Star Fox has an active history on the GameCube, first appearing on the console in the form of Star Fox Adventures back in 2001. It took on a whole new direction and saw Fox McCloud out of the cockpit for the first time in an on-foot adventure across Dinosaur Planet, and while the game received acclaim in some quarters, many felt that it strayed too far from the series' roots. As such, a new game for the series soon began development to bring the series back to them in a collaboration between Nintendo and Namco, mixing together the on-foot mission style from Star Fox Adventures with the on-rails missions from the earlier entries, culminating in Star Fox Assault. Sadly however, it comes out as a rather mixed bag
The game offers several different main modes of gameplay. Looking at story mode, the game is set a couple of years after the events of Star Fox Adventures and Team Star Fox has reformed once again. This time, it's protecting the Lylat system from a new threat known as the Aparoids, a part-insect, part-machine species bent on the assimilation of all other species and it's up to Star Fox to eliminate them.
The game consists of 10 different missions set across the Lylat system, ranging from old favourites such as Corneria to new locations like the Aparoid Homeworld. These can be played through in three different difficulties that vary how much damage you take per hit and your end of mission score multiplier. Once completed in Story Mode, these missions then become available to play individually in Mission Mode.
Missions are mainly split into two categories. Firstly, we have on-rails Arwing levels; not much has changed from before across the levels, you'll still find items scattered around such as laser upgrades, bombs and silver rings and the Star Fox Team will frequently need saving among other things. These are undoubtedly one of the game's main highlights with their smooth controls and generally polished feel, proving to be a lot of fun and a welcome return for fans disappointed by Star Fox Adventures. Sadly, only three on-rails missions feature throughout the entire game, which is a real letdown.
Then we have the ground missions, which are basically most of the other missions in the game. These missions essentially turn the game into a third-person shooter, involving Fox doing tasks on the ground such as destroying Aparoids and other enemies with guns or the Landmaster, a tank-like vehicle that appears throughout the series. These allow full freedom of movement in a relatively small, arena setting. They also make use of the Arwings as well at times, allowing you to pilot them in an all-range mode setting and also gives you the option to switch between vehicles.
However, this is where a lot of things go wrong for the game. While Namco have put a lot of effort into the on-rails missions, ground missions generally come across as feeling rather unpolished, particularly with the controls as aiming often proves to be cumbersome, even across all three different controller options, dampening the experience frequently. Level design is also another weak point, as the worlds are not very distinctive and often feel rather lacking in substance. However, despite these flaws the missions prove to be quite fun at times despite their flaws, particularly when using the Landmaster, but they won't draw you back for more.
Once you complete a mission, you are ranked and awarded a medal, with your score being based on multiple factors such as your chosen difficulty level, the number of enemies defeated and time taken to complete the mission. You can also get friendship medals for each mission, which you earn if you successfully protect your team mates. These add a lot of replay value to the game and Namco made a smart move here by adding extra incentive to obtain the medals. By achieving a silver medal in every mission, you can unlock Namco's Classic arcade game Xevious, which is a rather welcome bonus.
After Story Mode has been completed, you can then try out Survival Mode. This is similar to survival modes in other games in that you attempt to go through the entire game without saving. For those looking for a challenge, Survival Mode steps up to the plate fairly well here but once you've done it, it doesn't really draw you in too much and honestly feels like the mode was poorly planned or brought in late in development.
Multiplayer is also available throughout the game, in which you simply try to kill the most people within the time limit. Four players can join in here, and you can choose a stage and choose the rules for it, such as what weapons and vehicles can be used, making for interesting games. Multiplayer is rather fun with friends but it doesn't last for long as it soon becomes quite boring. Namco included a lot of unlockables throughout the game in a bid to increase replay value here, predominantly obtained through playing games in multiplayer itself, as you begin to unlock extras when you play a certain number of matches in the game. The problem with this method is that it's rather tedious and considering that the fun will wear off quickly, a lot of gamers are likely not to bother.
Graphically, the game is about on average with other GameCube titles: it looks decent but can be rather lacking at times and often isn't up to the same level of detail seen in Star Fox Adventures, disappointing considering Adventures is four years older. The audio is rather good though, with a range of familiar themes appearing across the missions, nice treats for fans of the older Star Fox games. For this game, the option of the gibberish language known as Lylat speak is not available as you're stuck with English voice work throughout.
Overall, Star Fox Assault is a flawed but fun game that comes out as the weakest entry in the series altogether. While the controls hamper the ground mission levels, and the small number of on-rails missions is a disappointment, those who give the game a chance will find that there's still a lot to enjoy here but this is one that comes recommended with some caution.