I am a ten-year-old boy. Yes, I have a college degree and two X chromosomes, but that's just nature's way of fooling "The Man." After a long day of bank-hopping and grocery-shopping, there's nothing I like better than jumping in my spaceship and—pow! pow!—blasting through alien hordes.
Nintendo's Star Fox games have always given me a reason to rejoice (and make machine-gun noises in my throat). Space ace Fox McCloud and crew have been shooting down aliens and flying through shiny rings since the early '90s: the Super Nintendo's Star Fox was designed to show off Argonaut Software's Super FX chip and rendered more polygons than anyone had ever seen on a videogame console. What started as a gimmick became a series, and after Fox took time off to go on a Legend of Zelda-esque adventure, Star Fox: Assault puts him back in the cockpit of his Arwing. As much as I like Star Fox Adventures, it's nice to see team Star Fox patrolling the skies again.
Star Fox: Assault's story is shoot-em-up simple: interstellar cockroaches called aparoids are taking over the universe, and the Star Fox team must take them out. Together with old friends Slippy, Falco and Peppy—and his sometime-girlfriend Krystal—Fox exterminates the aparoid menace, one planet at a time. It's not exactly Final Fantasy, but so what?
Piloting through space isn't all Fox can do. He also attacks enemies on foot with a variety of weapons (e.g. grenades, a sniper rifle, a rocket launcher) and drives around in a space-age tank called the Landmaster. Fox even channels some 1980s Bruce Willis, gunning down enemy craft while standing on a ship's wing.
Nevertheless, this new Star Fox is still a shooter at heart. Tight, seat-of-your pants flying, laser upgrades and Goliath-sized bosses are all part of its old-school charm. They don't make 'em like this anymore, folks—and that's both the game's greatest strength and its biggest weakness.
With all the near-misses, narrow passages and pretty explosions, Star Fox: Assault keeps up the series' wonderfully frenetic pace. But that pace was born in a time before memory cards, when shutting off a game meant starting it over from scratch. The original Star Fox made me complete its missions over and over again. As all that practice improved my skills, it rewarded me with extra continues. But Star Fox: Assault saves my progress after every stage. Granted, the missions are longer than they've been in previous titles, but the main game feels much shorter. This Star Fox comet shoots by too quickly to be savored.
Namco probably knew about this problem, because they've filled the game with so many attainable knickknacks and bonuses that its brevity doesn't matter…almost. Each mission has three levels of difficulty—bronze, silver and gold—and players who complete a mission with a high enough score get a badge. (Badges of a certain color unlock another old-school shoot-em-up, Xevious.) There are invisible flags to find, and finishing a mission with all his crewmates alive earns Fox a gold coin. Oh, yeah—beating the game opens up Survival mode, which lets Star Fox fans play through the game without saving. Thank you, Namco.
The developers also gave the game a Versus mode, one that makes me wish I had gamer friends to play with. Players compete Halo style in split-screen games of cat and mouse, in stages mostly culled from progressing through Story mode. I climbed hills in the sterile chrome city of Corneria, and hid in the prehistoric brush of Sauria (where Fox's friend Tricky the dinosaur lives). In most stages, my opponent and I could even choose how we wanted to fight: should we swoop through space in Arwings? Mow each other down with Landmasters? Or maybe some old-fashioned sneak-and-shoot on foot? We could even use any combination of the three. The only bad thing about Star Fox's multiplayer is the GameCube's lack of online play.
Star Fox: Assault harkens back to the days when videogames required more reflexes than literacy. Yes, it feels thin compared to fifty-hour role-playing games and branching platformers that let players choose their own paths. But it's fast and furious; we even get to fly our own spaceships and yell "Ka-pow!" at no one in particular. What more could a ten-year-old boy want?