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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: Strike Force Foxx (Nintendo 3DS)

Review by Clark A.

If Strike Force Foxx doesn’t take you back to the eighties, you didn’t live them. Or maybe you just didn’t consume popular American culture, but surely such frivolous sweeping statements must always be taken at face value. At any rate, it’s a competent 2D shooter that oozes its own brand of nostalgic charm while still being sufficiently distinctive.

That nostalgia shows up in numerous ways. While Strike Force Foxx does utilise relatively modern aesthetics for its menus and character art, its inspirations are in no way compromised by lacking the pseudo 8-bit or 16-bit visuals we’ve come to expect from retro-style indie titles in recent years. If anything, the game is better off for its use of more contemporary visuals, which allow some of the homage-heavy character designs to shine.

Strike Force Foxx is primarily fuelled by a deliberately melodramatic narrative that loosely riffs off various military-oriented American television shows and films (the A-Team, G.I. Joe, and Top Gun all immediately spring to mind). It’s the classic case of the armed forces versus an evil scientist. The plot is just barely unique enough to be entertaining being entertaining beyond the cheese factor, too, making players legitimately anticipate the next round of dialogue between missions.

Said missions see the player take up the mantle of Captain Raymond Foxx as the pilot of a military helicopter. That’s when the similarities to old-school titles like Choplifter fly in at full force; a typical 2D shooter this is not. Foxx’s goal varies on a stage to stage basis, but levels generally entail shooting down evil troops rescuing innocent civilians, or some combination thereof.

The latter tends to be the most compelling, since you can’t afford to fire bullets willy nilly or you’ll take out innocents in the process and potentially lose the mission. Any attempt to emphasise the of turmoil of warfare rather than the grandiose is appreciated, even if Strike Force Foxx doesn't make a whole ton of sense when the gameplay revolves as much around saving innocents as much as it does gamifying destruction. If nothing else, I’m all for more dexterous gameplay with consequences in my shooters and these missions offer a deeper layer of engagement than similar titles care to.

Part of what makes the game interesting is how the helicopter handles. Whereas most 2D shooters would lock the player’s projectiles to one side of the screen, here you’re able to toggle between left, center, and right-facing perspectives. It’s a bit clumsy initially but it holds up splendidly during the long haul. It’s easy to blame Foxx’s deaths on his awkwardly-controlling helicopter, but those controls are in fact what enable you to deal with the hazards set before you.

From there, it’s the sheer variety that sells the game. You’re fed levels that generally have the same three goals, but are designed to facilitate the aforementioned rescuing and cockpit action in different ways while offering a decent challenge. Gradually earning cash to upgrade your vehicle into a powerhouse has some appeal as well, making the game feel like more than a collection of levels strung together by a silly plot.

While other games have aped the Choplifter formula in recent years, Strike Force Foxx adds fascinating wrinkles like optional mercenaries and heavy artillery. Granted, these probably take too long to come into the fold; they’re slowly introduced to the player throughout the story’s brief run time. At least the action is so entertaining that you’ll likely feel compelled to go for a three-star rank on every one of the game’s 30+ stages, thus giving you ample opportunity to use your new toys retroactively.

My biggest beef is the relative monotony that opposes the gameplay intrigue. Missions tend to be a few minutes in length and when your copter goes down, your enjoyment of the leisurely, stop-and-go gameplay formula goes down a notch. Extra stage backgrounds with stage-specific obstacles would have allowed each level feel more memorable on an individual basis as well. Some minor technical issues damper the game a tad, but thankfully never enough to endanger its vision.

Strike Force Foxx offers cheap and amusing shooting fun that is executed wonderfully. Additional polish would have propelled it further, but its flight plan is both safe and enjoyable as is. This is also one of the better Choplifter clones you’re going to find on a portable, so there’s that.

- Clark A.
Anime Editor
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Review: Strike Force Foxx (Nintendo 3DS)
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