Of all Nintendo’s long standing franchises, Star Fox is the black sheep. Oh, it’s been around since the glory days of the SNES, and it impressed the hell out of gamers and critics alike with 3D shaded polygons on a home console. Star Fox has earned its place in the Nintendo hall of fame, but for some reason Fox McCloud isn’t as well known as Link or Samus or, of course, that guy in the blue coveralls and red cap. My theory is that there hasn’t been much direction in the franchise since the property started changing hands in the late 90’s.
Star Fox 64 was a runaway hit, and one of the must-have games for the N64 shortly after it launched. But the series remained dormant for many years, much like Metroid, until Nintendo talked Rare into refitting their Dinosaur Planet adventure into a title starring the interplanetary vulpine. That game was a mixed bag—it worked well as a decent Zelda clone, but where was the space combat that I loved so much? The Capcom-developed follow up, Star Fox Assault, was a hybrid of Adventures and SF64. The flying and shooting was solid, but the on-foot missions lacked the polish and coherence of Rare’s adventure.
Nintendo has returned to the source for the first true Star Fox sequel in a long, long time. Dylan Cuthbert, the developer of the first SNES Star Fox, and his team at Q Games have stepped up to recreate a game they were forced to abandon years ago. In the waning years of the SNES there was a little known project called Star Fox 2, lost to the annals of gaming time, which was slated to follow the original hit. When the N64 took full center, the Star Fox 2 project was scrapped, and some of the cancelled game’s ideas were transplanted to Star Fox 64. The main gameplay concept was an RTS map system, but it has never appeared in a Star Fox game since. With Star Fox Command on the DS, Cuthbert and Q have the chance to finish what they started. Command is a departure from what most fans have come to know, but for those who were lucky enough to play the canned Star Fox 2, it will seem eerily familiar.
The radical design changes will be a good or bad influence, depending on what kind of gamer you are. If you like turn based strategy or even a little RTS, the opening map of each level will make you right at home. If you’re a Star Fox purist they’re going to take some getting used to.
Basically, each planet in the Lylat system is now represented by a dynamic battlefield map, displayed on the DS’s bottom screen. Your command ship, the Great Fox, warps into the area and launches its complement of fighters. From here you trace the path of each Star Fox member across the screen, making sure they engage any enemies along the way. Protecting Great Fox is crucial, as its destruction ends the game. You are given a set number of turns in which to move your craft, and the enemy formations also make their moves during these turns. Once the Star Fox members engage the enemy, a selection screen appears that lets you choose who to fight first. Krystal could be chasing down a cruise missile, Falco might be cleaning up an occupied base, or perhaps Fox is taking out the local mother ship.
Destroying enemy bases nets you more turns, but the whole system will feel alien to veterans of Fox’s series. Most of the previous games have been about jumping into the fray and mixing it up, with little or no planning involved ahead of time. In Command you must choose your paths carefully, use each pilot and their fighter according to their attributes and weaknesses, and make sure you have enough turns left to destroy all enemies in a level. It takes some adjustment but the strategizing is actually satisfying after a time. It’s the levels themselves that might draw some ire from the hardcore.
Page 1 of 3