A great, if short, game that takes Starfox 64's "All Range Mode" and greatly expands on it; perhaps too much for some.
Yeah. The game, is, by all definitions, a short one. There are only a few games I can think of in recent years that are as short as Starfox Assault: NiGHTS and Parappa the Rapper top that list by far. Parappa can be beaten in as few as twenty solid minutes. NiGHTS will take you all of two hours. Starfox Assault will last you, perhaps, three, maybe four hours, tops, on Bronze Medal Difficulty. But, for those four hours, it's a startlingly good game. Starfox Assault defines "Short and sweet". In the end, I'm not quite sure if I want the game to be longer, either. So many games today are so tedious, so unnecessarily long, that it's rare I stay interested long enough to see the credits roll. From what I've seen around gaming forums, most folks agree. Games today usually spend their fun quota early on and, as the game reaches it's final boss, it gets boring and often repetitive.
But... Starfox Assault is quality, all the way through; focused to a fine, razor sharp precision. Yet, you're compelled to see the credits - not because, you know, you have this feeling that you "want to finish the game so you can say you beat it", but, because, even up until the final explosion, you're having fun. You're still playing the game because you want to play it, not because you want to beat it. Assault, unlike so many videogames today, does not feel like work. It has a very clean cut sense of closure, and the Final Boss is appropriately epic, so that when the credits are all over, you think, "That was awesome. That was totally worth my time." And then you go back, and you play it again. Yes, you beat the game, but it doesn't matter - the game was fun. Perhaps you play it at a higher difficulty, this time.
The game plays a little like this: You once again play Fox McCloud, leader of interstellar space protection team, Starfox. Throughout your ten missions, you pilot your Arwing, drive the Landmaster Tank, or simply leg it, going on foot. A source of much complaining about Starfox Assault is that there aren't enough Arwing missions: to that, I laugh heartily. Starfox Assault calmly expands on the classic Starfox gameplay formula: Starfox, and to some extent, Starfox 64, were all about one thing: flying your Arwing, and shooting things, lots. Starfox Assault does things differently - while missions do exist where you're confined to just your Arwing (about four or five missions out of the entire game to be exact), most of the levels in this game set Fox off on foot and give him the option of either piloting the Landmaster or the Arwing, if the player wants to. Yet, despite the Arwing being clearly available for the player to pilot pretty much at any time (it even respawns if you accidentally destroy it), most people saw need to complain about this aspect of the game. In my opinion, they're insane, cynical jerks.
Another aspect I've seen complaints over is the on-foot controls. Perhaps the planet earth has just played too much Halo, and therefore, any game with shooting that does not automatically adopt it's controls should be deemed terrible. In their defense, Starfox Assault does seem a little oddball in the controls: there are three control configurations; one seems obviously suited for Vehicle controls, another seems obviously suited for on-foot controls, and the third one tries unsuccessfully to mix the two; there is no option to customize control schemes, nor can you change control schemes without first quitting your mission and going to the options from the title screen. But, in Assault's defense, it took me all of ten minutes to become comfortable with control type A (the one best suited to vehicle control) for the on-foot sections. I never once died because the controls were disorienting. Infact, after beating the game, the only qualm I have with the on-foot controls is how slowly Fox turns - an option to crank up the analog sensitivity would be very much appreciated (but is, unfortunately, missing).
Sound-wise, I'm a little disappointed. Arwings have a very... high-pitched whine to their engines; but it doesn't sound like there's any power behind it. It sounds wimpy, all told. It's like a super-sonic vacuum cleaner is attached to their ships. Voice acting is a little stiff, too. One of the biggest disappointments is the fact that nobody from Starfox 64 returns to reprise their roles: the Starfox Assault voice team is completely new, and they don't completely fit. Starfox 64 amazed me as it was one of the very first games I played with full voice acting, and, even today, it has really, quite good acting in it. Starfox Assault's actors do an okay job, but they fall a little flat, at times. Musically, however, Starfox Assault really impresses - beautiful orchestral music blended with some light techno makes for a very epic score. It fits Starfox like a glove. The soundtrack is definitely something worth owning.
Visually, the game impresses. While enemies like the Aparoids might look simplistic in detail, texture resolution is high, and the amount of enemies on screen climbs to some pretty epic amounts in later missions, with chaos ensuing everywhere; and the game, for the most part, continues to be locked at a steady 60fps. Cutscenes also seek to impress: the effects they employ, and their visual complexity lends me to think they might be full motion video, but other aspects make me think they're being rendered by the in-game engine (such as the cutscenes I know are being rendered in-game look almost as detailed). Either way, the cutscenes run at 30fps; meaning they very well could be in-game engine. Point is: This game is pretty good looking. It's not as detailed, as say, Resident Evil 4, but it does what it does rather well. Thumbs up.
The storyline in Assault is surprisingly well-told. Once you get over the at-times flat voice acting, you really find yourself interested in the plot, and the finale really sells it. Basically, you begin the game against Oikonny: The nephew of Andross, the big bad ape from the first two games. Andrew Oikonny is set to take his Uncle's place as ruler of the Universe, when his plans are cut short: aliens known as the Aparoids invade. They are nigh unbeatable, and history tells that a single Aparoid was able to decimate an entire Cornerian fleet. So, Starfox is sent forth to gather data on the Aparoids, so they can be defeated once and for all. It's simple, but, like all simple plots, getting there is half the fun: expect to run in to your old nemesis Starwolf, chase a stolen Aparoid Memory core across the galaxy, and eventually return to the titular planet of Corneria itself, all before finally jetting off to the Aparoid Home world to finish the job once and for all. It's very well told, and will suck you in, eventually. It's nice Namco decided to continue what Starfox Adventures set forth: expanding Fox's adventures beyond just Andross, and introducing new threats cleverly - and dramatically. It's kind of surprising all the risks Namco took with the Starfox universe; I won't spoil it, but let's just say they kill folks off you wouldn't expect them to touch.
Is the game too short? That's difficult to say. It does what it sets out to do: gives us a fun Starfox game. I just wish that there was... more to it. While Starfox, and Starfox 64 gave us gameplay that would roughly last four hours total, they both gave us branching storyline pathways: depending on the difficulty setting, the levels and challenges, and even the storyline we encountered would change entirely. Assault does provide us with multiple difficulty levels (in the form of medals), but the game unfortunately does not feature any branching storyline paths: It's the Aparoid invasion, each and every time. But what this really brings in to question is the matter of game-length, period: are some games today just too long? Many people I've spoken to seem to agree: They'd rather have a game that lasts seven hours and be really, really awesome, than have a game that lasts twenty hours and is merely "okay". And I'd tend to agree with them: a game like Metal Gear Solid can be plowed through in around seven hours if you're quick, yet, to me, I never noticed that the game was really all that short.
But one thing I do want to make clear: I'm all for game designers realizing that quantity does not mean quality. Just because your game boasts 50 hours of gameplay doesn't mean all 50 hours are going to be fun. I would much rather game designers go back and realize that there are strengths in making games shorter: smaller level designs mean gameplay is easier to balance, easier to keep fresh and interesting. A shorter game will have greater quality overall. Think of Super Mario World: The game offers up some 96 levels, but most of them can be completed in less than three minutes. But each of those levels was polished to a blinding brightness. Each one offered up it's own fresh, unique challenge and theme. They had beautiful flow. In an era where game designers constantly complain about how games are getting more complex, and take longer to make, one has to seriously question why it has to be like that; when lots of the folks that started playing games in the first place simply don't have time to sit down and beat a 40 hour game without it taking them six months to a year to get through it. Not only that, but story-driven games feel much more coherent in smaller games, where it's easier to comprehend what's happening in the plot. Even replayability benefits: If a level takes a couple of minutes to beat, I'm going to be more willing to go through it multiple times; but if a level takes 10 minutes or longer, I might stay away from such a large time investment simply for one play-through of a level I like.
Unfortunately, even by those standards, Assault is a short game. Unless the Multiplayer is some spectacular gift from heaven (I couldn't try it out, myself, lacking a second GCN controller - After all, I just bought the thing, used, barely a month ago), there is no real reason to play through Assault a second time, other than to re-live the thrill of the levels; something that is definitely possible. The moment the game ended, for me, I dove right back in and started all over again from the top, in survival mode, just to see how far I could get before becoming too bored to stop. It's a fun game that provides frantic, if short, shooting action, and you shouldn't let anybody else tell you otherwise.