Star Fox Adventures send you through a rollercoaster of emotions -- from fun to boredom, fast to slow, long levels to short levels, and epic adventures to cheesy flight sim action. But the game is overall enjoyable, if far from perfect.
Star Fox Adventures has long been a work in progress. The game’s humble beginnings began in the form of “Dinosaur Planet,” an all-new Nintendo 64 action-adventure game that would feature brand new characters and a fresh, epic plot. The original game, which was to be a 512 megabit title that utilized the N64’s 4 MB Expansion Pak, featured the lead character known as Sabre, the son of the great Randorn. Randorn disappeared after the death of a son during battle, and Sabre vowed to find him. He would not do it alone, as his step-sister Krystal, whom Randorn adopted, was to travel with him on his adventure. A giant, friendly rock monster was your aide in switching between both playable characters.
Legend would have it that in the middle of Dinosaur Planet’s development, Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto had seen Rare’s progress with the game, and was genuinely impressed. Sabre roughly resembled Fox McCloud, and it is believed that that’s what prompted the change in direction for the game. However, knowing the game would have to be considerably redone, Dinosaur Planet was bumped off the N64 release schedule and made a GameCube title.
Unlike some of my PGC compadres, I genuinely like Star Fox Adventures for the many reasons I’ll get into. That having been said, I would have preferred the original story and the original characters because the game’s original compelling plot was seemingly dumbed down and mutilated to some degree for the sake of the Star Fox name recognition. Obviously, the plot was altered considerably when turned into a GameCube Star Fox sequel. As Star Fox Adventures, your task is now to find and collect the sacred SpellStones and repair the planet, which has been broken up into orbiting pieces at the hands of the evil General Scales.
How that differs from the original Dinosaur Planet, I couldn’t say, but the line between Star Fox and Dinosaur Planet is vividly drawn. While Star Fox Adventures features Arwing levels, they’re largely used as travel paths between different parts of the planet. Your mission on those levels is simply to fly through a specified number of golden rings to open the gate… whatever that’s supposed to mean. These levels are graphically beautiful, but extremely short, and they’re clearly an afterthought added to sustain the desired Star Fox tie-in. Aside from the characters themselves being added to the game to help you on your quest, these short levels are the extent of the “true” Star Fox that we knew. What’s more, the ominous rock monster that would have allowed players to switch between playable characters in Dinosaur Planet has been made into a talking warp zone (“warpstone”) with a Scottish accent. Krystal has also survived the transition, but now she has been imprisoned by the evil powers that be, and part of Fox’s job is to come to her rescue as well.
History lesson aside, Star Fox Adventures features qualities that mark both extremely detailed and painstaking hard work, and also half-assed solutions due to the need to both tie in Star Fox, and complete the game sometime this millennium.
Fox’s sidekick is Prince Tricky, a young dino who assists you by accomplishing a lot of small tasks, such as digging up buried secrets, starting fires, rounding up objects along the ground, digging tunnels, and more. While traveling the planet to collect Spellstones sounds simple enough, in true Rare fashion, there are a number of quests and sub-quests to be accomplished before you can even get close to the Stones. As others have mentioned, this usually involves a collect-a-thon. However, each object you collect has meaning and purpose within the plot of the game, if even temporarily just to get you a little closer to the end of the world. If you’re stuck, which may happen occasionally when the mission really isn’t all that clear, you can contact the rest of the Star Fox team for assistance. Peppy is the resident Map expert, Slippy gives you more useful advice for your current goal, like where to go next, and General Pepper gives you game stats, such as your progress.
The game’s control system has Zelda DNA all over it, from the auto jumping to basic fighting maneuvers. You can defeat the dino minions of the SharpClaw tribe throughout the game by simply mashing the ‘A’ button, which swings your magical staff. Although you can be attacked by as many as 5 or 6 enemies at a time, the artificial intelligence of the game is such that you only have to battle one enemy at a time -- the one you’re automatically focused on. All of the others walk in closely and look like they’re ready to gang up on you, but never do. This is, actually, a welcomed feature. Fox also has a rolling maneuver, apparently to dodge attacks, but I have yet to find any applicable use for it… The SharpClaw minions are brain-dead easy, and powerups are literally everywhere, making you more likely to die by falling down the obligatory bottomless pit than from actual energy meter damage.
The ‘C’ stick function, which allow you to scan your inventory and program your staff, is quirky. It would have felt better in a fixed menu system, not accessible during real-time gameplay. This weird feeling is due to being trained for so long that our left hand is control dominant while our right hand is action-based. Maneuvering menus with the right hand feels unnatural, and occasionally action mistakes are made (like firing off or assigning the wrong weapon) if you don’t remember to exit out of the menu first.
Typical of Rare’s mantra, the evolving story may have you scratching your head. There are so many plots and subplots, quests and subquests you find yourself running into, that you could ultimately forget what you were doing before getting sidetracked. Once you get lost, your best bet is to simply allow the flow of the action to take you where you need to go. Somehow, miraculously, you always make it, but it’s certainly no thanks to the story that grows in complexity, and goes in one ear and out the other. Slippy is always a beep away when you hit the start button, explaining things in simple English if you really have no idea what to do or where to go next.
While most of the worlds are huge and varied, the game does tend to get drawn out. Whether it’s the lack of varied enemies, not enough pure exploration, or the simple fact that the boards are long but so darn easy that you never DIE, I haven’t put my finger on it, but I’ve often had to save my progress and step away from the game. However, once rejuvenated, the game does become fun again for me.
The worlds that Fox and Tricky travel through, from space to forests, ice lands, beaches, caves, mines, and lava worlds, are all gorgeous and are easily the best work to date on the GameCube. Most levels are also fairly large as well. There are occasional glitches in the frame rate as the system apparently loads some of the huge environments, but it’s not altogether annoying, and 99.9% of the time you’re just running during these split seconds. The game features tremendous textures and lighting effects, and the real-time facial expressions and animations are otherwise as smooth as can be. The fur textures have been hit and miss. On most occasions it looks great, while other times (like when you’re too close to Fox’s tail) it looks like a floating matted mess of graphic artifacts.
The music in it is remarkable and quite an accomplishment. Though it’s not quite soundtrack worthy in my view, I hold high standards in this category, and it’s nothing to shake a stick at. Along with subtitles, the characters also have distinctive voice actors, which sound equally great and accurately reflect the characters they belong to (as opposed to the voices in Mario Sunshine, which were terrible.) Fox shows a light-hearted sarcastic sense of humor during his dialog with other characters, which I found great.
Star Fox Adventures has its peaks and valleys; what’s positive about the game is fantastic. What is negative sticks out like a sore thumb that weighs down heavily on its shoulders, keeping it from reaching the brass ring that we would hope to expect from one of Nintendo’s classic franchises. SFA doesn’t quite reach that plateau, but had Dinosaur Planet survived, allowing Rare to stick with their original gut feelings, perhaps we would have had a new franchise on our hands.