~Star Fox Command~ The DS has wings...Arwings, that is!
September 8, 2006 - I have to admit, when I first heard about the game back around the time of this year's E3 I wasn't terribly thrilled. I love Fox well enough, that is to say he's my favorite playable character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. But generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of shooters. However, when the game was released I grew curious about it, and began reading good things about the game's story. Now that's the stuff that catches my attention! I'm a sucker for a good story, and after watching a slew of videos and reading various reviews of the game I resigned myself to give it a try.
Story: The story in Star Fox Command (SFC) is perhaps not as integral to the game as is the interaction between the characters. The backdrop of the story is that a group called the Anglar is seeking galactic domination. Sound familiar? Well, that's because the game is a parody of every space opera -- perhaps most notably the Star Wars saga -- ever to hit the big screen; and to that end it's very successful. The character dialogue is at times truly hilarious, and always endearing. Though the initial playthrough is frightfully short (it took me a little over two hours to complete), there are 9 different endings.
Now when I say endings, I don't mean that you are required to play through the entire same experience just so you can get at a mere morsel of additional gameplay & story. No, you play portions -- sometimes more, sometimes less -- of the initial story, and then move into other areas of the game that were previously locked. In turn that will reveal new characters, new ships and new backgrounds and enemies.
Gameplay: If you believe what I'm about to write here in this review, then SFC is the stylus-based game all DS owners have been waiting for. Big words, no? But piloting a starship is so right for the DS' interface. Everything, with the exception of firing your ship's weapons (either laser or plasma), is done using the stylus; and it couldn't be more intuitive. That's not to say that it's easy -- it's not. It will inevitably take some time to get used to how the various ships handle using the stylus control. In addition, you'll be performing barrel rolls (where the ship spins, either to reflect enemy fire, collect power-ups, or other such functions), U-turns and Loops all on the touch screen. Other interesting touch features include double-tapping (and holding) on the top part of the touch screen to perform a boost; double-tapping (and holding) on the bottom part of the touch screen to brake; and using a drag & drop method to place bombs -- very cool!
Of course, that's the meat of the gameplay. The potatoes are actually served up first, and they're in the form of turn-based strategy. The instruction manual breaks the gameplay up into 3 phases: Flight Path Phase, Movement Phase and Combat Phase (which I've described already in the previous paragraph). Flight & Movement Phases are what make up the turn-based strategy portion of the game. After a bit of dialogue that explains where the gameplay's headed, you'll move into a mission. At the start of the mission you are usually faced with some "fog of war." You are enabled, during each turn, to use the stylus to scratch away a limited amount of that fog. You then draw flight paths for whichever ships happen to be available to you in that mission -- and can even fire missiles from the Great Fox if available. Once you've got your armada in place, double-tap on the touch screen to execute the Movement Phase. If any of your ships encounter an enemy they are then taken into combat.
The first time through the story mode might seem somewhat easy for veterans of the series -- though I found it a healthy challenge myself -- but rest assured that the difficulty level increases with the additional storylines.
As you may well be aware, SFC offers both single-cart multiplayer, as well as WiFi multiplayer. In this one area of the review I'm going to break away from the essay and just give the pros & cons of each:
Local Single-cart Multiplayer
-Single-cart multiplayer; well, that in itself is a pro in my book
-Surprisingly long-lasting fun to be had
-Up to 6 players can play off of one cart
-Only one ship to play
-Cannot set the play timer
-Cannot choose the background -- it's randomly chosen
-Only one type of download play
-Play with people from around the world
-Play with up to 4 players
-Only one ship to play
-Cannot vote on a set play time
-Cannot vote on a background
-Only two modes of play
-Certain aspects of the play encourage SPAM
-Action Replay users are seemingly prevalent online
Graphics: It's a beautiful game to play. Graphics aren't astounding -- that's not what makes them beautiful -- there's nothing that this game does that other DS games can't do. It's just that the developers really made the most of what the system has to offer. Both screens are used in a way that maximize the visual experience as a whole. I also haven't noticed any framerate issues, or other notable blemishes. Stills during character conversations are nothing extraordinary, but they do the job and do it well. Q-Games' (the developers) mantra must have been "keep it simple, and get the most out of the little bit that we go with."
Sound: Cute little jibberish voices, ala Animal Crossing: Wild World; a nice variety of uplifting themes -- even peppy ones like the one playing when you're in combat as Lucy Hare; and all the cool sound effects you'd expect from an action-packed space shooter like Star Fox Command. As you unlock additional characters you can even go back and hear the themes unique to each character by calling up their profile. The only disappointing aspect of the sound is that I was under the impression you could record your voice, and at certain times throughout the game -- in response to certain things that happen -- the characters would use your recorded voice snippet(s). But it actually just takes a collection of your voice samples and garbles them into yet more jibberish. It doesn't sound bad to me, just not what I was hoping for.
Presentation: All the included elements of SFC really come together -- for the most part -- to make a top-flight (yeah, it's a pun) DS game. I had no idea I would enjoy this game as much I am enjoying it. The various storylines are put together in such a way that you just can't stop coming back for more. The characters are all very cute and very loveable. There are options that allow you to go back and play various, previously completed missions. And even though the online play is not my favorite aspect of SFC, the multiplayer offering overall is really quite a strong one. Even the manual is a beautiful, in-depth guide to everything you need to know about playing the game. Lastly, the game's price comes in lower than your average Nintendo-published title: $30.
Who is this game for? Well, if any of what I've discussed in this review sounds appealing, then this game is for any of you who are 10-years old or above. It's a smart-bomb of a game that didn't perhaps get the same fanfare (or reception) as did Metroid Prime: Hunters, but does a lot better job, in my opinion, of doing its job of being a fun game.
Thanks for reading & happy gaming!
A healthy sampling of each of the various elements of the game, and it's all patched together seamlessly.
A great example of the DS' power as a visual experience. Everything runs smooth, and though no particular aspect of the visuals will dazzle you, it all works so very well.
I love the music, love the sound effects, and I even love the jibberish. I just wish the voice-recording option had been fleshed out a little more.
Another truly addictive DS title that makes exceptional use of the touch screen. Missions are composed of a balanced combination of strategy and action.
8.0 Lasting Appeal
The online play is meh, but the local, single-cart multiplayer offers a surprisingly long-lasting amount of fun. However, the greatest replay probably comes from the story mode, which is rare.