An Irish Air Show… it was never gonna be an assault on the senses

Star Fox Assault (2005)

I’m not a World War II historian – you should generally avoid such people like the plague – but I do at least know that Spitfire pilots tended not to disappoint when it came to fulfilling their duties, and the boys in the Hawker Hurricanes didn’t put up a poor show in front of the Bosh either. But I’m afraid to say that they, along with the much vaunted British Red Arrows, have let us all down.

The scene was the Bray Air Show, Bray being a nice old beachfront not too far from Dublin where, on one Sunday a year, you could come and indulge in a spot of plane spotting. I know nowt about historical planes or even what makes those old bathtubs fly, but I can’t help but appreciate a bit of airborne aerobics, the sort of thing that might get your pulse racing a bit if the pilot tried similar in your next commercial flight.

I say Bray isn’t too far from Dublin but on this particularly sunny day, it was two hours of traffic to get there. No, it was no good looking towards Irish public transport either, but charmingly naïve of you to ask. I believe there was also some important bogball that day, but try telling it to the Irish rail company – it was the standard Sunday service, which is to say the most threadbare service of all.

Things got so bad that passengers actually mutinied and forced the train doors open to get out and walk along the tracks. I’m imagining the trains were halted to allow them to do this, but we’ve all seen a lunatic try to stick their head out the window of a moving train, so who knows?

But we made it in time for the first lot of planes, four Royal Jordanian Falcons, to come barrelling in from a military airport not too far from me in Dublin, and the show began. Listen, it’s impressive stuff seeing planes twirl and corkscrew and do – yes – a barrel roll out at sea, but we were there for the vintage stuff.

The boys in the Red Arrows had practiced over my parents’ house the previous day, a blaze of speed and noise, the kind of suburbia-shattering noise that gets dreadful old Mary across the road to speed-dial the police, or the zoo or whoever else might heed her complaints before telling her to get a life and hurriedly blocking her number.

Now I know that sounds quaint, and this wasn’t a squadron of ten, multibillion dollar F18s opening a can of whoop-ass over the football game in the NRG Stadium, but you should see the Pilatus planes that the Irish air force fly, for God’s sake. Anything without propellers gets us going wild.

Imagine the crushing disappointment, then, when it was announced that the Air Show would be completely truncated, and the main events, namely the Spitfire/Hacker/other combo and the Red Arrows wouldn’t be flying. Of course, it took a while for the news to reach us; you get those loudspeakers at the beach that offer a running commentary, but it’s usually faraway and dreadfully echoey quality, just incomprehensible. I hate to do it, but you have to turn to Twitter in those situations, which confirmed the worst, the main plane attractions wouldn’t be partaking in the show as there was a bit of rain on the runway and they couldn’t take off.

Now I’m sorry, but I don’t think such an excuse would have washed in the 1940s, when missions and campaigns were hinging on those machines getting in the air. Not that us expectant watchers on Bray head could be likened to Nazis – only some of us were sympathisers – but we’d made the journey down by car, supposedly a less safe means of travel than by air, so why couldn’t they?

And heaven forbid, a bit of rain. I told you it was a sweltering day, and it was, but that doesn’t preclude a bit of surprise rain, this is Ireland you know. I would have flown the poxy things myself if they’d wanted, it’s not like the RAF had time to train everyone when the Luftwaffe were really acting up. So, what the hell?

Generally I enjoyed the show but came home feeling less than enamoured by the gutless pilots who didn’t fancy it. Perhaps all of the Lord Flashhearts are gone these days – who knows? But I fancied a bit of my own flying to rectify things. For whatever reason, perhaps because I spent much of 2005 and 2006 playing it to death, I turned to the GameCube’s Star Fox Assault.

Bit of a strange game, this. There was already a Star Fox on the GameCube of course, except it wasn’t really a Star Fox game at all, more a Zelda game with British accents. Star Fox Assault intended to be a continuation of the Adventures story, and I’d say it made a valiant effort, not that the yellow bellies in the red arrows would know anything about that.

Things start off interestingly in Assault – it’s a slightly new Star Fox team, with Peppy retiring to a life behind the desk and his seat being filled by the furries’ wet dream, Krystal. I had often wondered if people could be picked off the street, or off the desolate planet I suppose, and trained to become fighter pilots, well there’s our answer. The voice acting isn’t so corny as the inimitable Star Fox 64, and the Arwing you pilot doesn’t feel as quick and manoeuvrable as before either, but the first mission through space looks, feels and plays great.

It’s when the second level comes that the cracks start to show a bit. but you can’t just land the plane because you hear a bit of a rattle, right? You gotta keep flying, although you might find your flying opportunities limited in this game; several of the levels force you to battle foes on foot or in the Landmaster tank instead.

And that’s decent fun, I will admit, but it’s not what we’re here for. I could accept that, but what is a true shame is that there are no branching paths in this game, it’s just ten missions, one after another, no variety and a lot less replayability than 64 as a result. Even the SNES game let you pick different routes before every playthrough.

But look, when you are flying the Arwing, it’s really good stuff. And one way you can guarantee yourself some airtime is to play the surprisingly comprehensive and enjoyable multiplayer mode. There may have been only about three GameCube games capable of going online, but this would have been a decent laugh against other human players back in the day. Of course, you’re never guaranteed a Star Fox game from Nintendo and you’re certainly not guaranteed good online play from them either. Still, thought I’d mention it.

You know I always have to have a word about a game’s music, and it’s got to be said that Star Fox Assault’s fully orchestrated soundtrack is just wonderful. Bit of a reliance on the old Star Fox 64 tracks, a recurring theme in the series for sure, but it’s great to hear them in their full splendour. The main menu theme is an absolute banger as well.

And that’s Star Fox Assault. There’s not much more to it, apart from a strange plot with dialogue that the actors seem to have delivered through cardboard tubes. It’s a good bit of fun really, I liked it. But there’s just not enough planes in the air to keep you properly interested.

16 December 2022

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