Final data report from the test flight.
While Star Fox: Assault has turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected after my initial impressions, the game does have a few major hindrances and fails to become the glorious comeback fans were hoping for.
The most damaging change in the series is the overwhelming focus on ground exploration. Six of the ten missions contain sections placing you either on foot or in the Landmaster tank, searching mazes in order to take out targets, such as enemy spawning devices or radar jammers. The level designs are relatively complex, requiring you to spend a lot of time searching for the targets. Unfortunately, your wing men still haven’t learned to take care of themselves, so you may get an unexpected call for help while you’re deep in a maze: meaning that you have to find your way back to the Arwing, take out the enemies, and try to return to where you left off. Star Fox Adventures may have inspired this more exploratory style, but this is not the way to make a third-person, on-foot shooter. For a much better example, see Sin & Punishment on the N64.
All-range Arwing sections (like those in Star Fox 64) require you to circle a limited area and dogfight against Star Wolf spacecraft or take out incoming missiles. These sections usually take place in the same levels as the ground-based action, and you often switch back and forth between the two modes. Severe draw-in issues hinder the gameplay significantly. When one of your teammates is in trouble, you often can’t see his ship or the enemies behind him until you fly across the level and catch up with the icon floating in the distance.
New to the series are on-rails wing-riding sections, which have Fox standing on an ally’s wing, gunning down enemies. While the concept of standing on the wing of a plane may seem absurd, the pure simplicity of aiming and blasting away enemies is a welcome change from the cumbersome ground action.
There are three traditional corridor-based flight missions, placed like book-ends at the beginning, middle, and end of the game. The first one isn’t much to speak of, but by the final stage, Namco finally seems to figure out what Star Fox is all about, pressing you through narrow corridors with shifting barricades, lots of smaller enemies, and a few tougher ships.
Longevity is not one of Assault’s strengths. The Star Fox series has always been short enough to beat in a few hours, but unlike the SNES game with its different courses or Star Fox 64’s many branching paths, Assault takes you straight through, mission to mission, without hidden routes, secret stages, or even a map screen. There is a survival mode that pits you against the full game without saving, as well as a variety of flags to find and medals to gain in each stage (winning ten silver medals unlocks the classic Namco game, Xevious, which was the inspiration for the Star Fox series). While these medals serve as a means to gauge your improvement, they don’t really provide a different way to play the game.
Multiplayer returns in Star Fox Assault, but it is also plagued by several factors that take the thrill out of the experience. The draw-in issues from single player are here too, so most of the time, you’ll find yourself chasing a colored diamond instead of an Arwing or a tank. Radar is only two-dimensional, and many of the arenas have a huge column of vertical space; combining these elements results in players thinking that they’re closing in on each other, even though there might be a huge altitude gap between them. New players may have a hard time jumping into the all-range battles, since they have to adjust to a new set of controls each time they switch vehicles. Plus, the tanks are so cumbersome, our group largely abandoned them.
In all, Star Fox: Assault isn’t really a bad game, but it truly fails to impress in any way. Taken casually, it can be somewhat enjoyable, despite its hindrances. All the same, those hoping for a triumphant return to the series’ roots after Star Fox Adventures will have to keep on waiting.