LAS VEGAS--Amid sturm and drang at this year's CES, Nintendo was on hand to show off a modest sampling of upcoming titles. One of the highlights of its show was Star Fox: Assault, the Namco-developed action shooter starring everyone's favorite spacefaring fox. While the game had us worried after an underwhelming debut at E3 two years ago, the game has been slowly coming around. This latest version of the game is easily the most promising showing for the title that we've seen.
The demo of the game that we saw showed off the varied gameplay and vastly improved visuals in the original title. For those unfamiliar with Star Fox: Assault, the game is set after the events in Star Fox Adventures, in which Fox McCloud saved Dinosaur Planet from disaster. It seems a new threat has appeared and is poised to cause all kinds of trouble in the galaxy. To keep such shenanigans from happening, Fox's superiors in Lylat Central Command dispatch the Star Fox team to set things right. But, in the tradition of great sci-fi, the team's seemingly standard mission goes awry with dramatic results, and a new GameCube adventure ensues.
To fight the galactic menace you encounter, you'll divide your time between three gameplay types. You'll fight foes on foot with a varied arsenal of weapons that you can dynamically change by collecting arms as you roam levels. If the on-foot action becomes complicated due to the sheer number of foes rallying against you, you can go ahead and hop into your trusty Landmaster Tank, which comes packing additional firepower and limited flight. Finally, if you need to really dole out some pain or need to simply get a better assessment of the battlefield, you can take to the skies in an Arwing, Fox's signature spacecraft, for melee in the air above the battlefield or in the expanses of space.
Our demo started with an Arwing battle in space that showed of the trademark interaction between Fox and the members of his team. The team has actually grown some since we last checked in on the spacefaring menagerie. So, in addition to Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare, and Falco Lombard, you can expect to see new member Krystal, who was last seen in Star Fox Adventures, mixing it up with the big boys. The space sequence followed the typical Star Fox template and offered a shooting sequence that guided you through an area chock-full of enemies and asteroids. Thankfully, the assistance of your wingmen, as well as the presence of precious rings that (once collected) will increase your ship's bomb count and upgrade your blasters, help even the odds.
The next demo we saw focused on the Arwing shooting segment again, but this time the path will take you along a canyon on the surface of a planet, forcing you to adjust your flying and fighting style accordingly. The sequence ended in a boss fight against a foe named Oikonny who happened to morph himself into a robotic form that should be pretty familiar to those who have played the previous Star Fox games that were strictly shooters on the SNES and Nintendo 64.
The demo of on-foot combat showed off both the standard third-person action as well as the fun to be had while driving a tank. The on-foot segments are pretty basic and make it easy for you to hop in and get your guns blazing. You'll find a healthy selection of items and weapons to collect as you go about your business. However, a bit later into the level, you'll have the chance to hop into a tank by pressing Z and using the powerful craft to take out the trash.
The graphics have seen a considerable amount of polish and optimization since the title's shaky debut, which has resulted in improvements all around. The character models for Fox and company, while still featuring a modest amount of detail, look sharp and animate well. The same holds true for the team's vehicles, which animate nicely while morphing their shapes to suit your needs in the game. The environments are detailed locales that sport some very nice touches, such as the rainbows visible by a waterfall or the interactive elements you'll trigger by accidentally missing a target and hitting something in the background. The game manages to maintain its frame rate despite the lush look it has. The visuals gain an extra layer of glaze to them thanks to the game's support of progressive scan.
The audio is solid, although it does come off a bit plain in spots. Fox and company sport a generous amount of dynamic voice that reflects their situation during the game. The assorted effects for the weapon's fire and spacecraft are good but lack some punch. The soundtrack for the game is a strong collection of tunes that really seems to accompany the action in the level well.
Based on our look at the game, Star Fox: Assault looks to have avoided the potential pitfalls it appeared to be poised for following its initial showing. The gameplay has been tightened up, the graphics have certainly been smoothed out, and, most importantly, the game got fun. Fans of Starfox will certainly want to check the game out when it ships next month.