The year is 2023 and the Nintendo Switch is still lacking its own Star Fox game. Despite having access to some of the older ones via NSO, we have yet to see any life signs from Nintendo’s struggling franchise.
For long time fans of the fox, it’s a miserable existence. Whilst seeing the resurgence of Metroid and Pikmin is fantastic, it still feels like there’s something missing from the Switch’s library.
Thankfully, indie developers have stepped up to the mark to try and fill in the gaps. We have Star Horizon, Astro Dogs, and even the remake of Panzer Dragoon amongst many others. And now we have FUR Squadron to add to that list.
Will it be enough to help fill that Lylat shaped hole in our hearts?
Many thanks to Raptor Claw Games for the review code
The universe is at peace, if a rather unstable one. The Skal Empire has signed a peace agreement to prevent them from performing any shenanigans, but nobody really believes that they’ll actually keep to their word. As such, the FUR Squadron have formed and spend their time honing their skills in combat simulation until the time comes for them to defend against the evil empire.
Little do they know that their cyberspace isn’t quite as secure as they had initially thought.
It’s a solid enough promise that progresses steadily across the game’s six stages. At first you’ll be dealing with various simulations set up by your axolotl friend Axel, and you’ll be battling alongside the strong-willed Kiro. Kiro is very much the Falco to your fox, and Axel is probably best compared to Peppy rather than Slippy. Such comparisons to Nintendo’s characters are natural, since the game doesn’t try to hide its Starfox influences at all, and even has chunks of dialogue that reference the series.
Being set inside a virtual construct, the visuals all have that 80s VR looks and sound regardless of the level you are in, but they all look pretty impressive for the most part as you fly around. Enemy craft ranges from generic, to rather impressive, with the boss fights being both creative and visually impressive to boot. Whilst some may lament the lack of real world locations, the environments are varied enough for it not to be too much of an issue once you adjust to it.
Much like Star Fox, the game is an on rails space shooter. Your ship is slowly propelled forward, and you only really have to worry about moving around the screen, shooting at the enemy, and spinning to deflect bullets. There’s no boosting or breaking here which can lead to the game feeling a little slow-paced at times, especially with the relatively low enemy count, but levels being so short means that it never proves to be too much of an issue.
For the most part, the controls work pretty well, with your lock on and spinning abilities acting as you’d expect. Free-firing isn’t quite as accurate, with the cursor not being able to move in small increments, but the game is focused predominantly on using lock on and missiles, so it’s an issue that never really becomes a problem in practice. Perhaps this lack of precision is due to the game’s mobile origins, but it’s also not a deal breaker either.
Stages themselves should feel very familiar to Star Fox veterans, with the opening level featuring pillar toppling robots and archways to fly under, and then a follow up stage is set in an asteroid field. It skirts the line between being derivative and simply paying homage, but the VR environment help the game to get away with it. Your lock on function will be your main friend as you take down enemy foes, and white enemies will typically drop a useful power up that can improve your lasers, missiles, or give a boost to your shield. These are frequent enough too that even newcomers should be able to get through stages with relative ease.
Even the boss encounters don’t up the ante too much, as your missiles make short work of all but the final couple of bosses. That doesn’t make these foes any less impressive, however, as they have some really cool designs and attack patterns for you to avoid. The final boss in particular was a joy, even if I was never in any doubt about being able to beat him first try.
This level of difficulty is probably the game’s biggest drawback, as a title like this is probably going to appeal predominantly to fans of the genre rather than newcomers – and veterans are probably going to lament the lack of challenge. Sure, there are a couple of extra difficulty modes that you can unlock (and the game’s half hour runtime means that it shouldn’t take long), but by the time you acquire them you will have already memorised enemy spawns and attack patterns, so even the hardest of these challenges won’t be that bad.
But that’s also alright. The game certainly scratches that Star Fox itch for a little while, and does so rather competently, but this is more of a leisurely stroll through the park rather than a rollercoaster ride. And for low price tag, it’s certainly another fun rail shooter to add to your collection.
FUR Squadron is a decent attempt at recapturing the fun of Star Fox for a one-man indie project. It may not be the longest game, nor the most difficult, but it certainly scratches that itch for those looking for a short and relaxing experience. Hopefully we see more from the trio in the future as they buckle up for some grander adventures in the real world!