LOS ANGELES--If there's one thing the throngs of Star Fox fans have been pining for since the days of Star Fox 64, it's a Star Fox game that brings the same level of flight combat goodness that the old games were known for. Last year's Star Fox Assault got about halfway there, but also felt the need to toss in a bunch of lousy third-person shooting that mucked the whole thing up. Well, now Star Fox fans can breathe something of a sigh of relief, as Star Fox DS is on the way, and it looks to recapture the pure form of Star Fox space combat that we all know and love. Though, that's not to say that this is just a pure retread of Star Fox 64. Star Fox DS puts touch-screen controls front and center, making the experience of controlling your Arwing that much more unique.
The demo of Star Fox DS on display at E3 2006 included a few different stages. The basic setup for all the game's missions is a little strange at first. After a quick bout of slide show dialogue between Star Fox and his assorted cohorts, the game switches to a map screen that indicates your ship or ships, as well as all enemy ship positions. You're then tasked to draw a flight path via the stylus to an opportune spot for combat. You're given a limited amount of feasible distance, so you have to plot this course somewhat carefully. Things like asteroid fields can shorten your flight path considerably. This effectively makes up a single turn, and you're given multiple turns per mission. In each scenario, your goal is simply not to let any ships through, otherwise the mission is over.
Once you've engaged an enemy in combat, the game switches to a battle mode. Within a specific area, multiple enemy ships will come after you, so it's up to you to blast them out of the sky. To do this, you'll use the stylus to pilot the ship. If you're a right-handed person, you'll likely want to guide with the right hand and use the D pad with your left to fire off weapons. But if you want to reverse this, you can by switching the stylus to your left hand and using the four face buttons to fire weapons. The handling of the ship itself seemed touchy, but appropriately so. Slight movements of the stylus frequently result in jerky movements, but if you're smooth in your guiding, you'll be able to best the enemies in no time. Combat isn't terribly difficult from what we saw, at least not in these demo levels. Once you get an enemy sighted in your aiming reticle, you just fire away and odds are you'll do some damage. You're given a time limit in each battle scenario, and if multiple enemy ships come after you on the map section, you'll end up having to fight multiple battles in a row, all on the same life bar. So, there's definitely some strategy to figuring out where best to engage in battle.
Graphically, Star Fox DS is shaping up well. The game looks just about on par with Star Fox 64, though it seems like there's generally less in the way of ships and other ancillary things onscreen while you're in battle. That's not to say that there's not plenty to shoot down, but just don't expect quite the same level of chaos found in the previous console games. The game does have a clean look to it, though, with a solid frame rate and nice-looking environments. We engaged in combat on a planet and in outer space, and both areas looked good.
Star Fox DS seems to have a good number of the elements in place to make a captivating aerial combat experience for the DS. We like the look, and the touch-screen controls didn't seem too awkward or unwieldy. We'll be sure to bring you more on the game leading up to its release this September. Stay tuned.