Is trouncing Star Fox Adventures out of style yet? What about Star Fox Assault? The past two games in this franchise took what made the series fun and did the opposite - put space-ace animal pilots on tepid, ground-based missions instead of letting them fly free. Now, nearly 10 years after Star Fox 64, we get a sequel that delivers all-shooting action while introducing entirely new strategic elements and online dogfights - and mostly does it right.
The most drastic change for Star Fox Command is its Tactics map. The Great Fox acts as your home base, launching Fox and his pals out onto the screen at the beginning of each mission, ready for battle. Enemies and their bases are peppered across the map, slowly making their way towards the Great Fox. Your task is to draw out flight plans for each member of your crew, intercept the fighters and trash their stationary bases within the time allotted and number of turns available.
Taking Star Fox down this turn-based, tactical road doesn't seem like a logical choice, but it works. Certain pilots are better equipped for various sorties, like gunning down incoming missiles or destroying a set number of targets, so allocating your pilots correctly is a life-or-death decision. You get a good mix of alien blasting plus the satisfaction of knowing you outsmarted them on their own turf. Some missions are won only by drawing and redrawing flight plans until you get it perfect, barely skimming into an enemy's range just before it strikes the Great Fox - and it can't survive even one hit.
The classic Star Fox games featured straightforward, on-rails levels that threw wave after wave of enemies in your face. Still, even with the linear missions, there were hidden exits and branching paths to take, giving the furry space opera room to grow.
With Command, it's all arena-style dog fighting with time limits and identifiable targets. But at the end of each mission, you can choose which action to take, be it "follow those creeps back into the asteroid belt" or "let's go find Falco," so even when you've beaten back the oppressive fish monsters once, you can go back again and again, checking out all the planets, pilots and story you missed the first time around.
While replaying Command to see new characters and bosses has some appeal, scraping through an entire mission just to have a loose enemy take down the Great Fox at the last second is infuriating. It seems like some of the scenarios can't be handled without losing at least once, just so you can learn the aliens' battle plan. On the flipside, the actual skirmishes themselves aren't tough at all - Star Fox vets will ace this campaign in no time, multiple plays through or not.
The touch-screen controls also take some getting used to. Doing u-turns, loops and barrel rolls is easy, but double-tapping for a speed boost doesn't always connect. The 90 degree banking is missing too, which, along with no on-rails levels, removes some the smooth-piloting bliss the original game and Star Fox 64 had in spades. Hauling ass to fly out of an exploding base really gets your blood pumping, and save for one late boss encounter, we didn't dodge much of anything during the whole game.
Command is the first Star Fox to host online multiplayer, and what's here is sharp. Seeing as about 40 people in the whole country owned the game last week, we couldn't get a huge amount of online time in, but the four-player battles are bound to keep Fox fans gunning. But with all these characters, and new Arwings with different abilities, only being able to control one type in multiplayer is monumentally uncool. Balanced, sure, but it de-claws the rivalry that could have grown with online throwdowns. Wi-Fi battles are there, but you're more likely to hang around this furry crew for its intense, tactical battlefields.