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StarFox Command is an overlooked treasure. It has bite-size missions, fluid touch screen controls and great graphics and sound; I consider it a real shame that this game cartridge doesn't have a permanent place in many gamers' DS cases.
Command really takes the series back to its roots: airborne combat. There are no ground vehicles or walking sections - just really well designed and paced fighter combat.
At first, some of the controls did seem like a memory of the days when Nintendo were trying to push stylus control onto every early game that came out for the DS; it seemed as if they needed to justify the touch screen, somehow, with their 'touch generation' games. The choice to pilot the craft entirely through the touch screen seems initially crazy, given the presence of the D-Pad, but it was quickly apparent to me that the drag 'n slide control approach for StarFox Command gave me a far more subtle range of control than the D-Pad could provide.
Furthermore, the stylus control provides so much more for StarFox than mere steering. With practice comes rolling, boosting and braking all through tapping and scraping the DS screen; this leaves firing as the only Button requirement (on the shoulders) and smart bomb and loop-the-loop/split-s manoeuvres activated by icons on the lower screen.
Add in a DS rumble pack to the GBA port on an old DS phat (you can still track both the original DS and rumble pack down second hand if you are lucky) and you get an added level of feedback. Each tap and sweep with the stylus on the touch screen is met by thuds, buzzes and jerks from the rumble pack. It possibly the best use of touch controls I've experiences on any system, let along the diminutive DS.
This is a far more comfortable control system than many. Metroid Prime Hunters has a combination of controls which is not dissimilar, but the combination of touch screen and buttons in that case left me in distinct discomfort.
With practice comes rolling, boosting and braking all through tapping and scraping the DS screen.
In a wise design move the touch screen controls are not on the screen on which the action is viewed. Instead the lower screen, which is dedicated to a radar display, is also the control surface. This leaves me able to view the 3D combat action on the top screen unhindered. It is 3D of a very good standard for the DS. The different battle locales, such as the city, desert plains, underwater etc are very attractive and the sounds effects and music are very evocative.
StarFox Command should have been a baseline for the way action games would be delivered on the DS, but many of the lessons don't appear to have been inherited by other games. Q-Games of course went on to create the excellent Starship Patrol (DSi-ware) - but that inherits the strategic rather than action elements of StarFox.
The other reason this game earns a permanent residency in my DS case is the immediacy of the missions. Command encourages replay even in the story, with 9 different endings and branching choices which dictate the path taken and systems visited. But, to be honest, even now I've seen all the story threads I still dip into it and play because the space combat is such compelling action.
As well as the flying missions the game is structured using a Map screen: the strategy section of the game. Draw lines using the stylus to direct fighters into the path of enemy squadrons and this will initiate the flying missions. The aim is to clear the map of the enemy presence and feeds nicely into that part of the brain that loves to collect items for completeness.
Personally, I really enjoy the map sections. The game gives plenty of opportunity to re-draw flight lines so I found myself trying to round up then enemy fighters and fly between the base stations in as few turns as possible; fine-tuning my drawing ability to make the most of limited fuel.
This leads me to what is so appealing about StarFox Command. It's actually pretty easy to complete the missions (the only exception being the 'missile intercept' missions, which are punishing until you learn a workaround). However, what this then led me to is that I can actually excel at the missions. Rather than taking out the target enemies, (which ends the level) I go for the other enemies on the map, making sure that when I do destroy the main targets the entire level is clear, generating huge bonuses.
There's a nice gambit in the game which encourages you to draw enemy fire.
There's a nice gambit in the game which encourages you to draw enemy fire: avoiding it successfully provides a time bonus with which to complete the level - this encourages the player to 'herd' enemy ships to provide a stock of bonus time and a real visceral thrill of flying through a wave of enemy fire unharmed.
I think StarFox Command this is a really great example of a game that sets up an ongoing challenge for a player far beyond it's own design premise and is well worthy of playing again and again. It also features one of the DS' most robust and immediate Wi-Fi multiplayer modes.
StarFox Command is one game I will never trade-in.
[Chris Jarvis writes the Novel Gamer column where you can read his StarFox Command fiction.]
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