Back to the choppa!
When Starfox fell out of his ship, stumbling unwittingly into the 3D puzzle-platformer hell of Starfox Adventures, my dusty copy of good old Starfox 64 became a treasured artifact. With a quick study, the relic reminds us what used to be right with the franchise and what went wrong in the seven years since Fox last visited the stars.
Starfox Command returns the series to its former upward trajectory by ordering Starfox back to the cockpit where he belongs. Graciously glossing right over the awkwardly slapped-together Dinosaur Planet episode, Starfox Command takes place after the Starfox team has defeated Andross and disbanded… in other words, after Starfox 64. With its lack of raptor references, we aren’t sure when exactly Starfox Command is supposed to be happening, but hey! Evil fishmen are invading Lylat! Look over there!
[image1]So with the planetary system basically defenseless and aliens gobbling up the galaxy like so many fish flakes, Fox tries to piece the team back together. However, there was a lot of melodramatic fallout when the team initially dissolved. Peppy Hare retired from the swanky ace-combat scene to push pencils as General of the Lylat System while Slippy found an equally annoying fiancé. Fox remained with ROB in Great Fox, but Krystal, his better half, ditched him and joined up with his rival, Star Wolf. Falco, however, kept it real and is now a hired gun with a "fuhgedaboutit" attitude. Why is any of this relevant? Got me, but you'll be dealing with the full scope of this cheesy season of "The Real Lylat" from multiple angles, no less, if you want to get all nine endings.
Which you'll definitely want to do, since the first play-through is over so incredibly fast. After beating the game the first time, you get a key to unlock every dialogue path in the game, and the challenge annoyingly becomes remembering which mission had any branches to begin with. A stage select option lets you replay any previously completed mission, but without an obvious way to see where you're at in the tree, you're forced to play the same missions over in hopes of finding new avenues.
This awkward game structure would be a deal breaker if Starfox Command weren't so fun to play. After skimming past the he-said, she-said dialogue, each mission starts off with a turn-based strategy phase. Here, you draw on the touch screen to erase the fog of war or move your fighters to intercept enemy squadrons, bases, or missiles. It sounds more strategic than it is, since the right moves are obvious, but it's still fun to set up a battle, then see it play out the way you planned. Once any of your fighters come into contact with an enemy squadron or base, the second phase of a mission starts – the combat phase.
[image2]Inspired from the boss battles in Starfox 64, enemy squad and base encounters are in 3D arenas, where you will be delighted by Starfox Command's simple, excellent control scheme. Using only the stylus and D-pad for total control, you'll lock on, blast enemies quickly, barrel roll painlessly, drop bombs and perform loops and 180 turns with ease. Though the touch screen shows a load of bogies to down, there's no reason to waste time on them since you usually only need to destroy a few, specific enemies on any given level. That’s usually pretty easy.
A time limit adds a sense of urgency, but replenishing your timer is just as easy as downing enemies, so the whole thing becomes a swift walk in the park. After these encounters you’ll fly through a series of squares leading to the mothership's core. Each square adds to your speed, and if you miss one, the mothership will kill you instantly, forcing you to start the encounter over again. It's frustrating.
The annoying squares make another appearance when one of your fighters encounters an enemy missile. This time the series of squares represents the missile's slipstream, which you’re flying through to get close enough to shoot it down. If you mess up for a second and miss a square, you'll simply fail the mission and, of course, have to do it again. Argh.
So you'll jump ship and play online, which thankfully is handled very well in Starfox Command. Especially awesome is the Ad Hoc play for up to six people off one cart. Multiplayer dogfighting is one of the few places where you'll actually have to use all of the moves in the game, though matches still boil down to you trying to stay on your friends’ tails, which is a little weird if all your friends are guys. Less awkward is the Wi-Fi play, which only supports four players at a time but runs just as smoothly as everything else and features ranked matches. It’s too bad the turn-based phase wasn’t somehow adapted to multiplay, but even still, Starfox Command is surprisingly fun and easy to play with your friends.
[image3]And it’s just as easy on the eyes. With its semi-retro, Starfox 64 squared-polygons, Starfox Command never skips a frame, even when the sky is spangled with lasers and explosions. Though the background detail level has been turned down to nearly zero and you feel like you're fighting in a bowl of foggy soup, the fast action is mostly worth the sacrifice in visual detail. The music is also a fine fit, and the gurgling noises each character makes during dialogue snippets will really take you back to the SNES days.
In a strange twist, the game includes a feature where you can record yourself answering questions like "Who do you like?" or "What did you do last weekend?" From there, the game will use its gurgle algorithm to chop up your voice and then filter it for use by each character. This doesn’t sound any better than the normal gurgling, though it’s pretty weird to hear Slippy yammer at you in a butchered version of your own voice. Malkovich, Malkovich!
Starfox Command looks good, handles well, and is a distinct reminder of what made the series so popular to begin with. Even if the campaign is too easy, too frustrating, and too obtuse, the turn-based strategy element, Arwing-focused combat, ranked multiplayer and single cartridge Ad-Hoc matches are all awesome features, making this a fox worth mounting on your wall.