Star Fox Command review
When Starfox first hit the SNES it certainly left an impression. It was one of the first console games to put in 3D graphics through the use of the SuperFX chip. Crude polygon 3D granted, but 3D nevertheless. When Star Fox 64 arrived it hit another success by expanded on the ideals of the original game. From there critic reception of later games went down a little. Star Fox Adventures was regarded a good but "not a Star Fox game" and Assault had its own set of problems. Now the DS version Command has arrived with its own tweaks to the system.
The game is set many years after the events of Assault and the team has largely disbanded, only for a new enemy to rise from the seas of Venom to threaten the Lylat System. Honestly a little boring and some of the character changes don't sit well (see: Fox and Krystal) but as a reason to go around blowing stuff up it's fine.
Graphically the game does look quite cool. Craft and levels have been rendered in 3D quite well with some quite varied interesting designs. Each pilot has their own unique craft that usually represents each one quite well, like Slippy's bulky Bullfrog or the streamlined Sky Claw of Falco's. Generic enemies have an interesting robotic appearance to them to give off a nice impression of a dangerous army.
The levels, sans missile levels, are usually quite well crafted as well. Areas range from the urban cities of Corneria to barren wastelands of Venom, often throwing in more than enough scenery objects to craft great locations. Character models are done nicely, if perhaps a little too smooth for animals (a throwback to the N64 game). Each one possesses a distinct appearance to give us a varied cast.
Fans of the series may be pleased to note that a lot of the old music has returned for this game remixed for the new game. I was particularly happy to hear the Area 6 music from SF64 pumping out of the speakers, and it's all generally good action stuff to accompany the blasty-blasty gameplay. Character voices are essentially a series of garbled gibberish designed to give each one their own tone without dedicating large amounts of space to actual voicework, but it's nice all the same and better than nothing.
The gameplay is split into two parts that might knock veteran gamers for a loop. The first gameplay segment you'll hit in any mission (excluding the training levels) is the turn based strategy element. Savvy fans of the series may know that this was originally intended for the ill fated Star Fox 2, but otherwise it's a strange unexpected twist. The field consists of Great Fox, your fighters, enemy fighters, missiles, bases and powerups. Great Fox acts as your base, and hits you with a game over should any enemy group or missile reach it. On the other hand it can fire missiles at enemy groups for instant kill, which is handy when outnumbered.
The goal of every map is to clear out every single enemy marker by moving your own fighters. The number of fighters varies by level (starting with one and sometimes ending up with a full roster of four). Each turn the player uses the touch screen to draw out flight paths for each fighter, with everyone only able to move a set amount. Enemy groups that cross the flight path will automatically chase the player craft, while missiles and bases must be intercepted directly. Fighters can also pass over powerups to collect them, although these are often out of the normal path and require clever movements to grab.
Restrictions can be present as well. No fly zones litter some maps, where only missiles can pass through. Fog can limit visibility, but allows the player to clear some away at the beginning of each turn. When all tasks have been set up then the turn can be ended and all related groups begin their assigned movements. Should the player craft(s) come across the enemy then the engagements can begin, which is where the second more familiar gameplay aspect kicks into gear.
Krystal Kicking Tail.
Those expecting a free ride may be in for a shock due to the time limit. The player starts every mission with a set timer that ticks down during enemy, base or boss battles, which is designed to represent the fuel supply. Run out of time and the ship crashes, forcing you to lose a life. Extra time can be gained by picking up fuel cells, reflecting laserfire with barrel rolls or gaining as a bonus at the end of a level for destroying enemies. The timer carries over from one level to the next; only resetting between missions. Ultimately this is one of the inferior additions to the series though as the timer can be very strict and it takes some practice to get good at building the timer back up. This can also vary from one mission to the next as well. Laser deflection is easily key to building a good time limit up, with the laser heavy stages allowing you to easily boost the timer up over twice as much as what it start at. Other missions, on the other hand, throw out very few lasers and even skilled players will struggle to keep the timer from crashing to zero. That can be a bit frustrating and so more leniency from this would have been beneficial.
Controlling the Arwing takes some getting used to and some elements are really weird. On the plus side, sliding the stylus to direct the Arwing works well, barrel rolling is done by circling with the stylus and laser fire and lock-ons are done by tapping DS buttons. Feels natural and the controls are responsive. 180 and 360 flips are icons that require a simple tap and work well too. However, the lesser used commands are awkward by also being mapped to the touch screen. Bombs are triggered by dragging one from the relevant icon to the touch screen radar, which takes you away from movement. Oddly enough the action continues on while the bomb is going off without player con trol (or even seeing the arwing) which means that you could actually fly into damage while the bomb is detonating and not be able to do anything about it. Such a terrible oversight. Boosting and braking is also awkward, as each involves double tapping either the top or bottom of the screen, which can cause involuntary movements in either direction. Did all the face buttons have to be mapped to laser fire? Couldn't some of them be for boosting and braking?
Remember the lesser used All Range mode from Star Fox 64? Well, this is used for all the group enemy and base engagements, as well as the boss battles. All these battles take place in a square shaped area where your craft will automatically turn back into the area if you fly too far. In all variants of this mode you can freely fly around and the goal is to collect all the enemy cores, with the base levels throwing an extra twist at the end where players fly through large square beacons and barrel roll their way through the mothership, which is simple enough. Not all enemies have cores, with the types of enemies carrying them shown at the beginning of each level. Effectively this gives you two options - either go straight after the cores to finish the level quickly or murder everything in sight before collecting all the cores. This is largely affected by how well the timer can be built upon, but aiming to wipe out more targets has its benefits too.
Powerups litter the stages and can be triggered in a few ways. Flying through rings or for every five enemies killed will cause a seemingly random powerup to appear. Naturally the fuel cells are the most sought after but you can also grab extra bombs or shield energy rings. The extra life system in this game is also odd but an interesting twist nevertheless. For every 100 hit points scored off enemies 10 coins spread out from the arwing. Collecting these give timer boosts and grabbing them all before they fade is what gives you the extra life. As for actually grabbing items it is fortunate that the barrel rolls produce a "magnetic field" to draw items in, making it a simple process, although for players aiming to gun down all enemies in each level it can have the occasional side effect of accidentally picking up cores when just trying to avoid enemy fire. Still, I'll take that over tricky to grab powerups.
Fox vs an army? I pity that army.
Missile chase missions differ in that they more closely resemble the linear levels of past game. Your ship flies in one direction and has to fly through the square beacons to continue in the mission. Each time your speed is boosted and when you catch up to the missile you have to blow it away. These are kinda tricky as you still have to hit beacons at lightning speed and ultimately not particularly interesting as every missile mission is just too similar to one another.
In keeping with the traditions of the original games it is possible to pick your path through the game, although not in the original method. On the first playthrough your path is locked, but on subsequent playthroughs you can pick different decisions that affect where you go. It can even change who the main character is and who teams up with you (although no explanation on why the Great Fox follows other characters around). This does allow for greater variation in playthroughs although it's not as straightforward to figure out the different routes.
There's also a multiplayer addition to the game where players can compete in their chosen crafts, which can be done over local play (including download) and across the WiFi connection. It's a nice addition to extend the lifespan of the game.
So while Command does quite have the same pick up and play appeal as the early games it nevertheless offers an interesting enjoyable alternative. It does have a few issues that interfere with things but otherwise it's well worth the time, especially for fans of the series.
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