Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Star Fox: Assault (GCN) Retro Review

Our first review for the last month of 2013 is one of the retro variety. There is no rhyme or reason as to why we are picking now as the time to talk about Star Fox: Assault. Perhaps we're just itching for a new installment like many of you are. Regardless, here is our review of Star Fox: Assault for the Nintendo GameCube.

What does the Star Fox say? "Report in."

Star Fox: Assault features ten unique missions spread across the Lylat System. Unlike Star Fox 64, the missions are played in a linear structure, with no alternate methods to complete missions to take alternate paths to the final showdown. This time around the threat to the entire Lylat System comes from an insect-like menace known as the Aparoids, wishing to occupy the entire universe through assimilation of each and every planet and star around. Team Star Fox, now back together (with a change in lineup, as Peppy is now behind the scenes and Krystal is now a member), heed General Pepper and Corneria's cries for help.

Space combat? All right!
Fans who were disappointed that Star Fox Adventures did not have much in the way of the famous on-rails sections the series is known for might be in for a rude awakening with Assault. Of the ten missions mentioned, only three of them are played in the traditional on-rails formula that made the series so loved to begin with. There's still charging up your shot to home in on a group of bogeys, taking them all out in one blow for bonus points, plus there's points given for defeating a whole squadron of enemies, too. These sections of the game are the most chaotic, and that's in a good way. Flying through space with a gigantic fleet of ships surrounding you, bobbing and weaving through asteroids, and saving your squadmates are all actions that make these classic sections feel so awesome and are the best part of Star Fox: Assault.

Now we're flying high in Fortuna?
That's cool, too!
Instead, however, the majority of what players experience is several missions within a large arena, many of which allow Fox to alternate between being on-foot, being in a Landmaster, and/or being in an Arwing. The switching between vehicles is seamless, offering a quick change without interrupting a mission's flow. While the on-rails levels feel superbly polished and well done, the types of missions that take place mostly, if not entirely, on the ground feel more shoddily thrown together. That said, it was very gutsy of Namco to take the series away from its airborne roots and force the series to try something remarkably different. Though these aforementioned ground sections aren't the most graceful, their appearance do liven the overall package of Star Fox: Assault considerably.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What is
this bait-and-switch?
Playing as Fox in the ground missions turns Assault into a third-person shooter. In wide open areas it's quite easy to mow enemies down, switching between weapons with nudges of the C-stick left and right, and creating a string of combos that boost your score as long as you keep killing foes without the score gauge emptying. More powerful ground enemies must be dealt with with either a charged up blaster shot or heavy fire, as a blaster shot or machine gun rally alone won't even make a dent through their shields.

Regardless, the problem with these ground missions is that even with three different control methods, aiming, especially at faraway targets is rather bothersome. There isn't a feeling of tightness in the aiming controls, making Fox susceptible to enemy attacks while you're trying to get a respectable shot in. Sure, Fox can sidestep enemy fire, but aiming is already difficult without moving. Just imagine how cumbersome it can be while on the move! Furthermore, it's all too easy to fall off structures-- sometimes even the levels themselves-- while dodging attacks. Despite the issues with the ground combat and missions, I still found myself enjoying them overall.

Seriously, you guys, where's my on-rails action?
One issue that is brought about through technical limitations stems from draw distance issues. This is most noticeable when one of your fellow Star Fox crew members is in desperate need of help due to a bogey being on their tail. (And trust me-- this will happen a lot, and annoyingly so.) Since the enemy that is on top of your troubled teammate won't come into view until Fox is close enough to the target. This means going far across a given map to rescue your fellow flyer and having multiple homing shots miss their mark because the target disappeared due to draw-in issues.

This is sort of more like it....
Another issue with Assault is its length. Star Fox games were never known for their long duration, but the problem with Star Fox: Assault is that, unlike other games in the series, there are no branching paths. As stated, you just go through the ten missions and then the game is over. This takes but a few hours, if even. Still, each mission can be played in one of three difficulties, and medals can be earned for hitting certain scores. An unlockable version of the arcade classic Xevious can be enjoyed through getting all of the silver medals, for instance. Outside of that, there are five hidden flags in each mission, requiring some ingenuity and patience to uncover.

For those looking for any semblance of true longevity in their Star Fox games, you should look towards the multiplayer mode. As this is a GameCube title not called Phantasy Star Online something, Assault's multiplayer is local only, with no bots available. Still, what there is of the multiplayer is quite fun, giving players both simple and complex maps to decimate up to three other players in. Maps are unlocked through story progression as well as through playing set amounts of battles. The latter is a bit annoying, as only players who will delve into Star Fox: Assault's multiplayer for the long haul will most likely see every unlockable there is in this mode. The multiplayer offers flight and/or ground-based combat with a wealth of options.

Okay. Well, I can understand the need for
ground combat in multiplayer.
With all of the havoc and carnage that happens in the various missions of Assault, it's amazing that the frame-rate holds up so consistently. It's just unfortunate that Star Fox: Assault does not look better graphically than it does, as Star Fox Adventures looks more impressive and that game was older than Assault by four years. When it comes to sound, some of the voice acting comes off as major cheese, and not in a good way like Star Fox 64. Still, the majority of the voice work is absolutely serviceable and not very grating overall. The soundtrack is simply put-- glorious. It features plenty of classic Star Fox themes as well as plenty of new compositions, most of which are performed by a full orchestra. It was music (and awesomeness) to my ears.

This is technically on-rails...
Oh, you teases, Namco.
As a game in general, Star Fox: Assault is an enjoyable experience. As a Star Fox game, Assault features exceptional flight-based missions and passable but disappointing ground missions. All in all it's a shot that just missed its mark. If it were a bogey taking aim at the Star Fox crew, it wouldn't have even put Slippy Toad out of commission. Still, that notwithstanding, you can do (and Namco could have done) a lot worse than Star Fox: Assault.

[SPC Says: 8.0/10]

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