Beginning with the original 1993 SNES title, Nintendo has toyed with the space combat series Star Fox in a number of ways. Star Fox Adventures added a doodad-hunting adventure format, while last year's Star Fox Assault included ground-based battles that managed to actually detract from the game's appeal. Now on the DS, the Star Fox series has experienced yet another format shift: Star Fox Command. Command offers some simple strategy elements, an innovative control scheme, and the tried and true dogfighting gameplay the series is known for. It also dwells on one of the series' weaknesses, plot, to the detriment of the game. Despite that and a few other issues, Star Fox Command will provide some quality space combat for anyone looking to kill some time, and a few aliens. Read on for my impressions of Nintendo's latest core series release.
- Title: Star Fox Command
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Q-Games
- System: DS
In Star Fox Command, you take on the roles of Fox, Slippy, Falco, and the rest of the the Star Fox band, in an attempt to deal with new threats to the known universe. Dr. Andross, the boss from previous games, has been defeated. As a result of interpersonal problems, the gang has broken up and moved off in their own directions. Always trapped in the role of Johnny Hero, Fox McCloud takes on the alien race known as the 'Anglar' in an attempt to keep the peace he's bought with most of his life. Along the way, McCloud runs into the other members of his former squadron and enlists their aid to save the day. It's all pretty traditional stuff, and you'll probably find yourself tapping the stylus over and over on the 'next' button to get into the actual gameplay. The only real point of interest here is that the game's replayability is rooted in the story. After you beat it once, moving through the conversation options you have available, you'll be able to go back and play through again with new witty things to say. Each complete trip through the game is a fairly quick experience, and you should have no problem moving through all the options in a few days. I found this 'space opera lite' storyline fairly predictable and forgettable. Just the same, it's commendable that they've given you the option to explore it more fully as a side effect of accessing new content.
Though it sets the game apart, I also found the title's strategy elements to be more enjoyable as a means of getting to the combat than as a distinct game feature. In order to engage in combat on the many worlds, you'll have to navigate a tactical screen and direct your pilots. On the strategy screen are all the pilots you have available, the Great Fox mothership, and any enemy groups you'll have to take out. By drawing a line with the stylus you direct your pilots into the path of enemy groups, thereby engaging them. For any given scenario you're alloted a specific number of turns to accomplish your goals. If you fail to destroy all of the enemies in the allotted number of turns, you lose. This Advance Wars-style control scheme is complicated by several additional elements. The goal of the enemy groups is not to engage you: they are aiming to take out the Great Fox. Fail to intercept one of these gangs and you'll forfeit your mission completely. A fog of war hides and distorts reliable intelligence on enemy movements, and impassable barriers make planning out the movements of your pilots a requirement. If this sounds challenging, it isn't. A few levels into the game you'll have all of these elements under your belt, and the tactical screen will become just another barrier between you and the fun part: space combat. As with the branching plot, though, it's an interesting way to mess with the Star Fox formula. It's also far less objectionable than, say, tanks.
The discomfort is worth it, though, because flying, shooting, and keeping your time meter filled are a whole lot of fun. Each mission has a falling timer, and if you run out of seconds you're through; you can also fail a mission by running out of shield strength. The goal of each mission is to take out enemies with special cores, with a certain number of cores required for each mission to be considered complete. Time icons are obtainable to extend your mission length, as are shield regenerators, bombs, and other power-ups. Barrel-rolling is a required tactic, as it not only deflects harmful blasts but adds a small amount to your time as well. The catch is that all of these elements (shooting down enemies, watching your shield strength, keeping your time up) have to be accomplished in little more than 60 seconds. Even boss battles are very quick, and failure is something you'll be faced with until you have the controls mastered. At that point things may become a bit rote, but by the time they do you'll probably have finished the last iteration of the game's storyline anyway.
Like its predecessors, Star Fox Command is not intended as a long-term gaming commitment. Instead, the title delivers fast-paced space shooting, enjoyable retro graphics, and some tactical tweaks to the series standards. Wireless multiplayer is even an option, with or without additional carts. Command is the kind of popcorn-depth game that is great every once in a while to cleanse your palate. It's the perfect road-trip game, or something you can breeze through in a long weekend. Given the lackluster efforts of the last few Star Fox series titles, it's refreshing to see Nintendo and Q-Games shaking things up by going back to the game's roots. If it's broke, fix it. If you're looking for a quickie game in between the heavyweight titles coming at us this fall, Command has enough simple, honest gameplay to make your hands spasm in enjoyment.