- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Here’s a look at some software that plunges owners into outer-space adventures:

Star Fox: Assault, by Nintendo for GameCube, rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $49.99. Cuddly creatures control spaceships and powerful weapons in the latest sequel to a game with roots going back to the days of Super Nintendo.

The player takes control of leader Fox McCloud, who, with the help of Star Fox team members Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi and new furry female Krystal, must fight in the air and on land to stop an invasion of aliens.

The slick-looking adventure charms through a nostalgic gaming style that combines arcade shooting action in a star fighter and all-terrain anti-aircraft tank with mission-based third-person levels.

The interplanetary dogfights are the best-looking and most satisfying portions of the virtual show. The game also features classic boss battles that highlight a selection of mechanical monsters using repetitive patterns so the player is not overly challenged.

The game’s surprising lack of innovation, lack of online options (up to four opponents still can play via a split screen) and shorter-than-expected solo story mode may shock those used to an experience more like Ratchet and Clank or Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, so a rental would be in order before investing the big bucks.

Apollo 13: Anniversary Edition, Universal Home Video for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG, $22.99. Ten years have passed since director Ron Howard’s stellar film about the miscued mission to the moon graced theater screens, and that gives Universal the perfect opportunity to capture new viewers through an impressive two-disc DVD set.

The movie chronicles the trip of Apollo crew members James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, who, with the help of the team at Mission Control, turned a potential space disaster into a triumph of man’s spirit and ingenuity.

The first disc presents the 140-minute feature starring Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris and Gary Sinise, along with a fact-filled 60-minute documentary on the meticulous making of the film.

Additionally, a pair of optional commentary tracks are available, the best by Mr. Lovell and his wife, Marilyn. As they watch the film, Mr. Lovell dominates the conversation with tons of memories from his space career and the mission, weeding out fact and fiction on the Hollywood product. His wife’s occasional observations are equally powerful and add a different perspective to the real-life events.

The second disc is dominated by the complete Imax version of the film (24 minutes shorter than the first disc’s version), which turns the celluloid footage into a digitally remastered masterpiece.

A pair of documentaries include the triumphs and tragedies of, mostly, NASA missions, and a 12-minute 1995 “Dateline” segment encapsulates the mission with more first-person interviews.

Would I have enjoyed some PC-specific content that might have provided more educational opportunities for space fans? Sure, but the “Apollo 13” package still brilliantly brings to light a time when Mr. Lovell’s famous words, “Houston, we have a problem,” united the world.

Star Trek: First Contact, Special Collector’s Edition, Paramount Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated PG-13, $19.99. The best of the “Star Trek” films is celebrated through a two-disc DVD set deconstructing the “Next Generation” crew’s time-traveling conflict with the Borg.

After watching the 111-minute movie, which mixes fantastic battle scenes aboard the Enterprise with a historic first encounter with Vulcans, viewers will enjoy a solo commentary by director Jonathan Frakes (aka Number One, Cmdr. William Riker) who really has fun remembering the film.

The Trekkie then can bathe in minutiae through a text-track commentary that provides a geekified encyclopedia of rolling Trek lore, from episode specifics to bridge design to historical moments from the numerous television series.

The second disc, much like the Borg’s prime objective, assimilates viewers into the process of the film through six sections filled with subtopics that present interviews with all of the principals, split-screen comparisons, slide shows and behind-the-scenes footage.

The most enjoyable include a look at the creation and demise of the Borg Queen, James Cromwell’s memories of the Zefram Cochrane character and the possibilities of having a real “first contact” with extraterrestrials.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002, or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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