, there are some parts of the package that truly shine and, at the very least, deserve the weekend rental. My biggest compliment I can give this game is that playing through the uninspired on-foot missions are worth the time just to see how Namco has successfully revived these classic space battles for the this generation of consoles. Definitely worth a look.
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