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Fallen Star
A schizophrenic Star Fox disappoints
BY MITCH KRPATA

Star Fox: Assault is baffling a game that seeks to undermine itself at every turn. Those aspects of the game based solely upon the franchise's rail-shooter roots can be almost deliriously fun; as for nearly everything else, well, how many synonyms are there for "disaster"? This is a game at war with itself.

The Star Fox franchise as a whole is something of an enigma. At least one game from the series has appeared on every Nintendo platform since the SNES, and they've almost all been hits (who wasn't psyched when Star Fox 64 introduced the world to the Rumble Pak?). Yet Fox McCloud himself is without question a second-tier mascot, slammed against a glass ceiling and gazing up at Samus, Link, and Mario. Maybe that's why Assault doesn't seem to have passed through the same quality controls as the GameCube titles starring those other Nintendo stalwarts.

Things certainly start off well in Star Fox: Assault, with Fox and crew taking to their Arwings for an outer-space battle. This and all the Arwing missions are triumphant examples of retro gameplay given a next-gen sheen. Although the play mechanics are no different than in past games you can speed up, slow down, loop-the-loop, and corkscrew the graphics are a feast for the eyes and the combat is frenzied. Enemies swarm and swoop, asteroids tumble aimlessly through space, and Fox's comrades, naturally, call for help non-stop.

But it doesn't take long for the game to fly off the rails, both literally and figuratively. About half the missions take place on land, where Fox has the option of running around on foot or piloting a tank called the Landmaster. Neither is particularly enjoyable. The level design is atrocious: boards are small, repetitive, and unimaginative. Fox's only goals are to destroy a given number of things like shield generators (in fact, I think it's just about always shield generators). There's no logical progression or shape to these land-bound levels the missions don't have clearly-defined beginnings, middles, and ends. They start, and then a little later they stop.

Play control is also abysmal on land. Most Arwing missions are on rails, and as such all you really have to do is aim correctly and dodge obstacles and incoming fire. Since the terrestrial missions offer 3D movement, the stodgy control is unforgivable. There's no quick way to turn around in the Landmaster, and its rarely-useful hover function is exasperating. When Fox is on foot, the same button that makes him strafe also makes him dodge, meaning you'll hardly ever be performing the action you want. If there's a saving grace, it's that the gigantic crosshair combined with homing weapons means you'll rarely be missing with your shots but then again, that kind of hand-holding doesn't make for skillful play.

In a broader sense, it's hard to know who, exactly, is supposed to be the audience for Star Fox: Assault. The cuddly, anthropomorphic critters that make up the cast of characters would not be out of place on Saturday-morning cartoon shows. Slippy Toad in particular who, by the way, is clearly a frog exhibits the same non-threatening yet obnoxious androgyny he's had since the original game, even though he has an actual speaking voice now. But the storyline about a race of hive-minded parasites called Aparoids is not only a little too serious (whither Andross?), but is full of unearned moments of attempted high tragedy. That T for teen rating isn't a joke. What to make of Star Fox's not one, but two noble suicide attempts one by an adorably saggy bloodhound and the other by a wise, grandfatherly bunny named Peppy?

The adage is "Do one thing, and do it well." Star Fox: Assault does one thing well, but it also does several other things, and does them all poorly. Even the inclusion of a four-way multiplayer mode (which is uninspiring) and several bonus games and unlockable extras can't make up for the fundamental flaws in this game. The single-player campaign is laughably short, and too easy even on the higher difficulty levels. Despite its few undeniable charms, I couldn't in good conscience recommend Star Fox: Assault to anyone.

Score: 5.5 (out of 10)


Issue Date: February 25 - March 3, 2005
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