So it's no surprise that, when it comes to one of their classic yet neglected franchises, Nintendo decides on an ace in the hole. Traveler's Tales recently came under the microscope when an employee posted her resume and mentioned that, among the projects she had worked on for TT was LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. Everyone knew that, given their success with the LEGO franchise, they had to be working on something else. So what was it?
Turns out it was LEGO StarFox, giving the series a geometric makeover. While I had doubts (I have never forgiven Traveler's Tales for the horror that is Sonic R), the resulting game isn't bad. It just isn't that great.
The plot sets it in the Lylatt System again, but the events are sort of an amalgamation of events from the previous games, so if you are looking for continuity, you won't find it here. It's one part finding what happened to Fox's father, one part Lylatt Wars, but Krystal is on the team already (in a nice touch showing the designers' sense of humor, when the emergency call comes in during the opening cinema, Krystal is in the galley eating a sandwich). The plot is pretty thin, but then again, this is supposed to be a space shooter, and grafting too much plot is detrimental.
My baseline comparison for SF games is 64, still my favorite and the first game to convince me that the clunky N64 controller could actually work. The controls for LEGO SF, however, get hung up in gimmickery. I wasn't thrilled with Command's use of the touchscreen to pilot your craft. Here, you hold the Wiimote like a flight stick, the trigger activating your normal lasers and the D-pad to launch nova bombs. Pressing the C button on the nunchuck brings up a target reticule that you can use strafe enemies, meaning you don't have to fly head-on at your target and increase your exposure. A good idea, but when you are used to flying an Arwing a certain way, you would rather be swooping through the volley of fire as you bear down on the enemy. I could never get used to the new control scheme.
Fortunately, the game is intended more for casual players, so even with the whacked out controls, the game is still conquerable. Watching ships in the space scenes blow up into LEGO pieces took me back to my days of Shadow Squadron. The voice acting is pretty good. The on-foot mission on Sauria is pretty fun simply because the control scheme is more typical of platformers on the system and slipping into it took no effort. It's a real shame that the Landmaster portions of the game are betting than the space flights, because that is what the series is supposed to be all about.
With Armada, it was obvious that Namco had its B team working on the title, as it was missing that extra polish that would have made the game a real classic. Here, there is plenty of extra polish, but the underlying game is only okay, and the control scheme doesn't help. A good diversion, and it should sell over a million, keeping the series alive. But if you see this one ported to the XBox360, you know things are in trouble. ;-)