StarFox: Assault

Gamestyle Archive intro: Richard tackles a classic Nintendo franchise that fails to live up to expectations .

Writer: RM

Published: April 2005


One year after defeating the diabolical Dr. Andross and saving the planet Sauria, Fox and his team-mates are recruited yet again to stop a renegade member of the mercenary StarWolf team who’s managed to assemble a small troublemaking army on the planet Corneria and rattle the Cornerian fleet. As they battle the army on Corneria, the Starfox team uncover a sinister and grander plot involving a strange race of bio-mechanical lifeforms…

Many of you will remember the original Starfox, released in 1993; with its Super-FX chip, it was a shrewd marriage of technology and timing, allowing a 2-D console (the original SNES) to display crude 3-D graphics. The game took only an hour or two to beat, but the novelty of its gouraud-shaded polygons and reflex-driven gaming won over players and critics and established the series for its next two incarnations. Unfortunately it’s been a slow slide downhill since 1993, mixing traditional on-rails gameplay (Starfox 64) with more varied Zelda-style adventuring (Starfox: Adventures). Starfox: Assault is a further step back, dishing up a great-looking shooter with a few addictive levels, but one that can’t keep its priorities straight.

Nintendo has once again handed out its Starfox franchise to a third-party developer (this time Namco’s Ace Combat team). Starfox: Assault is an action-adventure blend, combining space combat with third-person action sequences that take place on a spread of planets and orbital stations. The series has always been at its best in space, and that’s never been more evident here. The Arwing’s controls are spot-on, facilitating tight turns and quick lateral rolls with ease. On the higher difficulty levels, enemies display passable tactical skills and present a rousing challenge, and the end-stage enemies are fantastic: cackling jigsaw machines waving transforming appendages around with destructive aplomb that make the most complex transformers look like grade-school action figures. While a few of the scripted space sequences are too brief and easily beaten, the two or three open-ended space battles (such as the one between the Starfox and Starwolf teams) hint at where the series could go in more capable hands.

Starfox: Assault can be played in single or vs. mode, with up to four players participating in split-screen combat. As missions are completed in solo play, new levels are unlocked in multiplayer mode. Players assume the role of Fox McCloud, leader of the Starfox team, in “shooting” and “all-range” stages. Shooting stages involve piloting a space fighter called an Arwing along a pre-scripted path, while “all-range stages” allow free-roaming control of Fox himself within a small area, and sometimes requiring the use of either an anti-aircraft tank (the Landmaster), the Arwing, or both. On occasion, Fox’s team-mates experience trouble and must be assisted lest they resign from combat, lowering the final rating. The Arwing is manipulated with the control stick and can turbo forward or brake, but never fully stop, while the Landmaster is capable of limited hover-flight and can be exited at will. Destroying certain creatures, or groups of enemies, unlocks items such as shield rings (restores shields), smart bombs, power upgrades and a variety of weapons such as homing launchers, plasma cannons and sniper rifles. At the end of each mission players are rated on items collected and enemies destroyed, and locating 10 silver badges in story mode unlocks a bonus copy of Namco’s 1982 arcade shooter Xevious.

Ground combat is a less pleasant affair, turning Fox into a super-sprinter racing through tiny arenas to collect power-ups and destroy guarded nodes. For some reason, Fox can run about three or four times faster than in Starfox Adventures but turns from left to right like a tank in molasses, cramping combat and frustrating the navigation of narrow walkways. And while Fox’s team mates occasionally show up to help out, getting them to move around is impossible, making one wonder why they were included at all, beyond the occasional bit of radio chatter or as liabilities for the player to protect.

This is a decent rental, and if it was just another game, it might warrant half a mark higher. But this is Starfox, and it needs to catch up with the times. Players want games that speak to a franchise’s strengths – in this case, the space-combat sequences, preferably in open and dynamic 3-D environments, not clinging to yesteryear’s rails. At medium difficulty, it takes five hours or less to blow through, and considering its other missteps, that’s just not enough to recommend.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10


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