Star Fox Assault review

GamesMaster experiences a full-on, foxy assault on the senses...

Eight years! That's how much time has passed since Star Fox 64 made us even bigger fox fans than the Countryside Alliance.

Now the Cornerian government has once again summoned the Star Fox armada to rescue the Lylat System from the assimilating alien aparoids. Cue the usual mix of galactic flying, blasting and... running?

You see, Nintendo have entrusted Namco to take care of one of their crown jewels, and the new boys have certainly spiced things up a bit.

Only a few of the levels now remain pure old-school Arwing missions. Most are freeform, so Fox will be alternating between blasting on foot, driving a Landmaster tank and piloting his trusty Arwing.

It's a brave and exciting idea, but why risk alienating the existing fan base when you've got a tried-and-tested formula?

The intense and exhilarating Arwing sections symbolise everything that makes Star Fox fans howl with delight, and you'll soon be dog (fox?) fighting and barrel rolling with the best of them.

Being reunited with your old combat buddies (yes, even Slippy) feels all warm and cosy. Once you've strung some outrageous combos together it almost feels as if McCloud and co. have never been away.

On foot, Fox is a wily old... er... fox - he's speedy and loaded with all sorts of armoury. Unfortunately, the drawn-out flinching animation whenever he takes a hit leads to some frustrating deaths, while the 'rolling when he's meant to be strafing' issue is also a glaring oversight.

Perhaps Namco should simply have left this kind of malarkey to Rare's superior Star Fox Adventures and concentrated upon epic space battles instead?

It gets worse, because the really bad part begins as soon as you jump into a Landmaster tank. Piloting this piece of scrap is as close to gaming hell as it's possible to conceive. It can't jump, it can't steer - it is, in short, rubbish.

We're also less than impressed with the aerial battle gauge. As soon as this baby fills up (which it does with monotonous regularity) Fox has to drop whatever he's doing, leap into the nearest Arwing and take to the skies to help out his less than useless wingmen.

Even supposed 'ace' Falco is a big blubbering baby nowadays. This kind of multi-tasking is horrid, so why make a game out of it?

Another letdown is that Assault will take you a meagre four hours to beat on silver difficulty. Star Fox games have always been short and sweet, but 10 short linear levels is a joke, even allowing for multi-player and unlockables.

Assault is an undeniably gorgeous game to look at, though. The cartoony aesthetic works perfectly, distant nebulas astound the eyes, ship boosters glow with a neon haze and there's no cooler ship in the galaxy than Fox's Arwing.

Even so, compared to Star Fox Adventures (complete with bristling fur) and - more recently - Resi 4, Gamecube is capable of so much more. Thankfully, Assault's music rocks, with some hummable remixes of classic Star Fox melodies and meaty blasting effects.

In these lean times Gamecube desperately needs key games to deliver. Namco obviously wanted to stamp their own mark on the series, but they've blundered big time.

Would it have been a better decision to simply remake Star Fox 64? Fox knows, but Namco - and Nintendo - can, and should, do better than this.

As it is, this is one fantastic fox that's sadly in danger of becoming an endangered species...

Star Fox Assault is out for Gamecube on 29 April

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