Fox McCloud and friends are coming back in a big way this Holiday season with Star Fox Zero for the Wii U, and while the jury's still out on whether the title will live up to expectations, Nintendo has given fans a refresher course in barrel rolls by releasing Star Fox Command on the system's Virtual Console in North America. While this DS title suffers a bit from frustrating touch-only controls and occasionally infuriating spikes in difficulty, Star Fox Command is a charming entry in the series and offers a lot of replay value.
The story in Star Fox Command is silly and melodramatic, which is clearly intentional; when we first meet our heroes Fox has parted ways with his team. The sweet (and annoying) Slippy has gotten engaged and Falco's gone off to do his own thing, while girlfriend Krystal broke it off with Fox for being too protective and went and joined Team Star Wolf just to make him angry.
Yet when the Lylat System is threatened by the evil Anglar race, Peppy gets Fox and the gang back together to take on the threat. Returning and new faces appear throughout the adventure, and it's clear that a lot of thought went into the backstories and relationships of each character. While the story is clearly not Star Fox's strongest suit, fans may find it more interesting after Shigeru Miyamoto's comments around the series being initially inspired by puppet drama Thunderbirds. The story has several branching paths and different endings, making multiple playthroughs feel like new chapters instead of replays.
Star Fox Command's unique game mechanics make it stand out from the rest of the series. Each level takes place on an overhead map in which players have a set amount of turns to protect ROB 64 and the Great Fox from incoming enemies while guiding the deployed Arwings to the goal. Players draw a set path for the Arwings, which are usually en route to an enemy base or rescue; during each move enemy units will head towards the Great Fox, which can only defend itself with missiles collected by Arwings. If any enemy reaches the Great Fox, the mission is failed. While a simple system, there is a definite learning curve, and the game doesn't do the best job of communicating how it works to the player.
When an Arwing collides with an enemy, players enter a battle that plays like Star Fox 64's All Range Mode. While there are several different enemies flying around the screen, it's only required that the player take out the targeted aliens or ships. While the bottom screen displays where targets are, it can be frustrating to control the Arwing and locate the targeted enemy at the same time. Unfortunately, this is where most of Star Fox Command's problems arise. Everything is done with the stylus, including the all-important barrel roll which is required to destroy bases.
The stylus is finicky at best, and we had to replay several different stages because the GamePad didn't read it correctly; since the game isn't actually running on a DS, it's a pain to figure out the best way to hold the GamePad while playing. It's a matter of personal preference, but we ended up holding the GamePad vertically to emulate the feel of the DS as much as possible, which still didn't work out so well thanks to the stylus often hitting the "top screen." While we eventually got the hang of the controls, the clunkiness hampered our enjoyment until we found the right setup.
Star Fox Command is not the prettiest or most visually impressive title for the DS, but it runs smoothly and without a hitch. When blown up on the TV you'll notice the pixelation and somewhat dull colours, but on the bright GamePad it looks just fine. The music is classic Star Fox fare, but the voiceovers made popular in Star Fox 64 are nowhere to be found, replaced with Animal Crossing's cutesy sounds. Most of the story is told via still illustrations, which was likely a decision made based on the limitations of the DS hardware
If you can get past the frustrating controls, you'll find a lot to enjoy in Star Fox Command, and a lot of replay value. After completing the game once new paths are unlocked, and players will meet new characters, find unexpected twists, fight tougher battles and see several other endings. There is a multiplayer component in the original DS version that is unfortunately not possible on the Virtual Console.
Star Fox Command is a fun, challenging game that is brought down a little by controls that take too much time to get used to, and which don't adapt brilliantly to the Wii U Virtual Console. If you have can get past that hurdle you'll find an involving, robust adventure featuring charming characters that Nintendo doesn't feature nearly enough.