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Nintendo DS Review: Star Fox Command

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It's great when Nintendo listens to their fans. After attempting, somewhat miserably some would say, to branch the Star Fox series into an adventure franchise, it's the DS that finally brings the series back to its shooting roots… somewhat miserably. Online, this is one of the console's best. Offline, it's an immense failure and a disappointment.

Pushing the DS like the original did back on the Super NES, this is a rare 3-D title on the DS that can hold its own in the visual department. Beautiful environments provide the game's brief action interludes between bouts of strategy, the increasing aggravation of being pulled out of combat growing more intense as the game goes on.

Stripping Star Fox out of its on-rails shooting action, this is the first title in the series to not to feature any forced forward movement. You're free to zip around the levels at your leisure, or at least until the time limit says you can't or you run out of turns.

The Command in the title comes from a cheap overhead strategy distraction, required before any action ensues. You're only allowed a certain amount of turns before failure, or only one if the main ship is hit (which apparently can't withstand a single fleeting bullet before being destroyed). Moving yourself and a fully user-controlled squad mates into position is required to eliminate enemies or their home base via the touch screen.

Without any real depth or innovation, this portion of the game feels like nothing more than random battles. It's too shallow to require deep thought or advance planning. You'll draw a line and hope the opposing squad finds you, thanks to non-existent AI, or you find them.

That brings up some shooting action, controlled entirely with the touch screen. All the buttons perform the same action: firing lasers. Maneuvering your ship, aiming, and finding targets on the bottom map is flawlessly executed. The stylus allows for better accuracy than any analog stick on the market. The addition of a consistent frame rate increases the game's smoothness and playability.

Of course, as soon as you're enjoying yourself, one of three factors sends you right back to drawing lines on the strategy screen, and the term strategy is again used loosely. You're given a number of targets to defeat in each battle, and it must be the specific type you're shown before the mission begins. Once defeated, you'll then need to dodge fire from other enemies who would apparently have no effect on the interstellar war if they were not destroyed to pick up the cores left behind by foes.

No time can be wasted as a pointless, punishing time limit restricts every move. Dealing with the game's slow turning and only mildly forgiving collision detection makes this yet another fumble in a game blatantly close to greatness. Rarely do you have more than a few seconds to admire the worlds, the detail, or sit back and enjoy the action. A second can come between success and failure. Used as an additional gameplay element in a few levels, the time factor would be a nice change of pace. Restarting from scratch because a long turn missed a power core is ridiculous.

It must be the complete removal of all strategy elements that make the Wi-Fi portion of the game so enjoyable. This is a separate game online with four players, or local with six players via a single cart. Star Fox Command comes alive as the game is finally allowed to break out of its restrictive exterior and stretch its legs.

Granted, this is nothing more than a standard death match, but here, it's a savior. Three rounds are contained in each match, filled with regenerating power-ups. Like in the single player, you'll need to collect the items dropped by a defeated foe. Kills don't measure your success; it's about the stars you've collected from the souls now smoldering in their ships. The twist is any player can grab a star once dropped, creating a need for precision, up-close kills.

In a perfect world, Command would be a straightforward shooter, picking off where Star Fox 64 ended, not after the rut Star Fox has been pushed into. As if we needed another reason to prove it, we do not live in that world. Instead, we're forced to endure an attempt to change what didn't need changing, with little regard for why fans love this series. This is a questionable buy even if you have access to a Wi-Fi connection.

Star Fox Command is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Mild Fantasy Violence.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
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