Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Star Fox Command (DS) Retro Review

With Star Fox Zero releasing on the Wii U in less than a month, I figured I'd look back at some past Star Fox games. I've already looked back at Star Fox: Assault several years ago so now why don't I turn my attention to the black sheep of the series, Star Fox Command. Well, it's the black sheep for a good reason. Find out why with my review.

Somebody put some "strategery" in my Star Fox

Star Fox as a series hasn't really gotten much of a chance to shine. Fans are familiar with the original Super Nintendo Star Fox and what many see as the greatest entry in the series, Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 64. However, since then, the developers have focused on things that are entirely unlike the franchise fans love. With Adventures it was taking Fox McCloud out of the cockpit and into a Legend of Zelda-like adventure. With the more traditional Assault, it was only having three typical on-rail levels and a plethora of on-foot missions. Here with Star Fox Command, the formula is once again messed with, making for a lesser game because of it.

The story of Star Fox Command reads like inane fan fiction, which is pretty insulting to a fan of Star Fox like myself. I don't mean "insulting" in the "how dare they!! I will never forgive the scenario writers" sort of way, but more of the "undermining my intelligence as a lover of fiction and Star Fox" sort of way. Regardless, the initial run-through of Command will have you playing along a forced narrative path. It's only until you beat the game once that you're given a key that allows you to select from different story options such as meeting up with Star Wolf instead of searching for Krystal. The dialogue ranges from good to embarrassing, focusing more on the latter.

A screenshot like this shows all you need to know about how bad Star Fox Command's writing and script are.
Because you can choose your own adventure essentially through Star Fox Command, there are nine different endings to discover by selecting various choices throughout the game. This means you have to play the game at least nine times from the beginning to see each ending, but whether you'll want to is entirely dependent on how much you enjoy Command's atypical Star Fox gameplay.

Not only does making different decisions affect the story, but it also affects where you fly in the Lylat System and what kinds of mission scenarios you take on. Each mission of Star Fox Command has you looking at a radar of the area. You then draw a line from your various characters to where you want them to be situated, as long as they have enough fuel to reach their destinations. The goal is to intercept all enemies and missiles before they can reach the Great Fox. If even one enemy reaches the Great Fox, the carrier will be instantly destroyed, resulting in a game over.

Outnumbered, but you can get by with some smart flight path-drawing!
Thus, you need to use some strategy when you're drawing flight paths for your characters. Generally drawing a line close to an enemy's flight path will have them follow you. When you intercept a foe, you enter into something similar to longtime Star Fox players as all-range mode from Star Fox 64. The objective is to destroy a specific enemy or series of enemies in a 360 degree arena, collecting the stars that the obliterated foes drop. Once all of the stars have been collected, it's a job well done and that enemy on the map is removed from play.

You have a limited amount of turns and time on the clock to complete each mission. Fail to complete a mission before your turns or time run out, and again, it's a game over. Thankfully, you can collect time bonuses that appear regularly in all-range mode as well as destroy enemy motherships at bases to earn more turns. Sometimes the radar map will have fog of war enabled, making it so you must brush away a cloud from the touch screen in order to see portions of the map where enemies hide.

Hurry up and take out those final foes, Fox!
As you progress through Star Fox Command, Fox will meet many new characters to join his cause. Each character, unlike in past Star Fox games, pilots a different flight-based vehicle rather than everyone using an Arwing. Each vehicle has its own advantages and weaknesses, whether it's Fox's totally balanced Arwing, or Falco's ability to lock onto multiple targets at once, but his vehicle suffers from lower health. It's really cool to be able to fly the unfriendly skies as someone other than Fox McCloud for once, and this is one of the greater qualities of Command.

Another greater quality is surprisingly the touch controls of Command. Being the first Nintendo system that focused heavily on touch, the company wanted to put the new touch screen of the DS hardware to great use. We saw this with various games like Kirby: Canvas Curse, WarioWare: Touched!, and even both Legend of Zelda Nintendo DS entries. Well, it's the same with Star Fox Command. Rather than using traditional analog inputs, Command is almost completely played with the touch screen, but while many might see this is a negative, the developers managed to make for a control system that works and works well.

Different pilots control different crafts with different strengths and weaknesses.
Each character's ship is controlled with the stylus, moving it around to move a fighter in the proper direction. Double tapping the top half of the screen enables a boost while doing the same to the bottom half brakes. To take a chapter out of Peppy Hare's textbook on flight, you scribble back and forth on the touch screen to unleash a barrel roll, perfect for deflecting enemy shots whether they're from the front, rear, or sides. The only caveat to these moves is that they take up energy on a gauge. Through a quick cool-down period, this gauge fills back up, allowing you to resume boosting, braking, and barrel rolling.

Meanwhile, well known defensive maneuvers like the U-turn and somersault are performed by touching two buttons on the touch screen. For offensive attacks, any button on the DS, from the d-pad to the face buttons, is how you shoot. You can also drag a smart bomb from its resting place on the touch screen and move it over a place on the radar screen to bomb a specific area of foes. Regardless, whether you're left handed or right, Star Fox Command's controls work superbly, though not the most optimal way to play any Star Fox game.

Online multiplayer is no longer available, but at the time there was a lot to like about it. Up to six players could participate in online dog fights. However, like local multiplayer (which IS still available), there are some problems to be found. For one, you don't get points for kills. Instead, you get points for collecting stars that downed pilots give. This means that even if you shoot someone down, someone else can come in and steal the star that should have automatically been yours. Furthermore, if one person left the room, the entire match ended instead of just going on with that person removed from it. Still, with local multiplayer and Download Play, at least you can chat with your fellow dog fighters.

Steal MY well-earned star, will ya, you jerk!?
The Nintendo DS isn't known for running the sharpest 3D visuals around, even back when it was at its zenith. Still, the visuals of Star Fox Command are rather fine considering the hardware. Ship models look detailed and the environments have some life to them. The only major issue is with draw distance, making it so you have to be close enough to your target in order to deal damage to them. If you're locked on, fire a shot, and the foe moves out of your line of sight into the distance, then your shot won't connect with them.

Rather than sport traditional voice work, Star Fox Command utilizes gibberish for its voices, similar to the original Star Fox. This makes the experience more authentic to the Super NES original, though I would have preferred the real thing, as trying to read dialogue in the midst of a massive firefight isn't the easiest task to accomplish. The music, composed by Hajime Wakai, delivers themes from his past work with Koji Kondo, Star Fox 64, as well as new compositions. Due to the hardware, these themes aren't the most appealing to the ears, but they're far from grating.

While the traditional on-rails goodness of Star Fox is nowhere to be found with Star Fox Command, this DS iteration of the franchise still shows some competence. Still, it's easily my least favorite Star Fox game, even being less enjoyable than Adventures, an action-adventure game in Star Fox clothing. Those with little Star Fox experience would do better to play Star Fox on the SNES, Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 64 or 3DS, or even Star Fox Assault on the GameCube than play this minor misstep in the Star Fox franchise.

[SPC Says: C+]

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