The Star Fox series is one which holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers. Featuring a colourful cast of anthropomorphic animals led by Fox McCloud across the Lylat system, it all began back in 1993 on the Super Nintendo with the original Star Fox. The game was a huge hit and has since seen four sequels with varying degrees of success. Developed by Q-Games and released back in 2006, Star Fox Command stands as one of the better entries so far, but one which may leave some fans divided.
There are five main modes here: Adventure, Stage Select, Training, Local Multiplayer and Wi-Fi Multiplayer, a first for the series. It takes place three years after the events of Star Fox Assault at a time when the team has once again disbanded, with Venom remaining largely quiet. However, one day, a race that lives within the deadly Venom Sea known as the Anglar begins an attack on the Lylat system and the members soon reassemble to combat the new threat.
Unlike previous entries, story plays a much more important part to Adventure mode as, once you've completed it, you are given the Key of Destiny. This allows you to choose how the narrative unwinds, leading up to nine different endings overall that spanning across 11 different parts of the Lylat System. This structure not only makes the experience more unique, it also adds lots of replay value and the different stories running throughout the game should keep you interested. However, the game does not give any indication to a true ending, which may annoy some fans.
Star Fox Command takes a lot of elements from its cancelled predecessor, Star Fox 2. Gameplay is divided into two sections, the overworld and the battles. The sections of the former are all about strategy, giving you control over one to four pilots at a time from a total of 14 playable characters, old and new. Your aim is simple – destroy of all the enemy forces across the level before they can reach the Great Fox. Throughout this section, you control the pilots via the touch screen and plot their course using the stylus to intercept enemies across the map.
All battles throughout the game are held in free roaming areas. This will undoubtedly leave some fans disappointed as there are no traditional on-rails missions in the game. The only similar things included here are the missile runs, in which you have to follow one's slipstream and then attempt to destroy it, though this does little to help fill that void.
The aim of fights against normal Anglar forces that you encounter across the maps is simply to destroy a select group of them. Their ships contain cores which you are required to collect once they have been destroyed to complete a mission. Then you have Anglar Bases, which are similar to normal battles but have you follow a set of beacons and barrel roll into an Anglar Mothership at the end.
The battles are often quite engaging and fun, and there's a decent variety of enemies included throughout the game. Unfortunately they do often feel a bit too easy and can end up becoming repetitive after awhile. There are also more traditional, fully-fledged bosses such as returning villain Andrew Oikonny, arch-rivals Team Star Wolf and several new Anglar bosses, which help give the game the occasional breath of fresh air it needs.
Gameplay-wise, local and Wi-Fi Multiplayer are very similar to each other, with the only major difference being that while local can host up to eight players at a time via DS Download Play, Wi-Fi can only host four. The latter also contains a ranking system that classifies you from Z to A and lets you climb your way up through wins.
For those of you who have played multiplayer before in Star Fox 64, this will be familiar territory. There are no team battles available, everyone is going solo here, and you win by collecting stars from destroying your opponents. While this mode is rather barebones, it can be rather fun when playing with friends. When you do so, however, there's an added dynamic that potentially could make things frustrating – you do not automatically gain stars, but rather one is collectable from the location at which you killed another player. Anyone can thus grab it, meaning that you could destroy an opponent and someone else could swoop in and take it, robbing you of points.
Controls are almost completely touch screen based as you manipulate your pilot exclusively with the stylus, while you only use the D-Pad and all other buttons aside from Start and Select for firing your weapon. The touch screen also has several other functions, such as double tapping for the boost function or braking, barrel rolling and dropping bombs across the map by dragging a symbol to a location on the radar. This functionality works really well with the DS, feeling very natural and suited to the system, but it can take a little while to get used to. Fortunately, Nintendo has included a training mode which is split into four different parts, each for a different game aspect. The mode is rather helpful for beginners, and they'll soon be ready to take on the main game.
Star Fox Command looks very good for a DS title. The 3D character models are nice, the environments are well textured and thoroughly detailed and, barring the occasional dip, the game runs smoothly at 30 frames per second. The 2D art used is also pleasing to the eye, particularly in the cutscenes, with the only real flaw being the rather basic graphical designs in the overworld sections. The audio is also rather nice here and should please some fans of the series as it contains a number of classic tunes mixed in with several new ones. The game features no traditional voice acting, however, with Q-Games instead deciding to use the gibberish-chatter similar to that in the original game and PAL version of Star Fox 64, in which it was simply referred to as “Lylat".
The bottom line is that for those of you hoping for a more traditional Star Fox experience, Star Fox Command will leave you disappointed. What it instead offers is more of a new evolution in the franchise, a fresh start for a troubled series and one that comes highly recommended.