Review: Star Fox: Assault (Nintendo Gamecube)

Star Fox: Assault
Platform: Gamecube
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Namco
Rating: Teen
Release Date: 2/15/05

Someone fetch me a rolled-up newspaper.

*Thwap* NO. That’s a BAD Nintendo. We DON’T let outside developers mistreat our franchises. Remember Star Fox Adventures? When we got furry cut-rate Zelda instead of rail-shooting? *Thwap* We DON’T spend 3 years developing a game that takes steps backwards from earlier versions. It’s BAD.


Story:

Storywise, SF:A is a really mixed bag. Finally, a Star Fox where Andross isn’t the final enemy! Yes, I’m still irritated with Rare for throwing that cheap crap into Star Fox Adventures. Taking place after the events of SFA, the story starts off with Andross’s nephew, former Star Wolf member Andrew (who apparently gained a bit of respect between SF64 and SF:A, as he’s now referred to as Oikonny) trying to rally the last of Andross’s army against Corneria. Shortly into the game, however, it becomes clear that the real enemy is a race of aliens known as the Aparoids, an insect-like race of insects bent on overrunning the galaxy. While still a bit of a cliche’ concept, it works pretty well and is a welcome change.

The other characters get a bit of a shake-up as well. Peppy is basically in retirement, advising the team from the Great Fox and has been replaced in combat by Krystal. Star Wolf, Star Fox’s nemeses from SF64, return as well, with Andrew and Pigma replaced by Panther Caruso, an Antonio Banderas-wannabe who does nothing but hit on Krystal.

The story really took me by surprise, as the wider threat is even more engaging that the previous conflicts. The Aparoid threat is much more intense than anything Andross threw at you; desperate plans are attempted and personal sacrifices are made. The ending, however, is a staggering letdown, as Nintendo and Namco back down from tragic victories and real progression of the overarching story. Also incredibly frustrating is the lack of resolution of old mysteries; you get a gratuitious and completely unnecessary nod to SFA, and the introduction of Slippy’s father (though who cares about Slippy’s background, honestly?), but no word on Bill, Katt, or James McCloud. Nintendo needs to make a prequel, pure and simple.

Story Rating: 7/10


Graphics:

Grapically, it’s a good-looking game. Graphics and environments look great at high speeds, though some of the textures look a little rough on close inspection. The advantage of keeping the graphics simple without being stark is that the hardware never has a problem with slowdown due to too much action on the screen. Unfortunately, it’s not often enough that you see screen-filling action, but I’ll save that rant for a minute.


The cinema scenes are beautiful. Character models and vehicles are well-animated and pretty detailed. (They seem to have spent a fair amount of time on Krystal in particular, ’cause furries need love too.) Most of the on-foot levels are decently well-made, but the space levels are beautiful. Weapon fire, explosions, and the like are fairly standard, but the boss weapons have some great effects. The hit the graphics take for 4-player multiplayer action is almost unnoticeable, which is absolutely wonderful.

Graphics Rating: 8/10


Sound:

I was fairly surprised at the quality of voice acting in SF:A. It’s hardly spectacular, but it’s handled well. Fox and co. manage to deliver some rather melodramatic lines with decent gravity. Players looking for quotes of SF64-style silliness (“My Emperor! I’VE FAILED YOOOOOOOOOOU!” “They’re on me! I’m gettin’ careless!”) will be a tad disappointed. The delivery is a bit flat on occasion, but it’s better than your average voice work. The effects are decent, but fairly unremarkable. Yep. That’s laser fire. That’s an explosion. That’s Horatio! The sound effects could stand to be bulked-up for effect, particularly in huge armada-style battles, where they don’t quite give the full effect of a full-scale melee.

The music, on the other hand, is top-notch. Fans of SF64 will adore the background music. The theme song in particular, playing behind the opening cinema, is an even-better orchestrated version of the SF64 theme, overlayed with a subtle, pulsating beat that gives the song major nostalgia points while adding a bit of a new edge. The orchestral approach works magnificently with the spaceflight battles, giving the player a definitely feeling of being part of something huge and epic.

Sound Rating: 8/10


Gameplay and Control:

THIS is where we get into smacking Nintendo with the newspaper repeatedly and vigorously. The first level of the game is magnificent. Cutting through an enemy armada, taking down scores of enemies, covering your teammates, and just generally playing an updated version of SF64. Aside from one odd change of controls (the Arwing now banks and barrel rolls only with the L button, and R is for some reason reserved for braking), any fans of the previous games can hop right in. Taking down groups of enemies with a few well-placed charge shots, barrel-rolling to avoid enemy fire (which seems less effective now), THIS is the Star Fox you remember. The action quickly heads down to the planet’s surface via a short cutscene, and rail-shooting hijinx continue. And it’s wonderful. Probably the most exciting new development is the fact that the rails in rail-shooting levels aren’t completely straight, as you get a few corners to swerve around. Nothing jawdropping to any fan of Panzer Dragoon, but a nice addition.

Now the fun part. Finish the first level. Now pretend it never existed. Because out of the 10 missions, you see rail-shooting twice more. That’s right. You get the first level, an asteroid level in the middle, and a short tunnel to the final boss. The Star Fox game that was trumpeted as a return to its old-school sensibilities falls short. Fission Mailed!


Most of the game takes place in arenas, like “All-Range Mode” from SF64. You’ll basically spend most of your time on foot or in the slightly-revamped Landmaster tank, running around and destroying targets. And the feeling of Star Fox flies out the window. The controls are passable, but not nearly as tight and polished as they should be. There’s no camera control on foot, which can be a real pain in the ass inside buildings, though it’s never unbearable. Fox feels TOO fast, sliding around the levels with no real sense of physics. The jumping is a bit awkward, and it’s very easy to fall off of edges. If even the mildest of platforming elements were added in here (i.e. just being able to put the gun away and walk naturally instead of having a constant fixed perspective) would help so much. Turning is incredibly slow, and really makes it irritating to be attacked by enemies from all sides when it takes 30 seconds to turn around. The tank has the same problems, except it’s TOO slow and heavy. Oh, how it makes me miss SF64’s Macbeth stage, chasing the train in the Landmaster. Also missing is the submarine; though the Blue-Marine level was never incredible, it was still a good idea for a quick break from flying. All in all, the ground based stuff is playable, and can be fun on occasion, but it’s simply not up to par with the flying, or the franchise’s general committment to airtight control.

The only innovation that works really well is the addition of “wingman” missions. Two of the missions have sections during which Fox ends up riding the wing of another pilot, blasting away with a plasma cannon at pursuing enemies. This mechanic is fun, and seems tailor-made for co-op mode, but is a bit on the easy side; the game gives you infinite machine-gun ammo, making it incredibly unstrategic. You also can’t move anything but your targeting reticle, which means you’ll find yourself blasting the plane you’re on instead of the enemies. It would be interesting to see this developed into a full co-operative mode, with some sort of contingency for barrel-rolling.

Multiplayer is fun, but nothing groundbreaking. The fast-and-loose controls function much better in this sort of environment. It’s incredibly satisfying to jump out of your Arwing in the middle of a dogfight, blast your enemy with a rocket, and then jump to the ground. Ironically, the big problem with the multiplayer is dogfighting; Arwing vs. Arwing battles are incredibly slow and boring. Loops and U-turns are far too slow, as is turning, even while banking. The focus of the game actually seems to be on multiplayer more than anything; the vast majority of the unlockables open new maps, modes, and characters in multiplayer instead of new things for Story mode. There are also unlockables for playing lots of multiplayer matches; you’ll need to log more than 200 to open everything. It’s not going to replace SSBM by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s still fun.

Gameplay and Control: 7/10


Balance:

The game is refreshingly well-balanced. The learning curve is near-perfect, as the earlier levels give you plenty of opportunity to take down enemies without quite swarming you, and letting the player adapt (or readapt) to the control scheme. Even for a veteren playing on the Bronze difficulty, the last levels manage to be a bit of a challenge without feeling unfair. The higher difficulties ramp up the challenge a bit, but not devastatingly so; the real focus is more on memorizing enemy locations or stringing together combos. Ultimately, the game has something to offer players of any skill level.

Balance Rating: 9/10


Replayability:

I’ve got to say it again. BAD Nintendo. BAD!

With the decision to drop branching paths, there’s really not much motivation to play again, other than struggling for high scores. Namco obviously had an arcade-shooter scenario in mind, but the lack of branching paths and multiple options makes it incredibly tedious. The dragged-out feeling of the on-foot levels is also discouraging.


Namco and Nintendo inexcusably dropped the ball on extras, as well. People played back through SF64 just to get James’s picture on their comm. display instead of Fox’s; it only takes a bit to encourage us, Nintendo! Each level has 5 flags hidden throughout, to encourage exploration and replay. This really has the potential to encourage replay, since they’re downright tricky to find. (I honestly thought there was only one to be found in each level the first time I played through.) The problem is that the reward for it is a letdown, as it’s only a new mode in multiplayer. The real pisser comes from medal collection; there’s no reward for collecting all medals. None whatsoever. All Silvers unlocks the port of Xevious, but there’s nothing for all Gold. Is there any sense in this whatsoever?

And just let me reiterate… BAD Nintendo. Don’t take away branching paths.

Replayability Rating: 4/10


Originality:

SF:A tries too hard to break a formula that was great to begin with. The mediocrity of the on-foot stages is made infinitely worse by the fact that the shooter stages have the all the necessary ingredients to transcend SF64, but barely pull it together. Do everyone a favor and keep the focus of on-rail shooting. Not constant on-foot levels, or arena levels. On-rails shooter action.

Originality Rating: 6.5/10


Appeal:

Honestly, as a fanboy, this is a bit tough to call. The franchise’s devoted following seems to waver between “OGM FOX SHOULD NEVAR GET OUT OF TEH PLANE THIS SUX!!!!!!!” and ambivalence to the on-foot stuff. The only universal seems to be that the shooting levels are lovely, and the rest… not so much. The fact that SFA reached Player’s Choice status shows that the Star Fox audience is out there, and dedicated. The focus on action and the recognizable name may be able to drum up some new fans. It beats the hell out of Rumbly Tumbly Adventures.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


Addictiveness:

Part of the problem with the game’s brevity is that it’s so bloody addicting. If this were a game you weren’t really concerned about, the 10 levels would stretch out farther. But this is Star Fox! The first level does so much, and does it so well, that you find yourself suspending criticism of the subsequent levels for awhile. It’s only around level 6 or 7 that you stop to think “y’know, there seems to be a distinct pattern of not-enough-rail-shooting.” The fact that you can (and will most likely be tempted to) finish this in one very dedicated sitting is both a testament to its potential and addictiveness, even if the disappointment of finishing will probably put you off.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10


Miscellaneous:

Bad bad BAD Nintendo and Namco! There are numerous inconsistencies in some of the promises of this game vs. the reality of it. First and foremost, all the press releases specifically plugged a co-operative mode, which got cut. It was also advertised, and very recently reiterated by certain other gaming sites, that SF:A would include THREE classic arcade games from Namco. There’s one. Several of these other major gaming sites referred to the existence of these multiple ports in their final reviews, when they’re simply not there. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Guys, play your games, and finish them before you review them. It just makes you look bad when you do something like this and leave your ass hanging out for people like me to catch. A more subtle indication of late removals of content is the fact that in the credits, someone is listed as being the man responsible for creating Andross for Namco. Andross never shows up (although, to be honest, I was relieved).


Nintendo also made a big deal about shipping rental copies to popular video stores 2 weeks before the ship date. While this would make sense with, say, a Resident Evil 4, doing this for a 5-hour game doesn’t make one damn bit of sense. Good concept, but inexcusably crappy application.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10


Final Scores:

Story: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay and Control: 7/10
Balance: 9/10
Replayability: 4/10
Originality: 6/10
Appeal: 7/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Misc: 3/10

Overall Score: 69/100
Final Score: 7/10 (GOOD)