Starfox Assault (1)

Genre: Shoot ’em Up, Third Person Shooter
Year: 2005
Developed by: Namco
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: Gamecube
Feeling Like: The Airing of Grievances

It really bugs me how close Star Fox: Assault is to being a good game. I have such fondness and nostalgia for Star Fox 64 that I’m desperate to forgive any misgivings to declare another great game in the franchise. Alas, it appears to be a family of a single golden child, and many black sheep.

Traversal is hugely important to my enjoyment of games, regardless of the genre. I love F-Zero GX not just because it’s a futuristic racing game, but specifically how fast you go. Risk and reward are constantly butting heads and you can’t afford to blink. The most recent Spider-Man game on the Playstation 4 all but erases the need for fast travelling; web slinging around New York is far too fun and fluid to skip. Xenoblade Chronicles X largely won my Game of the Year in 2015 due to the inclusion of flying Mechs – the progression of power I felt going from a lowly walker, nervously dodging every high-level monster to soaring over everything without breaking a sweat was mesmerizing.

I could go on: Mirror’s Edge‘s parkour made the simple act of running a sublime experience I’ve yet to see replicated. Super Meat Boy and Celeste‘s air-tight, 2-dimensional controls are the only weapons you need to weave through impossible obstacles. Moving is, and always will be, important in video games.

That’s why I enjoyed Star Fox: Assault far more than I should have. The freedom to run on foot with a laser, hop in a tank for when things get hairy, then careen into the aerial fray above with your Arwing checked a lot of boxes for me. The sense of upgraded speed when I finally got a seat in my starship was incredible.

Starfox Assault (4)
This is one hell of an opening level.

Effortlessly dodging lasers, barrel rolling and thanking my lucky stars that I was no longer a slow, vulnerable foot solider (for the moment) added to my enjoyment greatly.

However, playing on foot….sort of sucks. If it was as competent as the Arwing parts, this might be an all time favorite. However, it’s not and it often feels like two different games entirely. I don’t want to run around as Fox on foot, I want to blast endless amounts of robotic enemies in my ship, or tank! So, perhaps it was just the relief I felt that helped me get through the game. Or…the idea that I could hop into my vehicles at any time and even the score was very appealing to me.

Starfox Assault (5)
Nearly half the game takes place on foot, like seen here. That’s not a good ratio.

Fans are still clamoring for a true spiritual successor to Star Fox 64. We’ve seen this iteration, we’ve seen Star Fox Adventures, we’ve seen a 3DS version, we’ve seen Star Fox Zero on the Wii U – a title that gave fans high hopes, but dashed them quickly with unnecessary, awkward controls. This is a franchise in sore need of a hit, and sadly, Star Fox: Assault wasn’t it.

I did like the greater emphasis on story, although again, it pales in comparison to the talking heads only approach in previous iterations. The graphics haven’t aged well, unless (surprise, surprise) you’re talking about giant space battles that give you the freedom to roam, and shoot, to your heart’s content. The framerate tends to range from silky smooth to sandpaper rough, depending on how many enemies on are on the screen.

Starfox Assault (2)
Krystal replaces Peppy, who was getting a little long in the tooth (Rabbit joke).

So much potential, but Namco didn’t quite nail the landing. It really does feel like a game by committee; we have to include running around, we have to include lots of story, we have to include cut scenes when I’m not convinced they did. The mix of all-range missions and linear ones are a tried and true formula, I don’t see the need for deviation. However, I have been told that I need to be more open minded when it comes to change.

Still, I do love the idea of the transition from walking on my own two feet to rocketing into the space above within a few seconds. Anybody who has been stuck in a giant stadium crowd, overpopulated rock concert, or their daily commute home, can empathize, surely.

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