The original Star Fox
introduced a new breed of space shooter to consoles. On the SNES, Star Fox
ushered a new level of graphics and action through the Super FX Chip, which helped create shaded polygons and texture mapping. The added boost in visual technology, along with excellent overall design, made Star Fox
an instant classic. Years later, the sequel appeared on the N64. It delivered the same brand of intergalactic action, only with several notable additions, namely free-roaming stages and ground battles using a tank.
And now, the latest chapter in the Star Fox saga has left dock and shot off into the cosmos. Only this time, it departed without much improvement over its predecessors. The lack of originality begins in the story department, where the Cornerian government has once again called upon the Star Fox team to save the Lylat System from menacing aliens. The usual lot characters join the fight, including Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and General Pepper. This time around, Peppy Hare stays on the sidelines as an advisor while Krystal (from Star Fox Adventures) takes his place in the cockpit. Rob, an analysis droid, updates you on your mission status during the game. All the characters act as they've always acted, and don't really do anything other than say humous quips before, during and after missions.
Star Fox: Assault splits between three modes, including: Mission, Survival and Versus. Players wanting a linear, story-based experience will need to head toward Mission mode. Here, players will tear through the unfriendly skies (and space stations and planets) on objective-based skirmishes, where destroying targets is the name of the game. After completing Mission mode, which sadly takes less than six hours on the average difficulty setting, players will unlock Survival mode. Survival mode has you plow through all of the stages in mission mode without saving your game. While survival modes can be equally entertaining and challenging in some games, it's just plain annoying here. This is due to the high incidence of accidental death, which can occur if you're not careful. It's way too easy to get close to beating a mission only to fall to your death in an instant, forcing you to start over.
OverallAll, Star Fox: Assault equips the same brand of action as before, yet it carries over the same limitations as well. In an age where complete freedom of movement is the norm, players will still find themselves confined to rails. Not to say these sections aren't fun, far from it, in fact, only to say that it's about time Star Fox and crew stepped into the present. Plus, the ground missions and multiplayer modes, which debuted in Star Fox 64, don't offer anything new in terms of design. Plus, they lack the overall polish and grace of the air/space battles.
About the only thing new in Star Fox: Assault are the additions to the free-roam stages. Unlike Star Fox 64, players can hop in and out of the LandMaster tank and Arwing at will. This option is only available in certain stages, but winds up being a welcome addition, if only because it presents something new. Here's how it works: at the beginning of each stage, the game presents a screen detailing what vehicles you'll use in the following mission. When you see icons for the Landmaster, Arwing and Pilot, you know you'll need to switch between the three during the mission. The game starts you off on foot, with the Arwing and Landmaster nearby.
You can jump into whichever vehicle you like depending on the situation. The Might Gauge, located on the upper right corner of the screen, tells you the strength of airborne enemy forces. Once the meter starts to fill up, you need to drop what you're doing and take to the skies to help your comrades. Generally, this new system works well. Players will receive audible clues, in addition to the Might gauge, to help assess the level of danger above and below. Unfortunately, the Star Fox Team winds up feeling relatively useless. Falco Lambardi, the supposed ace of the group, cries for help just as much as Slippy Toad, who supposedly sucks at flying. What's worse, this spills into every other area as well. You never really feel like your wing mates are doing much of anything, apart from begging you to help them.
When cruising through the depth of space, helping your comrades feels relatively painless because they invariable fly in front of you when in trouble. You simply blast the attacking enemies as they cross your field of view. On ground missions, things get a little more complicated due to the terrain. Enemies will swoop behind mountains and other obstructions, so getting a clear shot feels tougher than it should. True, you can always strap into your Arwing and solve the problem midair, but when you're in the middle of a heated battle, it's far too tempting to let your endangered teammates fend for themselves. Losing teammates will cost you a special "Ally Medal" awarded at the end of every stage, but it won't affect the mission or make level progression any harder. If your teammates were actually useful, then maybe you'd give a damn. As it stands, however, you probably won't.
Which, in reality, isn't much different from the original Star Fox. Still, certain aspects of the original have made somewhat of a welcome comeback. The epic space battles have returned, and they look and play better then ever. The opening sequence is by far the coolest. Mammoth capital ships loom in the distance, and tiny enemy fighters dart in and out of screen. Stylized explosions rock the screen, and players will undoubtedly recall memories of playing through the second level of the first Star Fox adventure. Still, as cool as the first 10 minutes of Star Fox: Assault may look, it doesn't match the visual splendor of Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, which debuted along with the GameCube system four years ago.
To be honest, though, they're still fun to play. Dodging asteroids and destroying swarms of enemy fighters feels just as viscerally satisfying as ever. Star Fox Assault pits you against the same kind of obstacles as before, so you'll need to weave in and out of space stations, asteroid fields and canyons, all of which look and play great. Again, it would have been nice to see some variety here. As fun as manuevering through a sea of mechanical arms is, it's still the same mechanic we saw back in 1993 in the original Star Fox. Even flying through the guts of a massive space station feels the same as it did back during the SNES hayday. Everything looks cooler, yet controls and feels the same.
Ground missions, on the other hand, suffer from a myriad of issues, not the least of which is control. It controls better than earlier builds, with improved control over aim and movement, but it's nothing you could call precise. Fox moves speedily about the environment, yet his movements lack finesse. Due to poor level design, it's far too easy to fall off the map or plummet to the ground after spending five minutes climbing a huge structure. Annoying to the max. Plus, this kind of thing happens whether you're in a tank or running on foot. Driving the Landmaster across a bridge or through any kind of terrain that isn't completely flat is hit or miss. The tank will often slip on moderately tricky surfaces. Sure, it's a tank. And yeah, it shouldn't go everywhere, but most gamers will try. And they'll wind up frustrated.
Ground missions (and even space missions, for that matter) could also benefit from a little variety. Every mission sees Fox and Co. destroying a number of targets scattered about a map. And that's about it. Sure, some of the missions alternate between air and land, but the objectives never change: blow stuff up. It's always "destroy this," or "destroy that," and not "defend this outpost or retrieve this package." It would have been cool to have secondary and tertiary objectives, too, but it never deviates from the 'all or nothing' type mission structure. Also, the game doesn't penalize you enough for losing squad mates. If a teammate goes down, he (or she) returns in the following mission without so much as a chip on his/her shoulder.
Combat, both on the ground and in your Arwing, feels downright hectic. Clearing a mission requires you blast wave after wave of alien hostiles, many of which can easily overcome you if you're not careful. Luckily, Fox is pretty fast on the trigger and hardly runs out of ammunition and explosives. Of course, the aforementioned control woes will definitely hamper your ability to lay the galactic smackdown. But all it takes is practice. A lot of practice. You'll need to master the roll and jump techniques when on land, and the roll, u-turn and loop maneuvers when flying the arwing. Conquering each of these techniques often means the difference between life and death. Even with such physical prowess at your disposal, many of the ground missions wind up feeling like a chaotic mess. The screen burts with enemies at every turn. Sometimes, this can be a good thing, as you can show off your moves and impress onlookers. Mostly though, it's just irritating due to the funky controls. It's a little too hard to center your targets, and enemies will constantly overpower you with sheer numbers and relentless attacks, not through brilliant A.I. They'll just smother you to death.
Boss encounters, a big part in any Star Fox outing, present a mixed bag of old school favorites and new additions. The very first boss you encounter, a wily ape named Oikanny, has been ripped right out of Star Fox 64. You need to target specific spots on the enemy's body, the hands in this case, and unleash a barrage of laser fire. Each boss goes through several incarnations, each one harder than the one before it. Luckily, each phase boasts something new and different in the context of the game. However, it serves to note that none of the bosses will "wow" you like the ones in Star Fox or Star Fox 64. They just lack originality, both from a visual standpoint and in the way you defeat them.
Multiplayer also suffers from a lack of inventiveness. The only multiplayer modes included are versus deathmatch and team deathmatch. You can change the rules to only use rocket launchers and sniper rifles, and also customize which vehicles will be available for a specific match, but there are no co-op modes available. Still, whether a Star Fox game should even include multiplayer is open to debate. But it's there, so efforts should have been made to make it somewhat comprehensive. Players can choose between a number of virtual arenas, or stages unlocked from the main story mode. The virtual arenas feature simplistic design and obstacles. There are very few places to hide or use to some lethal advantage. Depending on the stage, you can either use the Arwing, Landmaster tank or run on foot. Certain arenas let you use all three. Which seems cool enough, only the stages lack the size and design complexity for any of it to really matter. It's fun, don't get us wrong. But it wears thin rather fast. Also, characters are hard to see because they're so small.
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