Can Fox Survive Out Of His Element?

User Rating: 9 | Star Fox: Assault GC
Starfox Assault was released in the golden years of the Gamecubes life – the console, lazing by the pool with the odd game of shuffle-board, was handed this energetic and colourful title as it was winding down in its retirement years. Had it been released earlier, I think this title may have found a larger and more grateful audience. As it stands now, the general opinion of this title is that it missed the mark somehow, and that it represents a low-point in Fox McLeod's adventures. This seems to be a particularly harsh standpoint, and surely overlooks the games successes.

Firstly, the game boasts top-class production values. The Gamecube has never looked so seamless in its presentation (Resident Evil IV, you're excused), and the renowned Starfox series space-opera flavour is liberally applied. The brilliant orchestrated music has returned, this is something I've always admired, and it's marriage with the visuals give the game that filmic quality al la "Star Wars" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". The details are all there, and the menu system is tasteful and in line with what the game promises, (even down do the lettering style!). Temptingly, a Bonus Game sub-menu reveals the classic Xevious as a completely playable mini-game. But, (despair!), it is locked, and only a vast collection of Silver medals will give entry into this 2D classic. Better get cracking…

The first thing I noticed was the exceptional quality of the video rendering in the cut-scenes. This title really does show that the Gamecube (like many of Nintendo's hardware) had an untouched potential that sadly, was only being unearthed at the end of its life. Sure, watching a bunch of farm animals that look like they're on their way to a Trekkie convention may not be the most awe-inspiring sight, but nevertheless, the detail and colour of these scenes is of Xbox quality.

Control of the Arwing is as smooth as silk. This part of the game has not dated one bit. I used to think the "Rogue Squadron" series had the nicest fight control, but sorry Red Leader, this title is superior. The sensitivity is just right, and the aiming, although constantly on a semi-auto setting, is fair and without any parallax error. This was an impressive introduction to the Mission section of the game. Again, the environment itself was full of debris, colour and those odd Starwing enemies – it is artistically and technically accomplished.

This is (to my knowledge) the first title where you play as Fox as a, um, fox. No Arwing, no Landmaster, just Fox himself in an over-the-shoulder view, and a slew of heavy weaponry: blaster, machine-gun, gattling-gun, rocket launcher, sniper rifle and grenades. At first, the control here felt twitchy, and physically unreal. Fox was capable of very acute manoeuvring, and one detail I noticed was that he ran up steep slopes without the slightest drop in speed – this just seems a bit unnatural. Also, his jump was super quick and possibly three body-heights tall. Again, the developers seemed to go for a more action and even arcade feel to the action, rather than a true-to-life feeling.

The aiming seemed a little strange at first. Your cross-hair resemble something out of an F-14 Tomcat, they're bright green and turn red when a viable target is viewed. Super precise aiming is not necessary – once targeted, (and within reason), Fox will keep your enemy engaged while you move or commando-roll about. This seemed a bit strange at first, but by the end, the super-fast firing and targeting that this enabled made the game move at quick speed. It was an interesting take on the usual shooter mechanic.

Within the ground-based missions, Fox can also jump into what they call a "Landmaster". This thing is a well-equipped battle-tank, with hover-jets and turbo-boost capabilities (technical, huh?). It fires one type of weapon out of its long barrel: a kind of plasma blast. This is pretty much a one-hit-and-you're-dead affair, and multiple "combos" can be achieved with this assault vehicle. It is surprisingly manoeuvrable, (I don't care what the other reviewers say) and another mode of transport that breaks things up in the game.

This game succeeds best in the multi-transport levels. What I mean is, some of the levels ask that Fox take to the skies in his Arwing, land the ship (another first for Starfox?), battle on foot, and battle in the Landmaster. This all has to be done to your teams shifting objectives. When the air becomes thick with the "Aparoids" (insect-like flying beasts) Fox will need to scramble and take them down ;( and yes, Slippy is still a crap pilot, and Krystal, the hippie-chick with an English-accent has learnt some of his bad habits. You'll be saving both their skins). But once you've done that, the targets on the ground will need attending so you'll need to return there using your side arms or battle-tank to do your work. It's frantic and fun, and it's all without loading screens.

The epic boss fights are all there, the unique and varied environments are all there, from city to jungle to insect home world. Deep space is featured too, as are some "on rails" shooter type sections where as Fox, you'll literally be on someone's Arwing firing a plasma cannon at an endless supply of these bug enemies. No one, I mean no one, could argue that the game lacks variety in either environmental design or game styles.

It may not be the hardcore Starfox experience that was say "Starwing" ("Starfox" in my PAL region), but this title has the (nerve?) or bravery to give the Starfox team a more varied and detailed role. Sure, you feel like as Fox, that you're FAR superior to your comrades, (they just get into trouble time and time again), and the feeling of a one man army is apparent because of that. This title does give variation, and that is good. Compare it to the DS title "Starfox Command", and this thing is like "Warioware" compared to "Solitaire" – there's just that much more to do. And, lacking in the DS counterpart, the mission grading (bronze, silver or gold), give it a replay factor that purists will no doubt welcome (even if those same purists believe that Fox belongs locked up in his Arwing cockpit).

Amusing line of dialogue from the game: "It tried to bypass evolution by stealing souls…"

What would Charles Darwin make of that?