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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Starfox: Command Brief Review

I actually rather liked Starfox on the N64, rail-style space shooter that it was. So I really thought the NDS version would be something of a no-brainer, but I guess I should have taken more heed on some of the negative press it had gotten - because it's sadly become the first Nintendo DS title I'm rather disappointed with.

On paper, it sounds great. Mix a rather simplistic space "sim" with some rail-style targeting and few basic real-time strategy concepts. On paper, it actually sounds like a very good idea. The execution is sadly not nearly as well thought out. In fact, two core mechanics manage to muck up almost the entire game.

The first is the concept of time. Battles in the game must be played out under a certain number of turns but all the action must also be accomplished under a certain amount of time or else you lose a fighter. Lose enough fighters and you fail the mission. Each fighter shares the same pool of time - so if you do poorly on one mission you've pretty much pre-spoiled the next mission. The whole "beat the clock" mechanic sucks a lot of the actual strategy one can use - because it really boils down to just completing missions quickly enough (or hoping to get more time powerups) and without taking much damage. Nothing else in the game matters nearly as much. It's confounded because the mechanic never seems to fit. If the fighters are fighting during turns - why the time limit? In particular - why a shared time limit ... aren't they capable of fighting at the same time? And if each turn had a specific time frame - shouldn't kills made under the limit still count? And why do boss fights - after all the rest of the "strategy" has taken place still fall under this concept?

If they had just distributed "time" as a component of the actual turn - instead of a clearly fake restriction simply designed to make the game tougher - Starfox: Command would be twice the game it is right now. As it is now, the game seems to unduly punish you for simply not being able to track down that final opponent fast enough.

Second is the "spin" mechanic. This is where you use the stylus to spin the fighter's wings around, like a barrel roll. Doing this wards off attacks and adds a bit time to the limit. Which is nice, except that during certain stages of the game there can be multiple enemies firing from offscreen. You don't know they're firing ... so you basically just end up spinning. Constantly. And if you stop, you might just get shot down much quicker than you'd expect. So much emphasis is placed on spinning the fighter that it begins to feel like it's the only move that matters. It drags down the gameplay rather quickly.

I'm not sure how far along in the game I am ... but I'm not sure I'm entirely decided to finish it. I certainly don't see any reason to go back and try the "alternate" endings. And for a change - multiplay doesn't really interest me that much.

Sadly, I'd vote for this one as a complete pass. Hopefully Nintendo can make a Starfox Wii game that doesn't suck.

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