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'Star Fox: Command' Review (DS)


Forget Mario. Forget Link. And forget Pokemon. If there has been one Nintendo franchise I've loved more than any other, it has always been Star Fox. Mixing science fiction with animal critters, Star Fox was a step up in graphics when the original came out for the SNES, reached its pinnacle with Star Fox 64, then sadly faded into obscurity with the less than stellar Gamecube games. For its first outing on Nintendo's new handheld, does Command soar to new heights or get shot down?

After the events of the last game, the Star Fox team has quickly disbanded, with only ROB and Fox McCloud making up the team. Things were going well for a time in the galaxy, till a new menace called the Anglars emerged from the acid seas of Venom and set forth on a mission to takeover the galaxy. With only Fox to stand in their way, he must work to takeout the invading forces, and gather his old teammates in the process to improve his odds. Will the Star Fox team put aside their differences and leave their current lives to put a stop to this menace?

Told through a static prologue and ending, mixed with text based conversations before and after a mission (not to mention the occasional chatter during a mission as well), the story of Star Fox is surprisingly pretty deep and engaging, as you'll continue to play from beginning to end to see just what happens next, and to see if your favorite characters will all get back together. As you play the Story Mode, everyone will get the same ending, but the neat twist to Star Fox: Command is that once you beat the game once, you get a key, which allows you to unlock branching story paths you notice your first time through the game, but were unable to access. As you take these different paths, you'll unlock a different story, meet new bosses, and will ultimately get a new ending (a total of nine different endings await the completist who must see 100% of the game).

The "choose your own adventure" story works well, because the story is never the same, so it always feels like you are playing a whole new game. For instance, on the first play through Slippy joins up with your team during battle, but during my second run through he was actually the enemy, brainwashed by an octopus, which I never even seen (let alone heard about) my first time through. Unlike a typical side story that fills in the missing pieces, each play through (as long as you don't choose the same paths) is unique and substantially more rewarding as they indeed get harder and harder.

Fox and the other members who make up the Star Fox team all control solely by the bottom DS touch screen, plus one button (more than likely the left shoulder button if you are a righty) to shoot your laser and lock-on to enemies. To move your Arwing, you place the stylus to the screen and drag up to go up, down to go down, etc (though you can also invert the controls as well if you so prefer). To boost you double tap near the top of the screen and to brake you double tap near the bottom (you hold the stylus to the screen at the end to hold the maneuver longer). To perform loops and turns, there are individual buttons on the right side of the touch screen, and by simply tapping one you'll automatically pull off that maneuver. You'll also use the touch screen to detonate bombs by dragging the B symbol onto your screen and placing it over your desired location, making sure the blast radius eliminates as many enemies as you can. The last touch screen controlled movement is the barrel roll, which all Star Fox fans will know deflects enemy blasters so you don't take any damage – the move is accomplished by quickly scribbling back and forth on the screen, holding it on the last one to keep your ship rolling until your meter runs out. Meanwhile, clicking the A, B, X, L or R buttons (the D-pad works as well) will fire the lasers and holding them down with initiate your lock-on if your character has that ability.

Bucking the trend of the original games, there aren't any on-rail moments, instead favoring the free roam levels first introduced in Star Fox 64 (though there they were still a secondary level compared to the on-rails, which dominated the amount of gameplay). Though all the levels take place in these free roam areas, there are basically only four different level types when you break it all down.

For starters, for any given level you never have to kill every enemy, but rather only kill the specified enemy (indicated by the graphic that proceeds each battle) and collecting its core – after all cores are collected you win. The first level type is the normal battles where you simply kill and collect the cores – nothing much to them. The second type involves collecting the required cores, which will then initiate a minigame where you must fly through several square boxes, that act as a guidance towards the motherships that hover over the capital cities, and to kill the mothership and complete the level, you must go through every box and then perform a barrel roll to kill the ship. The third level type involves chasing missiles, where you must fly through more red boxes, following the stream of the missile, and then when you get close enough you must use your lasers or lock-on to take it down, being sure you don't miss one of the red boxes in the process (though you don't lose a life, you'll waste a turn and let the missile get even closer to the Great Fox). The last levels involve boss battles, where all you have to do is win.

As you start off a mission, you'll see your characters on the touch screen, plus capital cities (where the mothership levels take place), enemy patrols, and missiles. The object of every mission is to take every capital, stop every missile, and takeout all the enemy patrols. To proceed, you use your touch screen to draw flight paths, leading them to enemies you need to battle or pickups to improve your odds (like time bonuses or missiles that you can use with the Great Fox so it can shoot down enemies too close to the ship or enemies that you find too hard). You only have a certain amount of turns to complete the mission, and if you run out you fail and have to start over and try again (though you can get more turns by successfully completing one of the mothership levels).

The levels aren't terribly hard, but you will try some missions several times over, mainly because you'll be experimenting as you go, trying to find what characters work best for what situation, etc. Impeding your progress and making things harder are the no fly zones (barriers you or the enemy can't go through, but the missiles can) and the fog of war, which hides enemies and capitals, and you can only discover them by rubbing away the fog, but you can only rub so much off each turn.

The ultimate Star Fox fan will try for perfection on each mission, which means not just taking out the enemies that have the cores, but killing every enemy on the screen on every level of every mission. The thing that makes this difficult is that each mission has a time level (lose all your time and you'll get a new counter, but will lose a life in the process). Though you can increase your time by finding ring pickups and doing successful barrel rolls (deflecting enemy fire nets you seconds to add to the clock), it still leaves you cutting it close, as some of the enemies can be a chore to takedown given their flight patterns and their difficult to hit weak spots.

Still, given the time aspects and the tedium and frustration of some of the levels (I'm looking your way missile battles), Star Fox: Command still remains an engaging single player experience.

Able to be played over a Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection or through card play, the multiplayer is strictly dogfighting within the free roam environments, as you want to be the last man standing and the one with the most kills by the end of a session. A ranking system helps keep track of your progress and how you stack up, by giving you various letter grades. Multiplayer fun is a blast to play, as it really feels like a good old dogfight, as you'll be tracking down enemies, doing loops to avoid fire, you name it.

The draw distance isn't too fantastic, as enemies and environmental hazards can quickly disappear from your view, but it doesn't affect gameplay all that much. The environments aren't too detailed, but the static characters are designed well and have the feel of the originals, plus the ships and enemies are designed nicely, so overall pretty spectacular considering what the game is trying to accomplish and recreate.

The music hearkens back to the original MIDI type compositions, but it is still presented in a way to make you feel riveted to the screen, as the bombastic stylings keep you engaged and make every moment feel like a life or death one. The sound is filled with emergency sirens and blaster fire, though everything kind of sounds the same by the end. I loved the inclusion of the inaudible character voices, which are nothing more than a bunch of different sounding bloops and such, which is exactly how they spoke during the first game, rather than the understandable human speech that proceeded in later installments; the developers did a great job of going for the nostalgia factor.

As a big fan of the franchise, I was overjoyed to finally play the game after only seeing snippets of it at E3, and I was not disappointed. However, that isn't to say the game is perfect, because the levels are pretty short since you are working on a timer, and after a play through the constant level types recurring over and over wear on the player to a degree, but still it is a solid game and is my favorite for the relatively young DS so far that I've played.

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