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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Q Games
Genre: Action
Players: 1-6
Rated: E10 (Everyone)
Release Date: August 28, 2006
Written By: Daniel Sims
Screenshots: Link

Ever since it was first unveiled at E3 2006, Star Fox Command has been hailed as the game to finally set Star Fox back on the right track after nine years without a title to do the property justice. While Q-games, the latest developer to take a crack at Star Fox after Rare and Namco, does put Fox Mcloud back in his Arwing and keeps him there, most of Command's appeal actually lies in its new features, which turn out to be executed better than expected. But while these new elements enter the game, for better or worse the classic elements that make this title a Star Fox game no longer feel the same.

The two biggest new features in this entry bring major changes to how the plotline progresses, as well as how missions are played out to make a game that feels different but actually constitutes a fun experience with plenty of replay value.

First is Star Fox Command's plotline and system of game progression. In the original Star Fox as well as Star Fox 64, players were given the choice of how they wanted to travel through the Lylat system to eventually reach the final mission and finish the game which provided multiple ways to play through it, encouraging successive playthroughs. Command takes this mechanic one step further, merging it with the game's narrative to create a branching storyline with multiple endings, and what a story it is!

Star Fox Command features probably the darkest and most sophisticated storyline in any Star Fox game to date. The basic premise is really the same as in any other game in the series: after defeating Andross the Star Fox team gets bored and disbands until a new threat comes along, encouraging them to reunite in order to defeat it. But for whatever reason, Q saw fit to add in some much deeper character development than what we’ve ever seen before in Star Fox and really almost any other Nintendo franchise: getting Slippy engaged, revealing that Peppy has a daughter (which came straight out of nowhere), and finally getting serious about Fox’s relationship with Krystal.

Part of the reason it feels weird in the context of Star Fox is one: because the entire cast consists of furries, and two: because of the oddly changed art style from the previous games. Star Fox is a series that has changed the nature of its character designs with nearly every new entry, and now the story of Command is told through these sort of hand-drawn caricatures which just look odd.

Whatever Q's intentions with this new direction, the branching plotline does serve to significantly extend the replay value of the single player mode as well as provide new playable characters outside of the Star Fox team, each one with their own ship and piloting abilities which, along with the increased difficulty after the first playthrough, gives reason enough to play through the adventure multiple times.

The second major change introduced in Command is the complete rearrangement of how missions play out in a Star Fox game. The first two Star Fox games, as well as Assault to an extent, took old shump game levels and built on them with scripted events, cinematics, and real time dialogue in order to turn each game into an immersive experience with an arcade feel. The first portable entry in the series abbreviates these battles into small skirmishes set in a territory completely alien to the Star Fox series: turn-based strategy.

Each mission in Star Fox Command starts you out on a map on the bottom screen that displays any ships in your squadron, the Great Fox, and any enemies present. Your objective in each mission is to move your fighters along on the map with the stylus in order to engage the enemy before they reach the Great Fox, and destroy them before you run out of turns, thus the name Star Fox Command. The battlefield map is also filled with other things like no-fly zones, items, and even fog of war.

This system, while not quite Advance Wars, works surprisingly well, making efficient decisions on the part of the player absolutely crucial to victory and thus providing a big part of Star Fox Command’s challenge. It's simple, it's challenging, and it fits the DS touch screen perfectly.

While Star Fox Command's new gameplay features do add quite a bit to the experience therefore justifying the name "Command", the very heart of the game, the "Star Fox" part if you will, while feeling more familiar to fans than probably any other game since Star Fox 64, doesn’t feel quite as polished as the newer features.

As mentioned above, Star Fox Command's battles have been shortened into small skirmishes, most likely to accommodate the portable nature of the game. Once you encounter enemies on the battlefield map you must engage them in full 3D combat (what all range mode was in SF64) where you simply destroy each of the enemies you have met, which will usually take anywhere from a few seconds to maybe a couple minutes. There are also some parts that attempt to be reminiscent of certain levels in Star Fox 64 (Katina and Sector Z to be specific), even those have been abridged into in mingames of sorts. One thing that does still make it feel more like the console games though, is the music, as the fantastic score from Star Fox 64 and Star Fox Assault makes a return in this game.

The multiplayer mode from Star Fox 64 has also made a return, this time making a move to both the portable front and online play. Local wireless allows for up to six players and online allows for up to four. Though the interface for online in Star Fox Command is basically the same as in Mario Kart DS, Command is the first DS game to allow for voice chat during an online game with friends (Metriod Prime Hunters only allowed voice chat in the lobby).

One thing players might notice at this point is how much of a technical achievement Star Fox Command is on the DS, sporting tastefully polygonal ships and enemies as well as probably the best 3D graphics engine on the system since Metroid Prime Hunters.

However, after adding in new features and getting them to work, it seems that in trying to enhance what makes Star Fox Command a Star Fox game, Q has created the one thing that holds this game back from completely rejuvenating the series – the controls.

Star Fox Command completely abandons the classic control scheme of the series in favor of a new system where steering the ship and performing maneuvers is controlled completely via the touch screen. Moves like loops and imelmann turns are performed by pressing buttons on the touch screen while boosts and breaking are done by double tapping the upper or lower halves of the screen and steering is done by simply moving the stylus along the screen. The only thing that's not controlled by the touch screen is firing lasers, which is done by pressing any of the buttons or the Dpad. One of the cool things here is that dropping smart bombs is done by dragging a bomb icon onto the map on the touch screen and simply pointing it exactly where you want it to hit, which makes then far more accurate than ever before.

Q definitely had its heart in the right place trying to put the entire control scheme of Star Fox under the control of a single input device, but in the end that simply makes the controls clumsy, loose, and not really an improvement over just using buttons and the pad. Quick, tight turns in this game are almost impossible, partly because barrel rolls are performed by moving the stylus from left to right, which sometimes interferes with the steering controls. This in turn destroys almost any possibility for close dogfighting, even when enemies like Star Wolf show up. Furthermore, because the only hand you have left to support the DS is also firing lasers; it can take a while to find a comfortable sitting position in which to play the game.

The reason these controls hurt so much is really because they lie at the very heart of the true Star Fox experience in this game. If the idea had been executed better or there were at least an option for a pad and button-based control system like Metroid has, the single player skirmishes could have ended up being satisfying short bursts of Star Fox action that you could take anywhere and the multiplayer could have taken the addictiveness of Star Fox 64's multiplayer to portables and online.

Bottom Line
It's good to finally see a Star Fox game that puts the franchise back in the right direction by practically nailing Fox and the rest of his friends inside the cockpits of their Arwings. It's even better to see some new gameplay elements to freshen up the experience as well as online multiplayer, but the very core of the Star Fox element that is, the flying and fighting, is cramped in this game by a control scheme that ultimately feels forced.


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