StarFox's first outing on the cube was a heavily criticized departure from it's arcade shooter roots - an action adventure game by rare which had protagonist Fox solving puzzles and beating lizards with a stick. As one might expect, StarFox Adventures was berated by the fanbase, despite being an excellent game in its own right. For it's second StarFox entry on the system, Nintendo hearkened back to the StarFox of old, but they also decided to experiment, and that yielded some mixed results.
So let's start with the things they got right. Space combat is great, and will come naturally to anyone who played StarFox 64. In fact, if you've played the predecessor any time recently, you could probably jump into Assault on the highest difficulty. The Arwing controls smoothly, and gracefully. Just like before, you can collect bombs as well as wing upgrades. The physics involved are still impressive to this day. If you lose a wing, your craft will wobble about, and begin to descend without your influence, and turning in all-range mode will also be affected.
As for where things get rocky - you guessed it, I'm talking about the ground missions. Now, I don't hate this game because of the ground missions. The problem is that they feel like they aren't quite finished. With more development time, and some tweaking, ground combat could be much better. I like to sum up the ground missions as "baby's first third person shooter". None of them are very difficult, and the goals are usually "destroy X amount of Y enemy". Occasionally, you can utilize a Landmaster during these missions, but much like in StarFox 64 you don't really want to use them unless you have to. The best missions are the ones that take place on the ground and the air simultaneous. During these levels, you can hop into a cockpit and take flight, and suddenly your objective may change and require you to carry out on foot.
They could have improved ground combat by utilizing a control scheme that didn't seem to be based on Metroid Prime, and by making ground battles more varied. Why not have one of the Star Wolf confrontations take place outside of the cockpit? Ground battles aren't the only thing they've added. there are also a couple of segments involving you riding the wing of a team mate's Arwing. They're actually quite interesting, but aren't a highlight or anything.
Like in previous games, your team mates will occasionally find themselves in trouble, and if you don't save them, they will be out of commission for a while. This means that you have less AI support and will also miss out on some dialogue, some of which may be important. Party members also have specific roles. Slippy retains his position as the mechanic and technician, displaying boss health meters for you if he is still flying. Falco, likewise, is still your loud mouthed wing man. Peppy, however, has retired to the Great Fox, and the sage advice role has been taken up by Krystal. Speaking of, let me rant on her for a moment. Rare created a pretty cool character in Adventures, and gave Fox a love interest to boot. Nintendo, on the other hand, has done nothing to develop her further than being Fox's squeeze. It annoys me, because all the other characters have such complex relationships with one another.
Assault also lacks the infinite replay value of its predecessors. There is on a single path with 3 difficulty levels as opposed to 3 difficulty paths, and the ending is the same regardless. You can still beat it a few times without getting bored, but it hasn't held up as well as StarFox 64, or even the Super Nintendo game. There are only 10 missions, but they are a tad longer than we're used to in StarFox to make up for it. I still would have liked branching missions.
The story this time around is that a race of high tech parasites known as Aparoids is attacking the Lylat system in attempt to, for lack of a better term, zombify the galaxy. Throughout the campaign, you discover a sub plot involving an often overlooked villain, Pigma Dengar. It's not too deep on the surface, but much like the other game, it's as intricate as you make it. Aside from cut scenes, the story is also presented in-between missions via dialogue, which is fully voiced. The writing is corny, in true StarFox fashion, but unfortunately the acting is too. StarFox 64 has a certain charm to it's bad voice acting, but it's missing here. It's not charmingly mediocre, it's just plain old mediocre. The bright side when it coems to audio, is the musical score. The entire soundtrack is live orchestra, and better yet most of the songs are classics from previous games!
Graphically, the game looks best when you're in a vehicle. Everything is well rendered, but it's hard to say the characters look good after seeing Rare's amazing fur effects. The vehicles look and animate great, but there is a slight inconsistency. In Adventures, everything looked well used. While still quite functional, there paint chips and wear from years of battle, and yet in Assault everything looks shiny and new. Did the StarFox team take on a huge mission to get new Arwings? It isn't really explained, but it's very minor and only true fans will notice. I just felt like bringing it up.
Assault makes get strides when it comes to multiplayer. Just like the single player, there are maps which are flight only, ground only, or both simultaneously. All of the weapons available in single player are also available in multiplayer, as well as some weapons available exclusively in the multiplayer. In the beginning, your modes, maps, and characters are limited, but the more matches you play the more things you unlock. The only thing that is unlocked via single player is Wolf O'Donell. Eventually, you'll even have jetpacks available, and the ability to pilot Wolfens! You can easily spend hours blowing each other up in this game. If there's one thing Assault did right, it was make the previous bland multiplayer absolutely addicting. I do wish there were a couple more playable characters, such as Leon and Panther, though.
StarFox Assault is a mixed bag of awesome ideas and not so great ideas. It's not the pinnacle of StarFox, but it does put a foot in the right direction. Hopefully in the future, Nintendo will build upon the ideas they failed to perfect. The single player will only last you a few sessions, but the multiplayer will last you as long as you want it to. It's a great addition to your collection if you can look past the shortcomings.