Replaying Starfox Adventures recently inspired me to give the other Gamecube Starfox title another go. The game, developed by Tekken creators Namco returns to a structure more like the series high point Lylat Wars, but was it better than Rare’s ground-bound adventure?
The game begins with a pretty spectacular sequence that sees the Starfox team, Fox, Falco, Slippy and Krystal backing up the Cornerian Army in their campaign against Andross’ remaining forces led by his nephew Andrew Oikonney. The team track the crazy ape to Fortuna but its not the anthropomorphic heroes that finish him. A biomechanical alien creature called an Aparoid turns up, kills Oikonney, and turns a crisis into a catastrophe. The life destroying Aparoids quickly start causing havoc in the Lylat System and the team desperately try to track down an Aparoid Core Memory which will help them defeat the invading army, a journey that takes them to many familiar locations. It’s definitely a better story than Starfox Adventures, the Aparoids are threatening enemies and there are some real surprises and twists along the way. Sadly its pretty short lived with only ten missions and no branching paths. The writing is nothing spectacular and the voice acting is a bit hit and miss but it’s clearly better than the voicework in Starfox Adventures.
There are three main types of level, the classic on-rails Arwing levels, the dogfighting Lylat Wars called all-range mode and ground-bound missions that are basically third-person shooter levels. There’s also a fourth mode that sees Fox balancing on the wing of an Arwing or Wolfen blasting everything he sees with a plasma canon, essentially another kind of on-rails level but it only happens a couple of times. It feels much more like a Starfox game and missions often see a combination of level types. One minute you might be running around an enemy base and the next you’ll be needed in the air so you’ll have to return to your Arwing to help out. It’s nice to see plenty of variety in the gameplay which makes it a bigger shame that the missions are so underwhelming.
We’ll start with the worst. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Fox should stay in the cockpit as the on-foot missions are rubbish. The controls are fiddly and unrefined even when you jump into a Lanmaster tank, it’s so bad that it more or less cripples the whole game given how many levels put you on the ground. You’re given an arsenal of weapons such including the basic blaster, machine-gun, grenades, homing missiles and sniper rifle. and invited to blast everything you see but the levels are of very mediocre design. The environments are bland and generic, as are the enemies and you’re never required to anything other than trash a number of targets, dull. Better are the missions that play like classic Starfox. The all-range levels are pretty good fun on the whole but nowhere near as engaging as those in Lylat Wars. As you’d expect it’s the on-rails levels that fare best with hundreds of enemies, scripted events and thrilling moments. The clear highlight then but annoyingly there are only three such levels. The Arwing controls pretty much like it did in Lylat Wars but for some reason Namco have tweaked the controls making strafing and barrel-rolls a bit awkward.
The graphics vary in quality. The on-rails Arwing missions look great, especially the Asteroid Belt mission which is genuinely stunning to look at. The ground-based bits on the other hand are weak. Overall it’s nowhere near as pretty as Starfox Adventures. The sound isn’t bad. Music is rousing and recalls some of the stirring themes of the series best moments but the sound effects are a bit tinny, so is some of the voicework.
Overall Starfox Assault is a disappointment. It certainly feels closer to a classic Starfox experience but the execution on some frints is poor. It definitely has its moments and fans will appreciate the good bits but it’s a forgetable experience. A short one too taking a handful of hours to complete although there are a few difficulty levels to try and medals to win as well as a multiplayer mode but none of these things really prolong the experience much. Replay value is extremely low too.
Presentation – 7
A more Starfox-like design and a good story don’t quite disguise the roughness of the menus and visual design.
Gameplay – 6
The familiarity of the Arwing levels saves the game from utter mediocrity but there’s no ignoring the terrible on-foot levels.
Graphics – 7
Varying inconsistently from gorgeous to downright ugly.
Sound – 7
Some nice, stirring tunes but everything else sounds a bit grainy.
Difficulty – 7
A challenge certainly but that’s partly down to poor controls.
Longevity – 5
It’s a short game to say the least. Beating it on harder difficulties might extend its life a bit though.
It’s a real shame that one of Nintendo’s coolest franchises is getting such mediocre treatment from third parties. There are some bright moments that make it worth playing and it can be plenty of fun but don’t base your opinion of Starfox on this game.
out of 10