In the beginning there was gibberish. The superlative Star Fox 64 gave the furry critters the power of speech, although if you owned the PAL version – Lylat Wars – you could go back to nonsensical ramblings if you wished. Rare’s Star Fox Adventures and Namco’s Star Fox Assault – plenty of talking animals there. Now we’re back to gibberish again, only this time round you can record your own twaddle to distort. So, don’t come running to us when Slippy’s feeble cries for help start getting on your nerves.
The microphone isn’t the only piece of DS apparatus to get a good airing, as the touch screen both displays a helpful map and is used to manoeuvre the arwing – drawing a circle pulls off a barrel roll, tapping the upper part of the screen boosts, and tapping the lower half decelerates. To fire you can use any button you fancy; in our case, left on the d-pad. You can also drag a bomb icon onto the map to detonate it, which is very handy for clusters of enemies. The control system seems alien at first, but by the time you’ve completed the four tutorials you won’t want to rain down laser death from the skies any other way.
At the start of the game we’re told how the Star Fox posse has separated, leaving Fox to tackle the toad-like Aquarians on his tod. Slippy has found a female and settled down, Falco has gone off to be a loner, Peppy has been made a general, Krystal has mysteriously vanished and Star Wolf – a band of ragtag rebels – are still on the loose. As the plot – with its choice of paths and planets to tackle – unfolds, each of them comes back into the fray, with Slippy being the first to tag along. In true Star Fox form you’ll have to replay the game a fair few times to see and do everything.
Rather than being on-rails as per the first Star Fox, Command plays more like the free-roaming ‘all range’ missions from Star Fox 64. It moves at a fair old lick, but sadly the DS isn’t quite powerful enough to show far off objects even if they’re dead ahead on your radar. There are all sorts of environmental objects though, from mountains with gun-turrets on top to skyscraper tower blocks.
Advance Wars provides a second source of inspiration, as after choosing a planet to save you’re presented with an overhead view of the surface and must plan attacks and movements – turn-based style – by drawing a path. Some missions have ‘fog of war’, which must be rubbed out to reveal bases, further enemies and such. Annoyingly, the fog comes back every couple of turns. It’s similarly frustrating when you’ve won a few battles and think you’re on a winning streak, only for an enemy squad to make a beeline for the Great Fox carrier and destroy it outright. You can load up Great Fox with missiles, however, which can be used to blast the opposition right off the map, saving you a battle.
As a whole, Star Fox Command is a tidy and curious package that goes a long way to restoring McCloud’s once great name. Yet you need to ask yourself two questions before opening your wallet. First, did you really (really, really) like the open ended missions in Star Fox 64? Because that’s all you’re going to get here. Secondly, are you prepared to put in the effort? Having to play missions three, maybe four times all over again can irritate. Sure, they’re pretty short – the clock starts at around the 140 second mark – but they still require effort. Think along the lines of loosing a battle in Advance Wars.
We’d also argue that the dialogue isn’t as witty – nor skilfully cheesy (“Hey Einstein, I’m on your side!”; “I admit defeat… unless this does not work!”) – as its predecessors, although that’s not really a reason to keep your stylus docked.