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Written : 02/23/05

Let me start off saying that when I first got wind of a new Starfox game, I was seriously overjoyed. After Starfox Adventures, I was more than ready for a good old fashioned StarFox shooting frenzy. But then it was revealed that the action wasn't all going to be behind the controls of an Arwing. Not even just that and the Landmaster. No, there was going to be a lot of on-foot action, and this made me cringe. Regardless of games' need to change and progress as sequels come and go, I wanted StarFox to go back to just flying and possibly tank driving. But this was not the case. I was heartbroken. StarFox is one of the few SNES games I can just pick up anytime and play for hours.

It was a long and hard inner battle, but I did my best to look past the fact that people were saying that the game was brought down by the non-Arwing parts. Some were saying it was great, and maybe they were right? Right up until the day it was released, I had convinced myself not to buy StarFox: Assault, mostly because I feared the unknown. Sure, I could rent it, but that's just not like me. I don't have enough time to rent stuff anymore. I rented Prince of Persia: Warrior Within a while ago and barely got anywhere. But that's besides the point. Being myself, I broke down and snatched the game up right away, and I'm glad I did.

You see, to tell the truth, I was expecting the game to suck out loud, and the fact that I find it to be an above-par title is probably why I like it so much. By no means is it a groundbreaking title, or even a game I would suggest just anyone to buy (like Resident Evil 4), but I'm having a good amount of fun with it, and I'm surely not disappointed with it. I guess the secret to truly enjoying a game is to expect it to be utter crap, rather than get totally hyped about how awesome it's going to be. That way, you'll be amazed a how good it turned out to be, rather than let down that it's not all you got excited about. You understand what I'm trying to say, right?

The game itself isn't too heavy on the non-vehicular action, as there are no stages where you aren't at all presented with the ability to either fly an Arwing or drive a Landmaster. While in most of the "pilot" stages you do have to stay on foot for a while, you're never stuck that way for the entire mission. And as it is, being on foot isn't so bad after all. The aiming is a little shaky, but other than that it's generally one firefight after another, so while you're not always flying, there is certainly an ample amount of blasting stuff.

But enough about that. The game's opening cutscene is pretty cool, with you know, the Starfox team running around and game footage mixed with video scenes and stuff. Pretty average, but the music is excellent. Basically it's just an orchestrated version of the Starfox theme, but it's really quite awesome. I watch the video every time just to listen to it. Also, I really like the menu music as well. It's upbeat and catchy, and is really different from most of the other music in the game. You know what else is really different? Team Starfox. And not really for the better.

First up, we have Fox McCloud. Of course, he's our hero. Fox is always the hero. That's why it's called StarFox, and not StarToad. I have to say, Namco sure did make him more likeable. I always got the impression that he's kind of an asshole after his Super Smash Bros appearances. Star Fox Adventures was kind of in neutral territory, and never made me like the character. But in this game, he seems more calm, and more like a real hero, rather than some random jerkass space pilot. I certainly didn't mind playing as him this time around. I can't really say I had an opinion on the characters in the first two games, as they didn't really give them much depth, but I always thought Peppy was the best. Which brings me to my next point.

WHY? Why did they replace Peppy with this stupid side character? I hate Krystal. Nothing good ever came of her. Rare just made her up for SF Adventures as a placeholder for whatever character might have been there when the game was still Dinosaur Planet. Oi. I mean, Peppy's still on the sidelines giving advice, but the fact that Krystal is present is revolting enough. Her voice is the worst of them all (the voice acting in the game isn't terrible, but it's not good either), and whenever she needs help she does the best she can to fly as far away from you as possible and try to keep that distance. I wish they'd have just let her die or something in SF Adventures.

Another thing I'd like to point out is that back in her debut, her chest was not that big. And coming from Rare, I'm a bit surprised. It may just be the suit, but she's clearly had a little work done. For shame, Namco. Not only did you bring in a crappy character (I know it's for continuity's sake, but damn it...), but you went and gave obvious implants to what might very well be the first female character ever that Rare didn't make overly well-endowed. But I guess that's just the way it's going to be then. God I hate Krystal. It's not like her "telepathic powers" are even made use of at all in the game. And she's the only character who has no last name. Bah to you, Krystal!

I never really liked Falco either. He was always an asshole, no denying it. And then he's a pretty weak (not physically weak, you know what I mean) character in Super Smash Bros. Melee as well. Back in the day, he was always asking for help and then chewing you out after you saved his ass. I don't see why everyone loves this guy so much. I have to say though, he is the most competent pilot of the bunch, getting in trouble much less than the other two idiots (which isn't saying much, but still). And he almost always drops an item for you when you save him, unlike Krystal and Slippy, who rarely give you anything. At least he's a little more verbally respectful of your efforts in this game.

Slippy was always the inconvenience of the bunch, and now moreso than ever. Not only does the stupid frog always need saving, but he's become an aural menace too. Every time he speaks, he manges to top the stupidity of the last thing he said. It's almost infuriating how annoying Slippy is. Most of the time I just let him die so that he'll stop talking. If there is one nice thing I can say about him, it's that he does a hilarious victory dance in multiplayer mode. Other than that, I hate him just slightly less than Krystal. And then only because he's been part of the StarFox team since the beginning.

One point of interest I'd like to mention is that Slippy is the one who gives you the readout for the boss health gauges. So if he does bite it somewhere along the way, you're not going to know how much health the boss has. It's not really a terrible inconvenience to fight a boss and not know it's health, but I think it's a neat little detail worthy of mention.

So onto the game then? Not quite yet. I'd also like to touch on the player system for a while. It's not an overly original concept, but I like being able to register multiple players on a single save file. And the fact that there's a guest account for, well, guests, is kinda cool. And it's not only to keep track of your progress in single player mode either. Just like the SSB games, it keeps track of all sorts of player stats, including character usage percentages, kills, how many times you've been killed by which gun, and all sorts of other nifty things that you certainly wouldn't expect to see in a game where the multiplayer mode is just slightly less of a superficial extra than in Metroid Prime 2.

There are also a bunch of little dealies to collect throughout your single-player adventure, and those include medals of the bronze, silver, and gold variety, friendship medals, and little yellow flags. The normal medals are pretty much to show how good you are, and are awarded depending on whether you can clear a set score on each difficulty level. The friendship medals are handed out for missions on which all of your team has come back safely. Finally, the flags are hidden all over the place, five to a level. I've gotten very few of them. They're kinda tricky. Apparently, getting all this stuff ulocks things in multplayer mode, but I have no idea what and I'm not about to go look it up.

Finally, it's time to take a look at the game itself. The first mission is great for fans of the StarFox games of old. It's all shooting, and will surely rekindle old memories of saving the Lylat System from Andross. You start in space, attacking a fleet of ships commanded by the late Andross' nephew, Andrew Oikonny (an ex-member of StarWolf, the rivals of StarFox). It's a great introductory level, and you'll quickly get accomodated to the slightly unfamiliar controls. Everything quickly falls into place, with Slippy being attacked by enemy ships over and over, and Peppy belting out advice on how to do a barrel roll. It's pure Starfox bliss.

The scoring system changes a little bit during different missions. In the straight-forward Arwing missions, you're basically out to shoot down different clusters of enemies, and taking down a group of fighters will get you your bonus points, as opposed to the free-flying and all-range levels where killing many enemies in a row will gather your extra points. I was kind of confused at first, but once you realize how it works, you'll be winning medals all over the place in no time.

After plenty of shooting and getting yelled at by various characters, you'll catch up with Oikonny's flagship, but he'll quickly retreat to the surface of the nearby planet Fortuna when he realizes that you're going to be beating him down something fierce if he doesn't. A flashy cutscene ensues, with the atmosphere and Falco calling Peppy "gramps" and such.

Then you're on the planet's surface. It starts as a lush forest area, and poses a few path choices, with not much difference other than ground- or air-based enemies. Keeping in mind that these "alternate routes" are generally just going to one side of a bunch of trees or the other. There's really not much reason to take one path over another except for that there may be flags hidden on some of the more tricky paths. I'm not sure. Like I said before, I've found very few of them.

After the short jaunt through the jungle of Fortuna, you wind up right in the middle of Oikonny's base. While it's not entirely surprising, most of the ally saving you have to do during this mission is during this area. And as is also expected, this area is also the most cluttered with enemies. They're all over the place. In the sky, on the ground, coming out off the walls, everywhere. The nova bombs are really your only hope of possibly taking out even half the enemies here. It's a good idea too, as the boss himself doesn't really require such powerful munitions. And speaking of which...

Dun dun dun!! Even Falco points out that Oikonny's ship is just a lame Andross wannabe. He's pretty easy to beat, as if you've ever finished a StarFox game, you've beaten Andross, and this guy puts forth a really bad effort at trying to be like his uncle. As soon as his hands are gone, the battle is over. No fighting the head, no having to avoid getting sucked up, and no panels/rocks to dodge. While it's quite sad how pitiful Oikonny's attempts to crush you are, there is a little more to the fight than first meets the eye.

The ship goes boom and he's all like "OMG!!! WTF!1!!11!!".

And then the real boss rears its horrendous visage. A big moth? That's it? Well, truth be told, the guy is a tad difficult. A tad, and no more. His basic attack is to blast energy rings from the "laser cannons" on his wings. They're really just flashy robot bulbs, but we're not gonna argue with Ms. Telepath, now are we? If you don't blow the wings to eternity after a round or two of energy rings, he'll fly out of shooting range, and summon the powers of his gigantic ass to blast a stream of flames at you. And even after you dispose of the wings, there's still more work to be done.

Now that the boss has lost his laser cannons, he'll use his ass fire to excavate a hole in the planet's surface, and raise many a boulder from it, only to send them crashing down on your poor Arwing. Then he'll come back into range and reveal the new weak spot for a couple seconds before returning to the ass fire and rock throwing game. A few rounds later, he should go down, and you'll be rewarded with, well, maybe a medal or two. Oh, and a cutscene.

Turns out the big moth was an "aparoid". What these aparoids are is never really explained, but they can assimilate stuff, and are out to destroy everything. Word on the street is that some time back, a single aparoid took out an entire fleet of fighters. Sounds like a lot of hooey to me, as Fox alone will be slaying them by the boatloads in the stages to come. But that aside, Fox retrieves a doohickey called a Core Memory from the ruins of the big bug, and so begins the mission to exterminate the aparoids.

The results screen is pretty much where you see how good you did on the mission. In fact, that's the only purpose the results screen has. As you can see, your point tally is combined with an amount of points relative to how long you spent on the mission, and multiplied depending on which difficulty level you're playing on. Should you meet the target score, you'll be awarded a medal. If your teammates all survive, you get the friendship medal too. I already have them all, so letting Slippy die off was more beneficial to me than it was a hindrance. Also, the screen reports how many flags you found during that run. It doesn't tell you which flags you got, or how many you have in total for that stage, so the readout is kinda useless.

The next mission begins when a distress signal comes from an apparently abandoned base on the planet Katina. It could be a clue to the mystery of the aparoids, so Team StarFox is on the scene! Unfortunately, it turns out to be an ambush, and with Fox's Arwing on the outside of the base and him trapped inside, it's time for some run-and-gun action.

The only real problem with the on-foot missions is the control scheme. While it is slightly customizeable, the aiming is slightly awkward at first. After a while, you'll get used to the over-sensitivity of it all, and will be blasting aparoids left right and center. The other thing that may annoy people is that all of the pilot missions revolve around seeking and destroying targets scattered around the maps. I, personally, have no problem with this, but I've heard many a complaint about it. In this first 'pilot' level, the objective starts as just eliminating all the big enemies in the swarm. After killing the first bunch of aparoids, things start to heart up, and Fox realizes that he's in over his head.

So what happens next? Fox starts complaining, and Peppy beams down a Landmaster tank in hopes of shutting him up. This is where things get a little more interesting. And by that, I mean there's more shooting, some tank driving, and some more control issues. First off, the landmaster is really slow to turn around, and the fact that pressing left or right on your movement stick (I play in "Dual Stick" control mode) it'll "strafe" very slowly rather than turn is quite annoying. To turn the tank at any reasonable speed, you have to be moving forward, and then you've got to deal with the big arc. It's kind of annoying to drive the Landmaster, but if you ever manage to get the hang of it, you might actually enjoy it.

So now you've got your tank, and you're shooting down aparoids like nobody's business. Something's gotta give, right? Well, not really. When you've cleared out all the really big guys, a bunch of aparoid spawning machines will para-drop in and then you have to search them all out. It is by no means difficult, as the radar helps a great deal, but chances are that you're going to lose the big combo you just racked up pretty quickly. They're spread out pretty far apart, and some are even hidden inside the base, so chances that you'll get from each one to the other before your combo meter peters out are slim. Once you do manage to blow them all away, things go from annoying to worse.

Just when you figured they'd be dropping in even more crap to hunt down and kill, the boss shows up. This is a really hard and annoying boss fight for two reasons. One: you have to fight it in the Landmaster, anything else just bounces off. Two: if the boss steps on you, there's a chance you'll glitch through the floor and end up waaaay outside the base. It happened to me once, and it took me like five minutes to find a way out of the ground and back into the base.

The boss himself would be really easy, but there are a few key points that make the fight a lot longer and harder than it should be. Shooting with the Landmaster is a litle tough, and the boss is always moving. Had they let you lock-on to him, it may be a bit easier, but no. You have to pull a Space Invaders and shoot not at him, but where he will be. All the while, you're barrel rolling like crazy to avoid the non-stop barrage o' missiles he'll be firing. If you do manage to bring the beast down, you've got ample time to float up to the top and go nuts on his weak spot. From here, the fight can get easier if you're either really good or really lucky. If you manage to stay on top without getting shot off, the fight will be over in less than a minute. But if you do get knocked back to the ground, you'll have to knock him over again, which gets harder because of an increase in missile-shooting frequency.

After winning this fight, the boss will drop another Core Memory, which according to Peppy is the ultimate solution to defeating the aparoids. But while Fox dawdles along, the ever-annoying Pigma Dengar (another ex-StarWolf member) appears from hiding and snatches it up, intent on selling it for a high sum. Of course, your allies just watch him grab it and fly away. They could shoot him down and retrieve the prize, but then you wouldn't have to spend three more missions chasing the stupid hog.

I'd like to note that it's really quite hard to save your allies while in the Landmaster tank, and nearly impossible to do so on foot. Krystal is especially bad here, as she likes to be either on the other side of the map or directly above you. And you'll also notice that this mission took nearly 20 minutes to finish. I told you that seeking out enemies takes a while, and that the boss is a long and hard one. Ironically enough, this was the first time I'd ever beaten him without losing a life, and the fact that I did it on the PC (which makes the framerate really bad) is the icing on the cake.

Yeah, so the next three missions are based around chasing after Pigma. Along the way, you'll encounter StarFox's old rivals StarWolf, stop a giant cylinder with legs from exploding a weather control center, ride on the wing of Falco's Arwing, and blow up a huge space base that has a very familiar pink blob fused to the top of it. After that, it's pretty much fighting off scores of aparoids and working your way to their homeworld to destroy the queen. The story is pretty light, and is usual StarFox fare. I swear, if you attack games like this for poor storylines, you certainly don't know what's going on. They make space shooting games for the shooting action. It's the same deal with the length. The game is only ten missions long, and there are no branching paths to be taken, but it's the kind of game you can just play over and over. And that's why I love action games. Very, very few RPGs and strategy games have gotten more than one playthough from me.

So if it's short and light on story, is there anything else you superficial gamers can enjoy? I guess that really brings it down to the graphics. And they are quite nice. There are some horrible graphical issues here and there, but overall, everything looks pretty good. The cutscenes are beautiful and surpass those of StarFox Adventures. Obviously. The space backgrounds are very pretty, and a lot of the surface areas look great as well. Fortuna's jungles are covered in brilliant greens, and while the water isn't done perfectly, you're flying by too fast to be able to truly pick at anything anyhow.

I have to say the strongest point of the game is its music. It's orchestrated bliss, with a little bit of a techno sound mixed in here and there. While I am severely disappointed that the Corneria theme is absent (or at least mixed to a degree where it is no longer the Corneria theme), the sheer quality of the music is enough to make up for the lack of one classic tune. Hell, the great intro movie music and credits music alone are enough to give the entire game's aural efforts an A+. Ooh, and StarWolf's theme is pretty slick too. Sadly, the excellent soundtrack is paired with bad voice acting. It's not overly terrible, as the actors for a few characters seemed to care about what they were doing, but a lot of the time it's better to have the volume off. Not to mention the dialogue they had to work with is pretty wretched.

I've covered pretty much all facets of the single-player game already, so now it's time I brought in some multiplayer reviewage. Overall, it's a decent attempt at a multiplayer mode, with a good amount of options and stuff, but sadly, a lot of the stuff that makes up the mode must be unlocked by playing scores of matches. With this note aside, the multiplayer is somewhat better than that of Metroid Prime 2 because there are options. Oh, and it's a bit more fun to play as well. I seems less like they just added it in to say there's multiplayer, and Namco has certainly given the impression that they put some effort into it.

This said, it's kind of sad that the game only allows deathmatch play. Sure, there aren't any bots or online play so modes like Capture the Flag would be unfit for the game, but some extra modes like Virus or Monkey Helper from Timesplitters 2 would have been appreciated. Added bonuses are that dogfighting is fun, and if you get bored of that, you can have a tank battle, or just run around trying to blast the crap out of your friends. I have no real qualms with the game's multiplayer mode, other than that the poor controls carry over from single player. But I guess that really can't be helped.

The last thing that needs mention is the unlockables in the game. While a lot of them are for multiplayer mode, they're all pretty neat. Firstly, you can unlock Survivor mode after finishing the game, which pits you against all ten missions in a row. Then if you manage to rope in all ten silver medals, you get the chance to play Xevious, one of Namco's old-school shooters. The rest of the stuff is limited to multiplayer, like new maps to play on, new game modes (like rocket launchers only), and even a couple characters, namely Peppy (hooray!) and Wolf O'Donnel.

I guess if I had to give the game a letter grade, it would be an A-. Mostly for the great flying missions, but also because the rest of the game didn't make me vomit in disgust. I couldn't possibly give it any higher, because it's not by any means a superb game, but it certainly isn't a bad game. There's also the little factor that a kickass soundtrack can really tip my scales. What can I say? I like my music. I won't give this one as hearty a recommendation as I usually do, because it's not going to be a game that everyone will like. StarFox hardcores will either love it or hate it, and people who value things like length and story will most likely find it to be garbage. But if you can appreciate a decent game, you'll probably find place in your library for StarFox: Assault. And keep in mind that this is all coming from a guy who imagined that everything aside from the flying would be utter crap. So it can't be all that bad, can it?

~Ryan
E-Mail: Mr_Hotshot64v2[at]hotmail[dot]com

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