Preview: Star Fox: Assault (Nintendo Gamecube)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Namco / Genre: Action / Release Date: 02-14-05

Nintendo, let me count the ways in how I love thee. Ok, so maybe I won’t do that, but if I did one of first things I would list right after Pokemon, The Legend of Zelda Series, and any Metroid game would be Fox McCloud and the Nintendo 64 classic Star Fox 64. What a game it was my friends, and it was a game that practically cried out for a kick ass sequel. It was the game that really launched Fox and company into new realms of popularity, as evidenced by the inclusion of Fox and Falco in Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Cube. Unfortunately in recent years I’ve had to have a subdued love for Fox since the first Gamecube title to be released in the series was, in my not so humble opinion, beyond horrific. It didn’t feel like a Star Fox game, it didn’t play like a Star Fox game, and to diehard fans of the series it was pretty much a moment that would rival any gamer’s thoughts once they had found their favorite series has taken a huge dump on the gaming legacy it had built for itself. However the good thing about video games is that there is always a chance for redemption. And, my friends, redemption is at hand. Nintendo’s latest installment of the Star Fox series has been placed into the hands of one of my favorite developers of the past few years: Namco. And from all of our first impressions Namco is definitely steering this ship (or Arwing if you will) in the right direction. Entitled Star Fox: Assault, this new Gamecube adventure is Namco’s take on the series, and it looks to be a single and multi-player basket of goodness with a good dose of old school Star Fox mechanics to make a nearly complete package.

The single player mode will instantly be familiar to old school Star Fox fans. The missions feel just as they should, putting more emphasis on mechanized combat. What I mean by that is most of the time in this game you will be piloting some sort of vehicle whether it be the arwings or a landmaster tank. The emphasis in Star Fox: Assault has taken a decidedly different turn then in Star Fox: Adventures. Much like the SNES and N64 installments of the series Star Fox: Assault makes sure the focus is on dogfighting-like combat complete with land based assaults, instead of hand to hand, with surface to air weapons thrown into the mix. In other words: A return to tradition with a whole new look to it. As you would expect the Gamecube does wonders for the Star Fox series, and for those of us who played the older titles the graphical updates will be the one aspect of Star Fox: Assault that will impress. The frame rate is amazing for the amount of action going on. Depending the mission you are on it will not be out of the ordinary to see a ton of background fighting going on between opposing forces, enemy ships, and other mechanized enemies. Namco has gone out of it’s way to give rabid Star Fox fans what they want, which used to be what Rare was all about, but somewhere along the lines Rare stopped producing quality games…and that is more apparent now than ever before. But I digress…

The sound should also be much better than in the last installment on the Gamecube. The part of the soundtrack that has been included in demos has fit the mood of the stages perfectly, flowing right along with the fast paced action a more traditional Star Fox game like this will require. Along with this will be a control scheme that’s very comfortable for those who are familiar with former installments in the series. The Gamecube controller, in the past, has never turned many heads for being the easiest to handle but Namco seems to have come up with a control set-up that should significantly lower the learning curve of the game for old veterans and newcomers alike. All the old classic moves are there, including the barrel roll, other aerial tricks, lock on, bombs, and more. The only downside to all of this seems to be a bit of an overload in terms of what is going on within the game. Namco has crammed a lot into these levels, and some have reported confusion in levels due to the amount of background action in conjunction with the sound. Whether or not this is addressed in the final version is still a matter of some debate.

What Nintendo and Namco seem to be banking on to sell this game is not just the single player mode, but also the Star Fox 64 esque multi-player mode. Setup to accommodate up to four players, and is loaded with different maps and modes for you to use while battling your friends. When I say maps I of course refer to different environments suited for different kinds of combat. Not surprisingly the multi-player aspects of Star Fox: Assault are made to encompass all kinds of fighting, including aerial, land, and hand to hand. One of the cool features is that you can customize things to a certain extent to decide upon which method of fighting suits you best. Machines and weapons spawn randomly across the environment, with landmaster tanks perhaps being in one certain area with arwings being in another. Surprisingly there are also a wide variety of handheld weapons that come in handy when you’re not piloting something with some major firepower. Namco has gone the extra step here as well to include a lot of little things. One example would be when you destroy an enemy in multi-player mode that doesn’t necessarily mean you got the point for the kill. Sometimes they may eject and you’ll have to seal the deal with them on the ground in one form or another.

For those us you concerned with the story, not much has emerged on the plot as of yet. Of course when dealing with a Nintendo franchise most of us have come to expect game play first and story second. That comes as no surprise. Returning are most of the characters from before, minus Peppy Hare who has not yet been confirmed for the game. Instead in his place is a female character named Krystal. However Slippy, Falco, General Pepper, and Fox all return in more or less the same capacity they have been used in previous games in the series. What it comes down to here is that Nintendo franchises usually deliver the goods. Namco is one of Nintendo’s biggest developers these days (Tales of Symphonia, Donkey Konga, etc…) and they usually come though with better then average products. What that equals is a Star Fox game that will not disappoint. Keep an eye out in the month of February, because that is the tentative release for Star Fox: Assault. And if I had to make a wager I would put money on this title being a must have for all Gamecube owners in the new year.