Another Take – Star Fox Command

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A different take but unmistakably Star Fox

A major problem I have with on-rails shooters is how frequently designers feel the need to take them off-rails. Or worse still, think they need more variety in gameplay to keep them interesting. This has been true of Star Fox from at least Star Fox 64 (originally Lylat Wars in PAL regions). It is also true of the  Panzer Dragoon series though the RPG Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the more celebrated in the Saturn library and now gaming history. While Star Fox Adventures didn’t bother me due to the almost total genre change, the addition of on-foot missions in Star Fox Assault did and my expectations for and first impressions of Star Fox Command were not positive. Thankfully, after spending a good deal of time with the game, much of my initial problems were put to rest through experience.

Star Fox Command is an interesting entry in the series for a number of reasons. It was the first Star Fox title released on a handheld device. It was designed by Q-Games and directed by Dylan Cuthbert who also developed the cancelled but completed Star Fox 2 on Super Nintendo. It is also unique design wise – especially if you haven’t hunted down and played one of the many Star Fox 2 ROMs on the Internet. The entire game is played through a tactical map or open “All-Range Mode” arenas. The only scenarios that resemble the on-rails design of the originals are the brief but frequent chase missions where one pilot chases down and destroys a missile headed for Great Fox.

The tactical map or “command” aspect of Star Fox Command is the most significant departure in the series. While there has always been limited choice about where to fight your next battle, only Command has a turn-based tactical aspect. Rather than flying one of four ships on single missions, the tactical map allows you to direct anywhere from one to four craft around the map. This is done using the DS stylus and touch-screen and movement is limited by a gauge that can be extended by passing over friendly bases. As mentioned, Great Fox is under constant threat from enemy ships and missiles and while Great Fox is armed against enemy ships, missiles can only be destroyed by an Arwing. While the main focus is on capturing enemy bases and eliminating all threats on the map, Great Fox must be constantly monitored as just one enemy attack will destroy it and end the mission no matter how far in, or how well you have done up to that point. This was initially the single most irritating aspect of the design but it becomes much less of a problem once you learn the basics.

As mentioned, most of the game is played in the arena style “All-Range Mode” and the stylus is used exclusively to control the ship including turning, spinning and changing direction and for using bombs. The only button used is a bumper button for shooting both standard and locked-on laser blasts. The bombs are also used differently in that the lower screen (which also acts as a radar), allows you to choose where to drop your bombs. This means you are able to attack enemies anywhere on the map. All arena scenarios require the elimination of a certain type of enemy which will drop tokens that are in turn collected to finish the stage. Destroying all enemies will grant a ‘Perfect’ bonus that gives Great Fox an additional missile salvo. The most important arena scenarios involve capturing enemy bases which first require destroying a certain enemy like all others. Following this the chosen pilot oddly has to follow a set flightpath into the underside of an enemy mother-ship just like Randy Quaid in Independence Day. The mother-ship can only be destroyed this way and the fact that this game was released in the year of the 10th anniversary of Independence Day’s release probably doesn’t explain this.

Each arena stage has a time limit and if objectives aren’t completed in that time a life is lost or if no lives remain, the chosen pilot is out for the rest of the stage. There are power-ups to increase the time which carries over to successive scenarios and it can also be increased with every enemy fire deflection using the spin (barrel roll). The time limit is also increased in the tally at the end of each scenario based on enemies destroyed. In “All-Range Mode” the time limit was the biggest enemy of all and this went especially in scenarios with more advanced A.I. like Star Wolf. I actually had considerably more trouble with enemies that moved around the map than with the slower end level bosses due entirely to the time limit.

As mentioned in the beginning, Star Fox Command took me a while to get into and much of this was due to the learning curve and the difference between it and earlier Star Fox titles. What I never got used to was the mandatory touch screen controls. If I’d had the choice, I’d have much preferred to use the d-pad for controlling the ships. My time with the game was using a 3DS XL with a pen-size stylus and I still found the controls uncomfortable much like with Metroid Prime Hunters. The game was still enjoyable despite this and after finishing my first playthrough I immediately began another.

One particularly unique aspect of Star Fox Command are the multiple paths which lead to multiple endings and a large selection of characters, all of whom have particular Arwings to pilot. Although the game can be finished in a single playthrough, the paths that unlock after the initial playthrough will unlock more missions and characters and add a good deal of replay value. Missions can also be replayed individually and each story path is scored. When first released the game featured online play which is now unavailable however local play is still available. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience this.

If I rated the Star Fox series from best to worst, Star Fox Command would be at the bottom. This isn’t an insult though because it’s not at all a bad game. The tactical aspects aren’t very deep and there is seldom a genuinely different approach to take in missions due to the constant need to protect Great Fox. The touch screen controls while perfectly functional are also a big issue for me, as is the complete lack of classic Star Fox gameplay. The latter especially isn’t bad – just different and might be more to other players liking. I always appreciate a different take on the series and Star Fox Command at the very least, is the closest thing to an official release of Star Fox 2. The option to select individual characters also means Slippy can win the day and in my case – did!

August, 2015

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