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Star Fox: Assault soared with its Arwing missions

Even the most diehard Star Fox fans will likely admit it’s one of Nintendo’s most mismanaged series. I could sing Star Fox 64’s praises all day; those fantastic space battles in the Arwing mean it’s one of the few games I continue revisiting. However, later entries left the series struggling to establish a cohesive direction. Adventures wasn’t originally a Star Fox game, Command’s strategic gameplay didn’t universally appeal, while gimmicky controls significantly hampered Zero.

Star Fox: Assault is my least favourite entry, and its predecessor’s legacy saw Namco design what I’d call a compromise game. Star Fox Adventures remains a great 3D adventure, I’m not arguing otherwise, but it’s not what drew people to the series in the first place and in turn it alienated some fans. Assault’s ambitious aims tried to bridge this gap by mixing ground and Arwing missions, failing badly at the former, but gracefully succeeding with the latter. I don’t love the game, then, but I love this aspect.

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Part of the disparity is because on-foot missions offer no natural substance. Fox ditches his former staff for various guns as you fight the Aparoids, insect-like creatures hellbent on assimilation, and half of Assault’s 10-mission campaign is effectively a third-person shooter. Not necessarily the worst idea for an action game, but this needed more than tedious missions that lack variety beyond destroying enemy spawning devices. That’s frustrated further by a cumbersome control scheme.


Star Fox Assault screenshot, Fox McCloud is walking on-foot with a rocket launcher in front of him.


Star Fox Assault screenshot, General Pepper is speaking to Fox McCloud and saying, "Well, Fox, looks like we're not too late."

Star Fox Assault. | Image credit: Nintendo/Namco

I appreciate how some missions try mixing this up further, letting you jump between the Landmaster tank or Arwings for some all-range mode flying at will. Namco’s ambitions are evident here, and Assault feels like it’s trying to give you everything, often requiring multitasking between the land and the skies. However, the execution feels distinctly unfocused and frequently falls flat in this juggling act.

Calling this a game of two halves might be a clichéd football term, but that summarises Assault well. Despite these issues, glimpses of 64’s brilliance can be found in some of those compelling on-rails Arwing missions that reminded me why I love Star Fox in the first place. Assault paints the scene with a dramatic space opera narrative and big blockbuster fights, exemplified well by the campaign’s opening. Facing remnants of Andross’ army offers a grand sense of scale that harkens back to 64, while the final Aparoid showdown delivers a satisfying conclusion.


Star Fox Assault screenshot, Fox McCloud aiming his gun while standing on a flying Arwing's wing on a snowy planet.


Star Fox Assault screenshot, Arwing approaching a giant floating metal head with two detached hands in a rainforest.

Star Fox Assault. | Image credit: Nintendo/Namco

These stages sadly don’t come about often in Assault, though they gave me exactly what I wanted: a more polished version of the on-rails missions with smoother controls and improved visuals. They’re hardly revolutionary compared to 64, and yes, I wish Fox’s teammates didn’t need me rescuing them so frequently. Still, these fast-paced segments remain thrilling, ultimately keeping me glued to the cockpit.

There are few games I can claim to love and actively dislike in equal measure, which is why Assault stands out even now. While they didn’t offer anything particularly new, Assault’s space battles showed the potential of what a fully-fledged Arwing-focused game could have looked like on Gamecube. Though the wasted potential is screaming, I’ve only grown to appreciate this part more in recent years.

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