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Star Fox Assault (GameCube) artwork

Star Fox Assault (GameCube) review

"Imagine a universe with no Slippy Toad. "

Imagine a universe with no Slippy Toad.

In such a universe, I would not have to endure Slippyís wussy whining and obvious observations before, after, and during all the missions. I would not have to rescue his pointless, green, warty ass every five seconds. I would not feel the need to shoot him down every time he flew into my aiming reticule and screwed up my shot.

For those whoíve never played Star Fox, Slippy Toad is a frog. This automatically makes him lame, and the fact that heís dumb and annoying and sometimes even more of a pain in the ass than the enemies doesnít help things. He constantly gets into trouble, always blabs on about stupid stuff, and has this weird habit of wandering into your aiming sights and then complaining when you blast him. Not that I really blame him for that last thing; if I was a fat, talking frog, Iíd try and wander in front of as many lethal weapons as possible.

Nobody likes Slippy Toad. Itís doubtful that even Slippy Toad likes Slippy Toad. He is quite possibly the dumbest game character ever made, which is no small statement when you stop to think about it. And the real shame of it is that, in a universe where Slippy Toad did not exist, Star Fox Assault would be a good deal nearer to perfection.

We donít live in such a place; the video game pimple known as Slippy does, in fact, exist. But if you can get past the fact that youíve got to entrust your life to a frog with an IQ identical to his shoe size, youíll have an awesome time playing Star Fox Assault. And if you canít get past it, you can always just shoot him down at the start of every mission. Bad for your score, great for your sanity.

Star Fox Assault is the true sequel to Star Fox 64, the game that takes the franchise back to its roots. See, a few years back, there was this little game called Star Fox Adventures, which was an attempt to make Fox more of a land-based hero. They gave him a magic stick, had him fighting some evil talking dinosaurs to save some good talking dinosaurs, threw in some RPG elements and the occasional shooting mission to try and keep the fans pacified. So, basically, it was the Legend of Zelda with fur, scales, and lasers.

It was a bold attempt, a brave new direction, and it might have been a huge success if it hadnít sucked so much. It also didnít help that it was aimed at people who would enjoy playing the Legend of Zelda, which would have been fineÖif all the people who enjoyed playing the Legend of Zelda wouldnít have rather played, well, the Legend of Zelda. And the fans of Star Fox, those die-hard folks who had spent so many nights kicking animorphic ass all around the galaxy, hated it because RPGs and shooters donít mix worth a damn.

Fast forward a few years and Star Fox is back, this time in the hands of someone who remembers what the series is all about (Namco, bless Ďem) Gone are the fetch quests, magical spells and all the other voodoo-hocus-pocus-mumbo-jumbo crap that made Star Fox Adventures an exercise in stupidity. Star Fox Assault takes the series back to its roots. Hundreds of enemies, all ripe for the destroying. Dogfights. Screen-filling bosses with brightly lit weak-spots. Namcoís done the smart thing and stayed away from the avant-garde approach, making Star Fox what Star Fox should be: Shooting down everything that moves.

The old school is in session.

And youíve got some new toys to play with this time; even though the standard dogfighting didnít need any spicing, Namco gave it some anyway.

Youíve got the Landmaster Tank, first seen and first loved on Star Fox 64. Tricked out with all the expected accouterments, capable of delivering death on a lower level than the Arwing, the Landmaster was and still is an awesome way to get your gun on. You fire, enemies fall, obliterating hordes of baddies with just a few button presses. Rolling, dodging, avoiding fire and dealing it back in spadesÖdeath on treads, always a blast.

But your Landmaster is still a tank, and tanks arenít known for being the most maneuverable of widowmakers, even ones that can do cartwheels and float. Not to mention the size issue; not exactly ideals for those tight spaces.

Not an issue. Star Fox Assault is all-range obliteration; you can do it in the sky, on the treads, and even on your feet.

In every mission where the Landmaster is involved and even a few where itís not, youíre given the option of taking Fox out for a little stroll. Itís even required in a few instances; youíll have to get inside buildings, wade your way through dozens of enemies, make precision strikes. While youíll spend more time flying and dying than running and gunning, itís still something youíve got to get accustomed to.

Thatís fine, though, because while Namco could have just tacked on the ground combat and made it a simple point and shoot thing, they went the extra mile. Ground combat may leave you vulnerable, but it doesnít leave you boring; youíve got a full weapon selection to choose from, plenty of poison for the picking. Machine Guns for rapid-fire retaliation. Sniper-rifles for when you want to reach the enemy but you donít want the enemy to reach you. And my personal favorite, the Homing Missile Launcher, for those enemies that just donít know when to die.

Not only is the selection nice, but using it all is painless; Star Fox Assault does third-person shooting better than even most full-fledged third-person shooters. Strafing, sniping, rolling, backingÖall done with responsive and intuitive controls, allowing split-second movement to match the split-second thinking youíll need. They come at you from every side, you duck, dodge, roll, and shoot until youíre the last thing moving. That simple.

Tank-play is always nice and making Fox pull a Rambo is a welcome treat, but thatís not the main attraction at this party. That other stuff? A sideshow. A nice sideshow, but a sideshow nonetheless. Star Fox is about aerial combat, itís about taking games like Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga into the third-dimension, smoke on the water and fire in the sky.

Most of the time itís all a straight shot, flying your Arwing down a set path, blasting any enemy stupid enough to get in your way and sometimes any ally (Slippy must die) Limiting it may be, but it keeps the challenge high; the environment can put up just as much a fight as the enemies. Youíve got to swerve, avoid obstacles, seek and destroy. Thereís no time to guess, no way to plan. When the time comes, donít hesitate. Just act.

But you donít stay on-path all the time, half the missions have you on a free-roam, letting you take the enemy on it vast space, plenty of room to maneuver without fear of the crash and burn. You donít have to worry much about hitting things, but the tradeoff is that you have to worry more about things hitting you; the enemy knows how to work it well. Theyíll tail you, gang up on you, blindside you, and youíll have to use every trick youíve got just to keep things on an even keel. Itís here that the game pours on some mission variety, giving you objectives to complete, targets to take out, and the obligatory duel with Star Wolf.

But no matter how hectic things get and no matter how many enemies mar the screen Star Fox Assault never slows down, not even by a frame. It always keep a smooth frame rate, quite an achievement considering the graphics donít just have quantity but quality, too. Youíll fight in just about all the environments you could ask for; snowy mountain ranges, rocky plains, lush forests, all rendered with extreme attention to detail. Youíll probably be too busy getting shot at to notice, but the world of Star Fox is a sight to see this go round, everything has a vibrant glow to it, a sort of life that even give some realism to the surreal things.

You trudge through the icy slopes of Fichina, blazing through a raging blizzard, the only heat coming from the nozzle of your Landmaster as enemy rush you from the darkness.

You wade through the waters of Sauria, fighting off enemies from above and below, hunting down your prey with your blaster charged, ready to fire.

You slink through the streets of Corneria, sniper-rifle in hand, taking down the enemy one well placed shot at a time.

The environments take on personalities of their own, and even though itís a subtle stroke, itís still to be appreciated, a little nuance to take in at those rare moments when nothing is trying to kill you.

The music plays an epic score to match the epic battles, strumming out an orchestra for every battle. Itís fitting music, perfect for setting the music. You hear the blare of the trumpets, the shrill of the violins, the steady pulse of the drums, and your mind starts to bring up images of classic sci-fi, of grand space battles, the kind Star Fox pays homage to with every mission. Couple the gameís majestic music with a passable plot and youíve got a combination that gives Star Fox Assault a movie feel, one that does it some good justice and gives it a refreshing pace.

Actually, comparing Star Fox Assault to a movie is pretty bang-on, a definite summer blockbuster. Action-packed. A plot with just enough twists to keep things interesting. And, unfortunately, it has just about the same length.

From start to finish, Star Fox Assault is a short stint, an unfortunate trademark of the series. You can breeze through the story mode in about a hour, and while itís guaranteed to be an awesome hours, there are only so many times you can go through it before some of that awe starts to wear off. Youíve got some metals to shoot for and you can even get a bonus game if you do some things right, but even with that, Star Fox Assault isnít hitting much beyond the rental range.

Luckily, Star Fox Assault has an ace that ups the replay value, an aspect that nails it for a permanent buy: the multiplayer mode.

To be honest, I canít tell you exactly how much fun Star Foxís multiplayer mode is. Donít really have many friends, and the few I do have find my room to be repulsive; couldnít really get them in to test it. But if I had the friends and I had the controllers and I had the odor-eaters, itís hard to imagine Star Foxís multiplayer mode to be anything less than addictive.

Choose from any of the gameís free room environments and just go, kill, maim, and destroy. Youíre given all the weapons and all the vehicles; anything you could do in story you can do in the V.S. Not only that, but each of the characters has strengths for you to exploit and weaknesses for you to keep from getting exploited. Victory actually takes a little cunning, makes you strategize, vie for the best weapons, switch vehicles and comb the radar.

Even with this, thereís no guarantee that Star Fox Assault will hold a candle in the replay department; after all, you canít have your friends over all the time. Unless you live in a dorm or somethingÖor youíve got a roommateÖor a brotherÖ well, in most cases you wonít have a ready and willing player along with you to go head-to-head with and keep this gameís fires stoked. Youíll probably play Star Fox Assault hard for a week and then shelf it; let it become a dust magnet.

And you know what? Thatís okay.

Because youíll take it back down someday. Youíll start playing it. And that same gamerís high, that euphoria you got giving it a spin for the first time? Youíll get it again. Another week of your life down the drain.

So while everything about Star Fox Assault may be screaming Ďrentí, if you listen closely enough, youíll hear a definite Ďbuyí. Star Fox Assault is the kind of game you play in bursts; take it off the shelf, play it until you get tired, put it back, rinse and repeat. Think of it like an investment, a little way to shave off those rental fees. Every time you feel the need to blast a frog out of the sky, you can just do it, no need for a trip.

And if youíre like me, thatís going to be pretty often

lasthero's avatar
Community review by lasthero (August 13, 2005)

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