Instead of unique battles or on-rails shootouts, each encounter with enemy forces is presented as a small skirmish over open terrain. These dogfights can be compared to the “all range” boss fights from SF64, except there is little variation in scenery within a single map. For example, each battle on Corneria will take place over the same rolling green hills and craggy mountains, and maybe the occasional building. The battles against the mother ships feature a generic stronghold setting, like a small military base, but this rarely changes.
When you take the time limit into account, however, the lack of terrain variety makes sense—you won’t be taking very long in each battle, by design. Each level has a timer that starts with a set number of seconds. If you run out of time during a level, your ship has burned out its fuel and you lose a life. The only problem is that the amount of time doesn’t reset for each battle. If you ran out 140 of your 150 seconds as Fox battling a mother ship, you’ll have 10 left to take out those extraneous fighters as Slippy.
Granted, you can gain more time by grabbing certain pickups or deflecting enemy fire with the barrel roll, but the whole system encourages you to rush through the battles. Seeing as the skirmishes are the real meat of the game, I didn’t enjoy a constantly ticking timer that told me to hurry up and get them over with. Command is one of the prettier DS games and I wanted to enjoy the scenery, really experience the combat. It also made it hard to wax every baddy and get that perfect score, and frankly it just didn’t feel very “Star Fox.” The whole system felt out of place and was just one more unwelcome restriction in the whole “strategy” aspect.
If you can get past the new, very unfamiliar gameplay elements, you’ll find that Command is just as thrilling and twitch-reflex dependent as its predecessors. Battles aren’t impossible, but difficult enough to keep you on your toes. There are plenty of stock polygonal fighters, tanks and turrets in each level for you to trash, and trying out each and every fighter’s unique weapons is a real treat. For the first time in the series each member of team Star Fox is playable, and many others as well, including Fox’s rival team Star Wolf. Q Games did a very nice job differentiated the various ships—each one is modeled after its pilot. Fox has the typical Arwing fighter, Falco flies the distinctly raptor-esque Sky Crow, and Krystal pilots the Cloudrunner, a ship modeled after her dino partner from Adventures.
Using the weapons systems of each craft is often the key to victory—Falco’s multi-lock is great for hitting multiple targets in quick succession, while Slippy’s rapid-fire is good for wearing down ponderous bosses. Once you get the hang of each ship, you’ll know who to send after what before committing to that next turn. It’s in this cooperative dynamic that Command makes Star Fox feel more like a team than ever before. Instead of constantly saving Slippy’s whimpering hide from enemy fire, you can get behind the frog’s guns and finally take it to the hostile masses. Everybody has a part to play, and in turn you get to play every part. You can even have the lowliest team member shatter the final, Andross-like boss, if you’re good enough. Appropriately, some of the story focuses on Fox’s stubbornness and excessive self-sacrifice; after all, why should he keep getting the spotlight?
Speaking of story, I have to hand it to Q—they really gave the fans a gift here. Star Fox is notorious for its rabid fan base, and you’ll find endless debates over story canon on forums. Well, now the outcome is partially up to you. Command has no less than nine different endings. The first play-through will always yield one, rather unsatisfying conclusion, but Command almost cries out to be replayed. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the finale is really a matter of preference, depending on the paths you take and the decisions you make for each character. The endings run from optimistic to apocalyptic, with degrees of severity in between. And while there are the more likely ways the next sequel will follow (and a few references to other games, just for fun), for now it’s largely left open.
Even if the story were Shakespearean in its complexity, it wouldn’t save the game if it played terribly. And so we come to the most important factor in any game—interface. If you’ve played Metroid Prime Hunters, you’ll remember the hand cramps the unorthodox control scheme inflicted. Q Games has learned from NST’s small mistakes, and implemented controls that are comfortable and highly functional. Basically, the stylus is the answer to almost every problem. You steer with it, scribble with it to barrel roll, and tap on-screen icons to perform loops and u-turns. Double-tapping the top half of the touch screen performs a speed boost, while the bottom half brakes.
Every other button, save start and select, shoots. The D pad, face buttons and shoulder triggers all fire the weapons of your current craft, so you won’t be clutching the corners of your DS in a ligament-straining death grip. The whole design is foreign to the Star Fox series, but becomes second nature after a few minute of practice. Aiming the targeting reticle is far more precise now, whereas it had an elastic, sluggish feeling in previous games. Turning is somewhat intensive, and stabbing the very edge of the screen performs the tightest turns, but the special moves make up for this. All in all it isn’t a perfect setup, but it’s the best comprehensive stylus control on the DS to date.
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