With the controls so responsive and ergonomic, the story deep and involving, and the gameplay slick, perhaps Q’s talent would slacken somewhere else, but the presentation of Command is just as good as the rest of the game. Command’s visuals are stronger than SFSNES or SF64, and even if the overall level design is lacking, its construction is not. Textures are crisp, framerate is a consistent 30 fps, and particle effects are second only to Metroid Hunters. The craft are high in polygons and very distinctive, which helps reflect the personality of their pilots. Enemies aren’t as detailed, but Q makes up for this by throwing a lot of them on-screen at once. The boss battles are especially pretty, taking graphical cues from both SNES and N64 Star Fox titles.
Command’s audio aspect is strong, but not quite as varied and rich as the visuals. There is familiar music but not enough of it—each character has their own theme, but the classic music from SF64 isn’t recreated with enough power. Most of it is relegated to muted remixes on the map screens, but there are a few in-level tunes that stir up the nostalgia. Voice acting is unfortunately non-existent, as Q has chosen to use the “Lylatian” gibberish from the old SNES game. As a bonus, you can record your own speech and have it garbled and pitched, then used as the various character samples. Overall sound effects are similar to the ones from past titles, but don’t sound as crisp or powerful.
For all the effort put into the single player campaign, you would think Q Games would do an equally impressive job with the multiplayer. Sadly, this is not so. Command supports both download play for six players and the Nintendo Wifi Connection for up to four, but the glut of options in Star Fox Assault is missing. Battles have a set time limit and a few adjustable features, but are otherwise pretty bare bones. The same dynamics from the solo game apply so the flight mechanics are still good, and I have to say that battling human opponents is more satisfying the computer-controlled bots. The matchmaking system is similar to Mario Kart DS, with a friends roster and online paring setup. Some player statistics are stored, such as wins and dropouts, but nothing as extensive as Metroid’s Hunter License.
The levels themselves are limited and the gameplay shallow, with players collecting stars from their kills. This allows another player to swoop in and take a kill point they didn’t earn, which is more annoying than anything else. However, the biggest disappointment comes in the lack of ship variety. Only the Arwing is available, and while it is a well-rounded fighter, it doesn’t make up for the absence of all of the other vehicles.
The solo game had so many distinct ships and pilots, and oftentimes I didn’t have much of an opportunity to explore the more exotic ships because they were only around for one or two levels. I wanted to try out every fighter in multiplayer and design my own play style, but the opportunity is missing. To fill one half of a game with variety and leave the other half lacking doesn’t make sense, and leaves Command’s multiplayer as a passing distraction that can’t compare to the depth of Metroid Hunters. For Star Fox’s first foray into online play, it doesn’t live up to the high-quality reputation of the franchise. Hopefully we’ll get something far more substantial in the inevitable Star Fox sequel for Wii.
Fox McCloud’s first portable debut is really a bang up job, considering it’s a revived project that is nearly a decade old. Cuthbert and his team had some very good ideas back during the twilight of the SNES, and I’m glad they finally got the chance to realize their designs. It may be a bit disconcerting for fans accustomed to arcade-style action, but the strategy element could become a major part of Star Fox in the future. The only real let-down is the multiplayer, which is surprisingly light on content. I hate to say it, but any DS Wifi title is going to be compared to Metroid Hunters, and if that title happens to be one of Nintendo’s key franchises, it better deliver. Otherwise, Star Fox Command is a refreshing new take on a classic series and an intelligent new direction for a franchise lacking in definition. After years of identity crisis, Star Fox has been saved by the people who created it in the first place.
Fox is finally back to his roots, but not as gamers expected. The new turn-based strategy dynamic might befuddle fans at first, but it adds more gameplay depth than the series has seen in quite a while. The story has branching paths again, prompting multiple replays, and the stylus control is comfortable and efficient. Aside from a rather light multiplayer component, Star Fox Command has few flaws and is a must-have for DS owners.
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