Image: Star Fox
This video image shows one of the many space battles in "Star Fox Command," Nintendo's new game for the DS handheld.
updated 8/30/2006 8:40:14 PM ET 2006-08-31T00:40:14

The video-game company famous for Mario the plumber is turning to one of its lesser-known characters in a new title for the Nintendo DS handheld.

With "Star Fox Command" (rated E10+, $34.99), Nintendo reintroduces spaceship captain Fox McCloud and his supporting cast of interstellar animals in a series of mini-battles against aliens called Anglars.

For those of you who a) never played the original Super NES game back in the early 1990s or b) have never heard of Fox McCloud, yes, he's a fox. He and his buddy Slippy Toad and some other anthropomorphized pals happen to be ace fighter pilots.

Having all the cutesy critters doesn't mean it's for kids only: there's actually a surprising amount of character conflict that may resonate more with adults (if you can get past all the cutesy critters).

And though the single-player story mode felt way too short, there are many different ways to end the saga, depending on the choices you make along the way.

The game's core elements are split between 3-D dogfights — a Star Fox staple — and a new turn-based system that brings a strategic element to the action.

The developers have effectively incorporated the DS' unique design. The game's interface and controls are simple and effective, and piloting the various Airwings by tapping and dragging on the lower touch screen was more precise than I thought it would be.

I had mixed feelings on the turn-based aspect. It was neat being able to move my forces across a battlefield, but correctly moving my hyper-intelligent spacefaring animals to the right location felt more like guesswork than strategy.

You have a limited number of turns, and it's easy to run out of chances and lose the game with so much trial-and-error ambiguity. At least you'll be able to breeze through this aspect once you figure it out and get back into the action.

"Star Fox Command" also slightly misses the target with its ability to record your own voice, which the characters will then speak back in a strange sort of gibberish. It sounds so garbled, though, that it's hard to tell whose voice it is.

The single-player mode is pretty easy and won't take experienced gamers more than a day to neatly wrap up, leaving multiplayer as the only thing to give this game some staying power.

There are two such modes: one that lets up to six combatants blast each other from the skies over the DS' local-area network, and another where gamers can connect to Nintendo's free Wi-Fi service to fight up to three others via the Internet.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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