Star Fox Assault is not a very good game. On release, it was met with a sea of 7/10 scores during an era famous for using the “7 to 9 scale”, meaning that a game had to be exceptionally bad to see a 6 or lower score from many publications. It also followed up the maligned (by fans, anyway) Star Fox Adventures, a game featuring almost zero gameplay from previous entries in the series, instead favoring a Zelda-style quest where Fox uses a magic staff to save a bunch of happy dinosaurs from an angrier, eviler dinosaur. For many fans, Assault was a return to form of sorts; making me wonder if those scores would have been even lower if not for the bizarre game it was following up. (Ironically, in spite of the near-constant hatred I encountered at the time for Adventures, it still holds a higher Metacritic score than Assault does.)
The game is boring. That’s one of the worst things you can say about a game of its type, especially one with such a powerful legacy of fun behind it. But it wasn’t just boring; no, it was also written poorly, and had a bare-bones multiplayer that evoked none of the feelings the (still pretty bare-bones) multiplayer from Star Fox 64 did. It put characters from Adventures into the action, who were quite undeveloped and tonally inappropriate for the game, like the mystical blue fox lady who speaks super-formally and talks about magic constantly – a far cry from the endearingly-bad dialogue from previous entries.
I can’t explain why it happened with this game specifically, nor have I ever been able to get back into the head-space I was in at the time, but 13-year-old me made a game of his own in the game’s not-stellar multiplayer.
You see, a few friends had come over to play games. For those of you even younger than me, that’s what you did in those days: friends would come to your house to play Gamecube games with you. And at least in my case, it was usually Gamecube. Sure, some friends would want to play Halo and others would want to… um… I guess that was it, really. Gamecube or Halo. But yeah, Super Smash Bros. Melee was on Gamecube, so that’s the console we played together. Anyways, Star Fox Assault was a fresh purchase for me at that point, so we decided to give it a go.
Being young, we actually had fun with it in spite of itself, but the real fun came when one of us presented the previous battle as a story, describing the events that occurred in it as part of some larger whole that wasn’t really there. “You see, *character* went rogue, and the team tried to stop him. But *character* flew too well for them, and managed to get away, flying for *location* to reveal the secrets of your operation.” (If I remembered any actual details, I would include them, but I don’t, unfortunately.)
Once that happened the first time, it happened every time after that. Soon, we had developed imaginary factions that don’t actually exist in the game; societies of falcon people who were bitterly at odds with the imperial order, pockets of frog people nomadically wandering through space, and small bands of mercenaries formed out of stragglers from the various factions and cultures. I can’t actually remember any of the specifics now, but I remember having a lot of fun telling these stories with my friends based on how our multiplayer matches turned out, the victor always getting to dictate the direction of the plot.
We were role-playing, basically. And it made that experience for me. I now look back at Star Fox Assault fondly, in spite of there being little to nothing in the game itself to inspire those feelings. My friends and I created a world together, and in doing so, I became attached to it. The world of Star Fox doesn’t seem to have anything that interesting going on, as far as I’m aware, but our 13-year-old brains brought us to a different world that did.
I have never been able to really have that experience again. I’ve had some fantastic and unique multiplayer experiences, and I’ve had experiences where inhabiting a role made a game more fun, but I haven’t managed to combine the two the same way since. And I’d honestly feel like an idiot trying to do that today. Part of what made that experience possible in the first place was our youth; I don’t think there are many adults out there who really want to improvise stories about multiplayer matches of Star Fox: Assault these days. And if there are, I don’t know how many of them are people I’d enjoy hanging out with.
For me, this is a small, singular moment in time. This is a special moment in my video game history that means something to me; it is a memory that I treasure. It was a single day where my friends and I got heavily invested in something that was almost entirely our own creation. We made something together. I don’t know if anything is going to evoke that for me again, but I know it’s possible. I know that even the most mediocre of games are capable of creating important memories, and it might be something inherent to video games as an artistic medium. It’s one of the reasons I love games so much. They’re special.
[Cross-posted to my blog at Giant Bomb. Screenshot and featured image from Giant Bomb.]