Star Fox Command
Once upon a time, the Star Fox series kicked ass. There was Fox McCloud, flying on a straight and pure course for the salvation of the Lylat solar system. He had a bunch of awesome characters acting as his backup, each with their own personality quirks and memorable lines. This mighty team of anthropomorphic aviators blazed through a wide variety of planets with only one goal in mind: annihilating the evil Andross and restoring peace to outer space. The only thing left in their wake was the charred remains of a few thousand enemy ships and the hope that everything would turn out okay. Thus the heroic crew returned home at the end of Star Fox 64, awaiting their next big (and hopefully lucrative) adventure.
And then Star Fox series went to hell.
There’s little reason to go into the details of how or why Star Fox: Adventures and Star Fox: Assault came off as inferior sequels to the classic Nintendo 64 game, but by the end of the last game, it was evident that the series needed something to get it back on track. Thus we are given Star Fox Command, the latest title to continue the team’s epic saga…Or what’s left of it, at least. Since the end of Assault, the Star Fox team has broken up; Fox McCloud and Falco Lombardi have become drifters, Peppy has been promoted to a general, Krystal was ordered to leave, and Slippy…well, Slippy is still annoying. However, these mighty heroes won’t be separated for much longer. It seems that a new enemy called the Anglar have arisen from the murky depths of Andross’s former home. With a new threat looming on the horizon, the Star Fox team must reunite and send these slimy bastards running for their lives.
The new quest will have the Star Fox team revisiting old haunts like Corneria, Aquas, and a few other places. With a nod to its predecessors, Star Fox Command allows you to direct the course of the adventure by choosing among the branching paths between each planet. The fist playthrough will only grant you certain options for which planets you can visit, but more will be unlocked when you come back around for a second time. You’ll get to know a slew of characters both new and old; Peppy’s daughter Lucy and and Slippy’s fiance Amanda are among some of the new faces. The old Star Wolf renegades have resumed their roles as the Star Fox team’s archenemies. Even the Great Fox, the gigantic warship/home for the team, has been completely redone for a far more stylized appearance. Toss in a decent variety of generic fighter planes, tanks, and laser cannons, and you’ll find that the game’s story mode is filled to the brim with allies and enemies alike.
There’s just one problem, though.
Unlike the gameplay of its predecessors, Star Fox Command is not a rail shooter. The tried and true formula of choosing a planet and blasting everything that crossed your path has been tossed in favor of a turn-based map exploration. Once you’ve arrived on the planet, you’ll see a bunch of dots clustered around various points on the screen. Using your stylus, you’ll have to draw the Star Fox team’s individual flight plans across the landscape. Should you fly into one of the groups, you’ll start up a quick skirmish against the Anglar forces. This usually involves flying through a wide 3D expanse (a la All-Range Mode from Star Fox 64), shooting down certain enemies and collecting their ‘cores”, which are basically a bunch of red and silver stars left over from the wreckage. The problem here is time; the team’s usual assortment of Arwing combat planes can only last a minute or two in combat before they run out of fuel and crash. Should the enemies somehow make it past you, they’ll immediately attack the Great Fox and destroy it with a single hit. There are a few nifty pickups like long-ranged missiles and time boosters, but these won’t necessarily save you. The fact that you’re only given a limited amount of turns to weed out all the enemies forces on the map makes some of these missions a truly pain in the ass to complete.
As aggravating as all that can be, the game’s controls don’t do you any more favors. Star Fox Command makes great use of the DS’s Touch Screen, allowing you to target your enemies and aim your lasers with remarkable accuracy and speed. This would have been the perfect control setup, but the game designers decided to go the extra mile and force you to use the stylus for turning, pressing icons to do somersaults and U-turns, dropping bombs, and yes, even barrel rolling. Would it have been so hard to have some of the other ship functions mapped to the other buttons? Instead of allowing for a tiny bit of freedom with the controls, the game forces you to hold the DS with one hand and have the stylus gripped firmly in the other. The game tries to balance things out by giving each character differently specialized Arwings (like Slippy’s powerful cannons but utter lack of lock-on targeting and mobility, or Fox’s comparatively weak laser and incredible agility). Despite such differences, getting used to the controls may prove difficult for some. If the trigger-happy enemies won’t kill you, then the ache in your hands certainly will.
The game’s saving grace comes with the awesome multiplayer options via Wifi connection. You’re given a handful of battle scenarios, be it against random gamers from around the world or a friend with the appropriate code. You can take part in the Battle Royale, a three-part bout that will pit you against three other players in an epic melee for survival. The one who shoots down the most opponents (and collects their cores) will be given the victory and have their overall ranking records upgraded for all to see. If you prefer your battles to be a little more toned down, you can participate in random battles against up to three enemies or even teaming up with a friend. Whichever battle mode you choose, you’ll find yourself flying over huge expanses littered with power-ups that can boost your weapon’s firepower, recover your shields, and even turn you invisible for a short period of time. Though the multiplayer suffers from a bit of lag every now and then, the fast-paced and intense gameplay will keep you coming back long after the main adventure has gone stale.
But for such a huge departure from the traditional Star Fox gaming formula, Star Fox Command does a surprisingly decent job of recreating various levels from the previous games. You’ll get to fly among the three-dimensional ruins of Corneria City, brave the murky depths of Aquas and the asteroid fields in Sector Z. There will be a wide variety of enemies, be it laser-spewing fish, wall-mounted laser cannons, timed aerial mines, gigantic motherships, and more inept baddies than you should probably shake a stick at. Everything is rendered with a fair amount of detail, right down to the blue and gray plating on Fox’s Arwing, the flurry of snowflakes raining down on Fichina, and the sunset casting awesome blends of reds and oranges against the sea in one of the multiplayer levels. With a faithful nod to the old Star Fox on the SNES, all of the characters’ voice acting has been dumped in favor of absolute gibberish with text subtitles. You can even record your own voice and have it converted into their language for in-game use. But if that isn’t enough for all you hardcore Star Fox fans, the remixed music tracks ought to send a few waves of nostalgia crashing through your mind.
Is Star Fox Command a spiritual successor to the smash hit on the Nintendo 64? Not quite. The game would have worked well as a rail shooter, but this latest installment deviates from what fans would expect from their beloved series. Instead of presenting us with a bunch of excellent linear levels, this game brings a few more strategic elements for us to chew on. The turn-based and map-scouring gameplay is a fresh take on the series, even if the timed missions aren’t nearly as epic as the battles of the previous games. The Touch Screen controls aren’t exactly ideal, either. But the game’s salvation comes with the awesome multiplayer, a feature that will leave DS owners firmly grasping their handhelds as they wage war online. This may not be the Star Fox we all know and love, but it’s still a decent substitute.
Eight out of ten