a review of Star Fox Command
a videogame developed by nintendo
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo DS
text by Brendan Lee
Never underestimate our modern world’s ability to generate unending permutations of creepifying sadness. Consider the 32-year-old man-lad reclining in the same Lay-Z-Boy recliner in which he was whelped, licking a stray dollop of homemade blender mayonnaise from the stretched-out front of his XXL “WORLD’S GREATEST KID” sweatshirt, furiously jabbing a goiter-like thumb into the faded F5 key of his mother’s semen-dusted Dell laptop . . . and then, if you still have it in you, consider Starfox Command, his closest psychological cousin.
As the gaming population ages, game publishers are saddled with an unenviable task: how to make a thickly outlined children’s entertainment continue to appeal to adolescent Adderall nibblers, but also seem fresh and invigorating enough for those that are legally old enough to sip strawberry wine coolers while watching Dirty Work on VHS. In the case of this game, it manifests as a series of Very Artistic Cutscenes as viewed through a smudgy Kingdom Hearts lens . . . whereas the original Starfox‘s felt-and-thumbtacks Animals In Space pastiche served mainly to spiff up graphics that looked as if they’d been knocked together by the top four percent of oscilloscope repairmen, Starfox Command uses them to lend a charcoals-at-sunset psuedo-importance to a subject that would more appropriately be rendered by a makeshift tattoo gun on the lower back of a leathery Malaysian prostitute. If you’ve been purposefully avoiding furry-themed fan-disasters, prepare for a shift in lifestyle. If you haven’t . . . well, no doubt you’ve yiffed better and harder somewhere else.
The actual game is pretty close to a round of Hungry Hungry Hippos played with a half-melted fistful of peanut butter M&Ms on a surface caked with body hair and apple-scented Chapstick – – essentially, two otherwise fun things meeting at a truck stop Denny’s for a quick round of downlow, finding out some horrible secret about one another over the greasy remains of a hurriedly consumed Grand Slam breakfast, and then going through with It anyway for the simple fact that there’s just not very much of an alt scene in northern Montana. Essentially: a wilted bologna sphere of strategy fused with tepid Arwing-swoop action. Both of them are broken, though . . . the strategy is a 4 p.m. Valium coma that not even the most spastic of Red Alert fans would find engaging. The Arwing fly-and-shoots give you some of the old juice you remember from Starfox‘s on-rails glory (?) days, but now you’re in a little cube with invisible walls and a time limit, collecting stars that fly from your downed enemies for some reason. They might as well be chocolate coins.
The multiplayer fares somewhat better, and it’s kind of great to dogfight around in the little playpen of outer space they give you, making the odd Red Baron and Inigo Montoya references. Playing for the first time with someone kind of recalls that neighborhood kid who offered to teach you how to play Street Fighter by launching endless chains of projectile attacks while noting that you sucked at blocking, but anyone with a passing familiarity with Starfox and their DS stylus (works very well for this type of game) is soon up to speed. And then . . . well, it’s just the two of you in space, flipping and swooping, and sooner or later one of you is just humoring the other . . . once a certain skill threshold has been passed, you get the feeling that you’re running around in a Hall of Mirrors playing Laser Tag with yourself.
It’s all sharply dressed, though, and that’s kind of the sad thing. Starfox! And Slippy, you remember those guys! Heh! Except they’ve just come home late from a hockey game and burst into your flat without knocking . . . Fox smells like cheap absinthe and burning whitewall tires, and Slippy’s rocking himself calm in a corner next to the radiator, singing a three-second loop of some old, old mining song, hugging his knees and holding one of Falco’s severed arms, and the rent’s due three days ago, and Fox is shaking you by the collar and telling you that it’s US NOW, DAMMIT, there is NOBODY ELSE, and you can either get in the heckING TRANS AM and get the party to Tijuana or you can stick around and wait for the 5-O to come knocking. And your prints are all over Falco’s arm . . . hell, it’s YOUR heckING JACKET.
Why would you even consider such a guaranteed Bum Trip? Well, nostalgia I suppose, and the idea that you had some pretty good times with those dudes in the past. You’d lend money to your best friend from grade school, probably. I probably would. That stuff stays with you for a while. Except, you know, maybe you shouldn’t. You figure your life is kind of basically like a lifeboat, and maybe you’ll make it and maybe you won’t, but if you do let anyone else on board you’d sure as hell better find someone who knows how to hecking well handle an oar.
And Starfox Command . . .
Well, Starfox Command can’t row.