Star Fox: Assault Retail Hands-On

A boxed copy of Namco's new Star Fox shooter is in our hands, and we've taken to the skies with it. Impressions inside.

The Star Fox series has been a staple of Nintendo's console lineup ever since the original game made its debut on the Super NES in 1993. The last entry in the series, Star Fox Adventures, wasn't quite as well received as previous installments, but Nintendo isn't giving up on the series, as evidenced by the latest Star Fox sequel, Star Fox: Assault. The game combines a mixture of the old on-a-rail style of aerial shooting with third-person perspective, on-foot missions. So, is the game any good? Does it measure up to the quality of its predecessors? Should you even care about a Star Fox game in this day and age? We blasted our way through the first few missions of the game in an attempt to answer at least a few of these burning questions.

Unsurprisingly, the premise of Star Fox: Assault has the heroic Fox McCloud, along with his trusty sidekicks, once again defending the Cornerian fleet against the evil Andross' forces, now led by his nephew Oikonny. Is there more to the return of Andross' army than meets the eye? Is there treachery afoot? Frankly, we have no idea. After all, we've only played through a few missions thus far, and up to this point the game has been about exactly three things: shooting by air, shooting by land, and just plain old shooting.

The game starts off with an aerial dogfight in space that should make any Star Fox 64 fan dreamy with nostalgia. You're smack-dab in the middle of a big honking battle between Cornerian forces and Andross' fleet. Along the way, numerous enemy ships present themselves, including basic fighters, some stealthy ships that feature cloaking devices, and even some big battleships that can be destroyed piece by piece. The one thing we noticed was that this section, even for being an early level, seemed rather easy, as very few ships put up too huge of a fight. The same went for the next section of the mission, which featured a ground-based fight against multiple enemy ships and tanks. Of the three difficulties available, we picked the middle one (or, silver, as it's called), so it's likely that the gold difficulty level will provide far more of a challenge.

Those craving some straight-up Star Fox-brand shooting for their GameCube may find just that in Star Fox: Assault.

After these few bouts of ship-destroying, we came across our first boss fight, which, incidentally, happened to be two boss fights. The first boss was a giant ape robot ship...a thing that featured a head and two hands (this should sound at least vaguely familiar to any Star Fox 64 aficionado). Each hand had a specific weak point that, when exposed, could be riddled with laser fire and eventually destroyed. We had to dodge swipes, claps, and punches, which actually wasn't too difficult. After doing away with ape-bot, we encountered another boss to tangle with. This time it was some sort of moth-looking insect beast that shot lasers out of its wings and tail and even found a way to throw flaming boulders at us. This boss wasn't much more complicated, but it had more tricks up its sleeves, providing a slightly more satisfying challenge.

The game's next mission gave us our introduction to the on-foot mechanics. Here, we played as Fox himself. Fox had been sent down to investigate a ground base, only to find it infested with nasty, insectlike enemies. Armed with a laser rifle, we went in guns blazing, determined to rid the base of these enemies. Controlling Fox on foot wasn't too difficult, though there were some awkward moments. Trying to spin around to attack an enemy that sits behind you takes a little too long and the jumping just feels unwieldy all around.

On the other hand, Assault's on-foot shooting seems pretty good. We were able to get a couple of other weapons during the mission, including a machine gun and a rocket launcher, both of which packed a nice punch. We drove a tank in this mission, which unfortunately wasn't really all that spectacular. The basic weapon the tank uses isn't especially precise. You can charge the weapon blast so the shot creates more damage across a larger area, but even the targeting on that feels a little clunky. Also, the overall speed of the tank is pretty slow.

Star Fox: Assault seems to present itself well. The in-game graphics reminded us a lot of a souped-up version of Star Fox 64's visual style, especially when we flew an arwing. Though some of the environments look a little low on detail, the action itself is great. Bad guys blow up real nice, the ships move at a nice clip, and the frame rate never seems to get bogged down. The on-foot portions of the game look good, too. Fox seems to animate a bit stiffly, but again, the action keeps a nice pace, even with lots of stuff blowing up in the background.

Though the on-foot portions of the game don't seem quite as enjoyable as the airborne sections, they don't seem terrible either.

Of course, this wouldn't be a Star Fox game if it weren't chock-full of banter between you and your squadmates, and Assault doesn't disappoint in this regard. Peppy, Slippy, Falco, Krystal, and ROB the friendly robot all chat it up during missions, letting you know when they're in trouble and keeping you apprised of the overall situation. The voice acting is predictably hammy, but not in an overtly terrible way. It's just pretty standard Star Fox fare, and at least now Slippy doesn't sound like he's been castrated.

Our time spent with Star Fox: Assault up to this point has been pretty favorable. Sure, Assault hardly seems to break any new ground, but as a pure arcade shooter, the game definitely seems to have its heart in the right place. We've still got plenty of the story mode to get through, as well as the game's bonus content (including its multiplayer component). Though the game isn't actually due to hit retail for another couple of weeks, you can actually find Star Fox: Assault at US Blockbuster locations right now, available for rental. If you're interested in the game, we say go give it a rental. If you're still on the fence, don't worry: we'll have our full review ready soon enough.

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