Rare's only GameCube title is put through the wringer. See what Rick thinks about it inside.
Right off the bat, it’s pretty apparent that this is not really a Star Fox title. Fox and his cronies are only peripherally involved in the happenings … the game revolves mainly around dinosaurs and their plight. This is largely due to a merging of Rare’s "Dinosaur Planet" title and a Star Fox outing that Nintendo was beginning development on for the N64. Rare was "given the opportunity" to turn Dinosaur Planet into a Star Fox title on GameCube and we’re now seeing the fruits. Unfortunately, it’s not as seamless a result as it could have been, had the title been originally conceived as a Star Fox game.
The game starts with a young fox(ette?) named Krystal encountering the antagonist, General Scales, on his airship. Krystal’s brief part in the beginning serves as a bit of a tutorial in the basic game mechanics. She’s later captured, and Fox’s team is called upon to save the Dinosaur Planet from certain destruction. After an all too brief and simplistic Arwing "mission", Fox lands and begins his adventure.
It’s in that "adventure" where Star Fox fans are likely to be left wanting. Rare has become synonymous with the "scavenger hunt" method of adventure gaming, where the player has to track down lots of items from all over the game world. Sure enough, that mechanic is back to a degree, although the collections seem to have more of a point this time around. Also, the C-Stick is used to manage your inventory, so it hardly seems like you’re just collecting for the sake of it … everything appears to have a use. As the game progresses, you will find more puzzles and less collecting.
The staff Fox uses has multiple powers you acquire through the game, as well as increasing the energy the staff can hold. It’s almost funny since you acquire this "super weapon" right after General Pepper chides Fox for wanting a blaster. "It’s always ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ with you, Fox." But aside from the staff’s non-combat uses, fighting the endless hordes of enemies with it is tedious. Each enemy casually waits while his buddy takes a crack at Fox. Fox locks on, and then executes combos automatically. All you need to do is hit the A Button a few times, and you can rapidly dispatch just about everything. You may even find yourself avoiding battle, because it’s ultimately pointless. Combat is EASY to a fault, and since there is little reward, any gamer worth their salt will go around any enemy that they can. You have the ability to dodge and defend, but again, you won’t need them. Simply hitting the A Button rapid-fire will be enough to beat just about anything. Some enemies, especially bosses, require a different strategy to defeat, but not many.
The game features a weather system and a day/night feature as well. But as neat as the features are at first, they can start to hinder gameplay. For example, there are some areas that where you need to talk to a dinosaur to continue. However, if it’s night, the dinosaur will be asleep, and you can’t rouse them until day time … leaving you to wait for about five minutes for the next cycle. You should never have to wait to find out what to do next, that’s just annoying. This happens less later on, but it shouldn’t happen at all.
Speaking of annoying, it seems that the game goes out of its way to not just having you running all over, but to actually have you running in circles just to collect the things you’ve found. Everything seems to be repelled by Fox, from the Scarabs (used as money) and fireflies to light your way, to the bomb spores and fire weeds. Puzzles tend to fall in one of three categories … collect enough things to continue, fire at a switch hidden on a wall above, or bring something from one remote location to another. The puzzles are laid out logically enough, although some things you need to do aren’t as clearly explained as they need to be. However, you can usually check in with Slippy, who acts as an in-game hint system, and your objective will be spelled out for you.
There are also some very odd gameplay mechanics at play here. Fox dies if his life bar is depleted, and he can acquire creatures (yes, another collection spree) that grant continues. They’re very easy to come by, so you’d expect to die on a regular basis. However, falling into a never-ending pit (something you’d expect instant death from) doesn’t kill Fox, he simply starts almost right where he left off, with no loss of life or continues. Another strange example is the automatic jumping, which works well enough for the most part, is turned off in some areas where the level designers want Fox to traverse a thin, windy path. Failure to complete some puzzles, again expecting Fox to be killed, also results in a simple reset to the beginning of that area.
Surprisingly, the game seems to get easier as it goes along. Perhaps it’s because you get used to the puzzle mechanics, making it much less difficult to figure out where a hidden switch might be. All that’s for sure is that it’s likely to take an experienced gamer twice as long to get through the first half of the game as it will the last half. In fact, with no help at all (except from Slippy), many gamers will finish Star Fox Adventures in under 20 hours. Considering we were told to expect 40-60 hours, and that there doesn’t appear to be any sort of additional gameplay after the game is completed, this is really going to be a disappointment to many. However, it’s still a reasonable amount of game play for the money, and when taking into account the mind-numbing nature of that gameplay, 20 hours might be a good number.
Saving the best parts for last … the graphics are, in a word, stunning. Fox’s fur moves in a very realistic manner, something that was though to be past the GameCube’s abilities. It was even a feature that Microsoft was touting as exclusive to Xbox until Rare pulled this rabbit out of its hat. The textures are largely quite detailed, and the lighting effects are very good as well. There are problems, such as light sources shining through pillars when they shouldn’t. In addition, there is an infrequent amount of slowdown, possibly due to the exquisite graphic work or hidden loading zones … but it seems odd that first generation titles are having any slowdown at all. However, it’s rarely an issue during gameplay.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Pro Logic II, and is fabulous. Every part is voice-acted (some better than others, the "Scottish Incan Idol" being a terrible example of the latter), and the environmental sounds are top-notch. Fox has a great amount of character, expressing a certain amount of disbelief at the things he’s being asked to do … something with which gamers will relate to in short order. The game starts with the dinosaurs speaking a strange amalgam of "Dinosaurese" and English, with Fox needing Slippy to translate. This adds a great amount of character to the game, but even that is quickly nullified when Slippy completes a translation device. The music, on the other hand, is superb, particularly the Disney-esque calypso beat in Thorntail Hollow, or the cheesy 80’s inspired saxophone music when Fox first meets Krystal.
Finally, the ending of the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Once finished, you’re treated to a nice finale, but something you’d expect to happen simply doesn’t (you’ll know when you get to it). There is a reason for it, which is immediately apparent, but it’s still a minor disappointment. However, it’s a satisfying ending, which is nice considering that the rest of the game doesn’t meet up to expectations. In fact, it was tempting to say that the Arwing missions should have been removed from the game altogether since they were so easy and pointless, but the finale brings a payoff worth of the Star Fox name.
All in all, the game is mildly fun, but aside from the initial "wow" factor of the graphics and sound, the game starts to get into a grind, and not in a good way. Everything about the game screams of tedium, perhaps not as bad as Donkey Kong 64, but tedious nonetheless. The game is just not fun; it feels like a chore to play as you slog through the first half. There are some flashes of brilliance, as there are always are in Rare’s outings, but it’s obvious to those educated with the situation that the transplant required to put Star Fox in the game required that the heart be taken out. It’s an above average game, and could make a decent week-long rental for adventure and puzzle buffs … but it’s very hard to recommend Star Fox Adventures to even the die-hard fans, since they’re likely to be the most disappointed of all. While this review may sound negative overall, Star Fox is a good game, but Rare is held to an almost Nintendo-caliber level, and more is expected of a Rare game.