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Star Fox Command (DS) artwork

Star Fox Command (DS) review

"With Adventures and Assault a distant memory, Star Fox Command arrives to bring the series back to its roots. And while it doesn’t fully succeed, it is the closest to the real deal since Star Fox 64."

Fox McCloud is just your typical mammal looking to have a great time flying through the skies and stars of the Lylat system. Accompanied by his buddies: Falco, Peppy, and the always obnoxious Slippy, Fox has guided bored kids with fast-paced game-play for years, with visuals that were always among the best on the series’ respective consoles. Yet, over the years, Fox decided to take a break from what he did best -- a change that would haunt the lives of his fans for years to come. Why Nintendo? Why break from a successful formula that wasn’t broken in the first place? With Adventures and Assault a distant memory, Star Fox Command arrives to bring the series back to its roots. And while it doesn’t fully succeed, it is the closest to the real deal since Star Fox 64.

Probably the most significant addition to Star Fox Command, which sets it apart from its predecessors, is the inclusion of a real story mode. Though each member of the team had their own objectives and opponents to contend with in the past, the plot was never much of a thought during game-play. What could be so interesting about a rail-shooting title with some farm animals as the main characters anyway? Well ultimately, the reason for this change is the game’s placement in the series. Being the fifth game to come along in the past fifteen years, Star Fox has accumulated quite the collaboration of events. What makes the single player worthwhile is the inclusion of several enemies, allies, and locations from the past; providing a trip down memory lane to those who have been with the series since the beginning.

* Star Wolf? Check. *

* The original team in all their glory? Check. *

* A handful of enemies you thought you saw in Star Fox 64? Check. *

* Mumbling speech effects seen in the SNES version? Check. *

Well, perhaps the last one on the list there isn’t so awesome, but at least it sort of acts as a tribute to the original . . . or they were just busy and didn’t have time to hire voice actors.

As said earlier, one of the biggest complaints against the last couple of Fox branded titles was the lack of flight missions. With little to no air combat, one had to wonder why they still called these installments of games “Star” Fox. Nevertheless, there are plenty of fire fights to look forward to in their latest venture, along with the inclusion of a new game-play formula. Yes, the folks over at Nintendo have finally decided to inject a strategic element into the equation, cleverly providing a use for the touch screen in ways not seen before.

Star Fox Command will have you flying through nearly a dozen different worlds, each with their own objective and format. Each stage is broken into turns, in which you will usually be allotted two or three. Using the stylus, you can move each of your units to different areas on the map, providing it abides within your Arwing’s fuel limit. Once you and an enemy vessel meet, the combat session will commence, with the premise being eerily similar to turn-based RPG battles. Quite strange how some role-playing games share a connection with titles of a differing genre.

And it is this connection that opens up the most exciting portion of the game: the air battles. Within each confrontation resides the rail-shooting combat sessions, which will have you battling numerous enemy ships, ground turrets, and alien hybrids. Each opponent differs in strength from the other, and how well you do in each stage, depends solely on who you choose to fight them with. Not only are your team’s personalities different, but their ship designs are as well. From Slippy’s fast-firing turbo shooter to Falco’s multi-lock function, the outcome of later missions will depend on picking the right candidate for the job (and yes, Slippy is actually useful in this game).

However, it is the way you actually control the movements of your squadron that make up the most interesting portion of Star Fox Command. Instead of simply using the control pad for direction, you will primarily be falling upon the touch screen for guidance. Though this may seem awkward at first, the controls really do get better as time goes on. Moving left and right amongst shifting skies and lava-filled wastelands will seem a breeze with practice and you will wonder why Nintendo didn’t use this approach earlier on. Somersaults and U-turns are practically automatic, with their actions being triggered by a pre-set button on the bottom screen. The bomb makes the easiest transition to the new control scheme though, requiring a simple point-and-click action to release its devastating effects.


Though that’s not to say there aren’t some reoccurring detriments along the way. For starters, one can be sure the developers were smoking something when they thought up the missile deterring missions. Within each of these sequences, you will be forced to fly through a series of rings in order to stay on track with the missile. There are several of these instances throughout each planet you visit, with the primary problem being the lack of game-play variety within these encounters. Every missile is the same as the previous one. Fly through some rings, speed up, keep flying through said rings, and lastly, attempt to destroy the missile. The problem is that every time you go through a ring, you speed up, a lot. And those who suffer with the touch screen controls early on, will definitely go insane after losing track of the explosive for the tenth time.

To make matters worse, most of the missions that you will fail will not even come from the rail-shooter portions. The frustration lies within the strategic setup before the battles, where one wrong decision will force you to replay the whole thing over again. For example, say you move your units up the map toward the final enemy base. Fog-of-War is scattered throughout the environment, making it easy to miss certain units during the heat of battle. Then finally, just as you make it to the heavily guarded stronghold, you notice a single ship pop out from under your main base. You see, the Great Fox serves as your group’s center of command and losing it results in a game over. Yet, the problem is, ANYTHING can destroy it. So that one tiny enemy unit just took out your main base, resulting in a failure that wasted nearly an hour of your time. No mid-level saves. No warning messages. No mercy.

It is easy to point out that Star Fox Command is far and away the hardest adventure ever undertaken by the group. The radical change in both the presentation and mechanics of the title will certainly have people moaning in frustration at times, even to veterans of the Star Fox line.

Yet, we can all breathe easier knowing the best part of Nintendo’s unique flight series has returned.

Flying throughout the snow-filled mountains of Fichina is certainly among the finest moments of the title. For Star Wolf is truly a fiend who knows how to bring about a great dogfight. When he comes flying toward with you with lasers flaring, you will know you are in for one hell of a bout. You retaliate, knowing full well that it is three against one. That’s right, not only are you up against the great mercenary, but his two companions as well. How will you counter? Will you fly in a circle provoking the attack while using some aerial maneuvers to get behind them? Or will you barrel roll their onslaught and follow through with one of your deceptively concealed bombs? The options open to you during these clashes are virtually limitless and truly show why fans love this aspect of Star Fox so dearly.

What people also love is being able to mow down some human competition, earning them the right to rule the virtual skies. Thankfully, Star Fox Command comes with Wi-Fi functionality, giving players who have an access to a wireless connection the chance to battle it out online. Bouts play out as they normally would, with one-on-one, and free-for-all matches being the formats available. The objective in these is to shoot down the average Joe opposite you, all the while stealing one of their stars. Gathering enough of these will earn you the victory, letting you up your online ranking just a bit more. Though problems exist within the system, such as avoiding defeat by simply disconnecting, the overall experience is enjoyable and surprisingly lag-free. Well, for the most part anyway.

Star Fox Command is a title that truly surprised me. Thinking back on previous installments, in addition to it coming out on the DS, definitely had me and my wallet nervous. However, one can consider the title a safe bet when it is in the hands of the original creators themselves. Not only does the title improve upon the storytelling aspect of the series, but the control scheme as well. The addictive firefights have returned in all their glory, with the multi-player truly adding a new dimension of play, not seen in any other handheld shooter out there. It is unfortunate that a handful of problems hold it back from reaching its true potential, but that is something we’ve all come to expect when it comes to anything not on a major console. Nevertheless, if you want a quality shooter with plenty of charm (and you know you do), you know where to look.

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Staff review by Branden Barrett (September 18, 2006)

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