Is the much-loved StarFox franchise back on track or running on empty? Find out right here.
The StarFox series has been somewhat "up in the air the past" few years. It took a change of direction when Shigeru Miyamoto suggested to Rare that it should use the StarFox franchise for the N64 to GameCube pilgrim, 'Dinosaur Planet', and StarFox Adventures was born. Now we've got StarFox Assault, a Nintendo/Namco collaboration in which you'll spend most of your time running around on foot, and memories of a pure on-rails shooter in the sky will be long forgotten.
Alas, I am again blowing things out of all proportion. Namco have switched things around a bit and StarFox Assault has a more open-ended approach compared to it's previous instalments. Most of the game's mission mode will have you running around on foot shooting enemies then jumping into a landmaster tank or an arwing, taking the fight to the skies.
Fear not, the game still has a number of missions in its sadly rather short single player campaign, that are what you'd actually want from a StarFox title: the linear on-rails arwing missions we know and love from the previous games. While these air/space battles are definitely enjoyable there's nothing here you haven't seen in StarFox 64, infact some of the missions seem to be copied from the N64 game. The land missions are a further step down the ladder, they lack any polish that is present in the air/space missions and while perhaps they are an attempt at bringing something a little new to the franchise they still feel stuck on to the rest of the game.
The free-roam stages are a new addition, as I mentioned earlier unlike StarFox 64 players can now run around shooting enemies on foot then jump into a landmaster tank or an arwing at will. A 'might gauge' is displayed at the top of the screen to show the power of the enemy forces in the skies, when this metre fills up you'll need to stop what you're doing and hop into an arwing to go and help your wingmen up in the skies. Don't worry if you forget to check your might gauge however - Slippy or Falco are bound to have a good moan to let you know how much they suck at flying, the StarFox team feel all but useless in StarFox Assault and seem present only for you to rescue them, where as in StarFox 64 losing one of your wingmen could make the mission alot harder.
The story is unfortunately really quite awful. Obviously you're not going to expect much from a game which stars humanoid frogs and rabbits, but Namco really have made this game feel like cheap third party shovel-ware - at least StarFox 64 had its Star Wars influences and you actually felt like you were in battles. StarFox Assault's new bad guys are the Apparoids, robotic bug creatures who I cant quite figure out. These make for some really boring generic ground enemies.
StarFox 64 was a game on primitive hardware compared to the Gamecube and yet it's cinematic presentation make it a more impressive game than this sequel made eight years later. Remember the level in StarFox 64 which had you dog fighting ships whilst their giant Independence Day style mother-ship prepared to fire? You will find nothing that compares to that in this game. Also gone are the noising violent explosions which sent your rumble pack mad, the explosions in StarFox Assault barely even set the force feedback off! It's crazy to think that this is the sequel to the first modern console game with force feedback.
StarFox Assault definitely has its moments. The first mission puts you in a giant space battle, there are hundreds of ships on screen, explosions light up space and waves of attack ships come at you from every direction. This is definitely a very pretty level, there's lots of action going on and the game is running at a solid 60fps, it just has none of the cinematic presentation and set-pieces present in the N64 classic. Star Wars: Rogue Leader is a much more visually impressive game and would you believe that it's almost four years old?
I have to admit though, when StarFox Assault works (and by works I mean, normal StarFox-style air missions) I find it much more enjoyable than the aforementioned Star Wars game. It doesn't matter where it was copied from or how many times I do it, I still get a hell of a lot of fun out of navigating my ship through hundreds of giant asteroids, blasting them to pieces and breaking in emergency to dodge two particularly large asteroids as they smash into each other in front of me. The bosses are uninspired but that doesn't matter, because they're still fun to battle against - finding their weaknesses and exploiting them is still as satisfying as ever. Although I do wonder how long they can get away with putting the Andross boss into every game.
Assault is presented well, although you could wonder what the hell Namco were working on for all the years this game was in development you can't falter them for creating some impressive visuals with a solid 60fps frame rate. I do really like the visual style of the game, everything is very colourful and futuristic looking. The ground missions as always are a different story, StarFox Adventures although to be fair one of the most impressive looking games this generation, from a very talented developer, is infinity more visually pleasing than 'Assault. Again, that's almost a three year old game as well. Some of the voice work will make you cringe, but that's nothing new for a StarFox game, however the soundtrack is truly something special. I don't know if a real orchestra was used for the music but is certainly sounds like it, the retooled themes from StarFox 64 are simply brilliant and sound straight out of the live music concerts Nintendo sometimes do.
The multiplayer mode is definitely where StarFox Assault shines. The multiplayer mode in StarFox 64 felt tacked on and the massive amounts of fog definitely didn't help in tracking down your friends as you flew around aimlessly, hoping to bump into them. I've had lots of fun with 'Assaults multiplayer mode, the games feels almost built for it. It's based on the free-range missions in the single player game, you can run around on foot blasting away, then you can hop into a landmaster tank for a bit of extra power or jump into an arwing and take it to the skies. The arenas are simple and there's a lack of inventiveness but there's certainly fun to be had in the multiplayer.
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