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Staff Review -- Star Fox Assault (GameCube)


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STAFF REVIEW

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System: GameCube

Developer: Namco

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date: February 15, 2005

 

 

If you sit and watch the opening cinematic for Star Fox Assault, you?ll notice that it ends with the words, ?Star Fox ready for take off!? Having played the game from start to finish, I find the choice of these words interesting, since the game forces you to spend most of your time running around on the ground or driving a tank. After playing Rare?s Star Fox Adventures and now this, a part of me suspects that Nintendo utterly despises the Arwing, and will do anything to keep players away from its cockpit. It?s a pity, because this game could have lived up to its potential if we could spend more time flying around in one.

 

In many ways, Star Fox has been as much about breaking new technological ground as it has been about flying space ships and shooting stuff. The original SNES hit debuted with the highly touted Super FX chip, a device that allowed even a 16-bit system to push polygons and create a semi-3D environment. Years later, the sequel for the N64 proved that abundant use of voice acting was possible on a cartridge and brought force feedback into console gaming with the Rumble Pak. Star Fox Assault on the other hand, breaks no new ground, which is fitting seeing as the game itself stands out in no particular way whatsoever.

 

Set after the events of Star Fox Adventures, the story begins with Lylat system once again in mortal peril. The remnants of Andross?s forces, led by his nephew Oikanny, have amassed in an attempt to take over the system. Since the Cornerian army can?t so much as swat a fly properly, it?s up to the Fox McCloud and his gang of mercenaries to once again ride in and save the day. However, things get shaken up a bit with the arrival of the Aparoids, a new, Borg-like alien threat that can assimilate anyone it comes into contact with. While the story does serve up a few unexpected twists along the way, it?s still what you would expect from the Star Fox series. There?s a bad guy causing problems, and you need to go blow it up.

 

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The Arwing levels, though short, are as fun as ever.

 

In this particular installment, blowing stuff up comes in three varieties. The first is in the Arwing. You?ll either fly through these levels in a traditional on-rails manner or engage in dogfights within a free-roaming environment much like in Star Fox 64. A couple levels even place Fox in the role of a wingman in a very literal sense. In these, he?ll stand on the wing of a team member?s Arwing and blast enemies with a machine gun as you fly around the map. All the Arwing?s weapons and moves from the N64 game return, including the usual blaster upgrades, the ability to lock on to enemies with a charged shot, and the use of the barrel roll to deflect enemy fire. Considering how good Star Fox 64 was it should come as a surprise to no one that these sections stand out as the best moments in the game. The first level in particular hints at what a really good update to the N64 title could have been like on the GameCube with huge armadas of enemy battle ships and swarms of enemies ready to take you down.

 

Alas, developer Namco has decided to go a different route with this title. The rest of the game places Fox?s feet firmly on the ground, where he can either blast enemies away in the Land Master tank or go commando Ratchet and Clank style. To be honest, these sections can actually be a good deal of fun, especially if you want a nothing more than a quick dose of mindless action. However, they do have their quirks that can make things very frustrating at times.

 

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Some ground missions require you to switch

between vehicles to take out all the enemies.

 

For one, the Land Master tank lacks the grace and agility of the Arwing. Sure, it can perform a cool hover move to reach higher areas, and roll out of the way of an enemy attack, but there?s no quick means of turning the vehicle around. The unintuitive control scheme, which employs a cumbersome combination of both the analog and C stick, doesn?t help matters any, nor does the unbelievably slow rate of fire from its canon. On foot, however, Fox moves with a good deal of speed, affording these missions a degree of energy that is commendable. Fox can also pick up weapons along the way including some old standards like a machine gun, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle. Ammo for these weapons is limited while the default blaster can be fired as many times as you like. Unfortunately, switching between weapons proves to be problematic, since there?s no quick switch option to instantly select the gun you need. Instead, you?ll have to cycle through all or your inventory to find the one you need, leaving you vulnerable to enemy attacks.

 

While the ground missions aren?t a complete waste of time, they do suffer from a serious lack of variety. Every single one of them involves finding a target on the radar and blowing it up. Granted, this is a shooter, and blowing stuff up is to be expected, but there?s no variation in the way you go about destroying everything. One level does require you to snipe targets from a distance, but that?s the extent of it. Otherwise, you simply run to where the target is and shoot it until it explodes.

 

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The Land Master tank proves to be the most frustrating vehicle to drive.

 

Which brings me back to my earlier point: Star Fox Assault is a completely uninspired offering and does nothing in particular to stand out. The graphics, though running at a smooth 60 fps in progressive scan, look flat and boring thanks to dull art direction and bland level design. The soundtrack serves up some nice musical numbers, which are negated by the poor voice acting, generic sound effects, and no Dolby Pro-Logic II support. Additionally, the game lacks the branching storyline that made Star Fox 64 so great. Instead, the progression of the game is completely linear and there are only ten missions in all. As with Star Fox 64, you are encouraged to replay levels in order to obtain high scores and earn medals. If you find that sort of thing interesting, you can easily get more than 10 hours out of Star Fox Assault. If not, the single-player campaign should take around 5 hours to beat on the Silver difficulty. Even then, don't expect much of a challenge. Let's just say that I couldn't tell you what the Game Over screen looks like, even after playing the whole game. You can also go head-to-head with four other players in a deathmatch mode that?s on par with the single-player portion in terms of quality. In other words, this is not the definitive party game for Nintendo?s current home console.

 

Ultimately, Star Fox Assault does not live up to the reputation of its predecessors. Namco has taken one of Nintendo?s AAA licenses and treated it like third-rate material. The saddest thing of all is that fans of the series have waited over seven years for this game, only to be rewarded with a title that?s played as a weekend rental. If we?re lucky, perhaps Nintendo will decide to develop the next installment themselves, or better yet give the series to the team formerly known as Smilebit that handled Panzer Dragoon Orta. It's not as though they're busy doing anything these days. Heaven only knows what sort of mad genius those guys could inject into the adventures of Fox McCloud.

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Excellent review Jeff :tu .

 

I pretty much decided to hold off on Starfox once the reports of the land based levels being somewhat mediocre came in. Given the game's problems, I'm glad I did. I'll more than likely rent it some weekend and get it taken care of. I'll pick it up when it's cheap.

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Additionally, the game lacks the branching storyline that made Star Fox 64 so great. Instead, the progression of the game is completely linear and there are only ten missions in all.

 

AHA! I knew something was missing, I just couldn't remember it.

 

I might have to go buy a damn N64 again for Star Fox 64. Every other sequel has fulfilled my need for N64 games (Mario Kart, Smash Brothers, Zelda). Or maybe I will pick up the SNES version :D

 

Good review. The tank is a PITA to drive, the boost is annoying because you can't really move much once you hit it, and the control scheme very unintuitive. Walking seemed like a 3rd person shooter, OK. Arwing levels were OK.

 

 

Summary:

I'd buy it for $20 to play the Arwing levels if there were

1) more of them

2) and you didn't have to suffer through the ground levels.

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Thanks for the review, Jeff. This is disappointing, although completely in line with everything I've heard about the game to date.

 

Has the series lost any of its appeal in your eyes lately? That is, as a long-time StarFox fan, has your interest waned at all because of the mediocre things they've done with the franchise? Just curious.

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Has the series lost any of its appeal in your eyes lately? That is, as a long-time StarFox fan, has your interest waned at all because of the mediocre things they've done with the franchise? Just curious.

 

That's a great question, and one that I'm not sure I know how to answer. To be honest, I loved Star Fox 64, but I never had the same passion for the first one. Don't get me wrong, it was a cool game, but it didn't grab me the way the N64 follow-up did.

 

I think part of the reason Star Fox 64 blew me away has to do with the fact that my expectations weren't really all that high in the first place. When I first read about it, I was disappointed to hear that much of the game would take place in rail shooter levels. After playing Super Mario 64, the thought of being forced to fly in only one direction seemed like a step backwards. What I didn't realize was how exciting those levels would be, or how the all range mode would compliment the rail missions. Also, I've always loved the idea of flying around in a space ship and get into intense dogfights like in a Star Wars movie. Star Fox 64 was the first time I ever felt like I approached anything remotely resembling that feeling in a video game.

 

I also loved the fact that everytime I played it, it was never quite the same as before. The branching storyline gave me the chance to make my own adventure, and I loved how certain characters from a previous mission would show up in the next one and help you out.

 

Has my interest in the series waned? I suppose it has a bit. However, it's not because I wouldn't love to play another game like Star Fox 64. It's just that I don't think I'm going to have the opportunity to play another game of that caliber in this particular series ever again. I hope I'm wrong, but at this point, I'm not expecting the series to return to greatness any time soon.

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Great review Jeff. I was very excited about this game when I first heard of it way back when, and like most, I was skeptical of the ground missions. I loved Starfox 64 just like everybody else and was hoping for more of the same. It does appear as if our expectations were not met, however. It's sad that this game has moved from a must buy to a weekend rental for me. But hey, that's more money for all the other great games that will be out soon.

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Excellent review Jeff! I've loved the StarFox series since its inception, but I was on the fence with this game since I saw the original videos for it a while back. After the mediore reviews it's been garnering, I decided to pass on it. Much like Romier, I'll wait until a price drop.

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