Review by Tom Clark
"Talking dinosaurs? Space-faring Foxes? Man, it's like the sixties never ended!"
If you happen to be a fox, then you'd be forgiven for thinking that you've got it pretty bad right now. Being pursued by upper-class, horse-faced barbarians wearing gaudy, bull-enraging clothing who set the hounds on you for fun can't be great. But be grateful that you don't live in the future - here the foxes are obviously hunted so severely that they have to take to the stars in order to escape. Harsh.
Star Fox Adventures (which, in a nice but pointless piece of trivia, is actually the first in the series to get a UK release under the Star Fox title, the previous two being called Star Wing and Lylat Wars respectively) is set several years since we last looked in on Fox McCloud and his merry men ('men' being used in the loosest sense of the word, them being animals and all) - a heroic group of space travellers who preserve the peace and uphold justice.... for the right price. Since defeating ultra-meanie Andross, the Lylat system has become a pretty dull place, and the old team has begun to fall apart. Falco has left, bored with the mundane lifestyle. Peppy has retired, and although he remains aboard our heroes' ship, The Great Fox, he has chosen to take on a more advisory role. Slippy has stepped down from his position as a pilot, opting instead to spend his time tinkering with various gadgets (including ROB the vaguely annoying robot). Even the ship is not what it used to be, a lack of income taking it's toll on the vessel's maintenance budget. As such, the team is left just drifting aimlessly through Space, remembering the good old days, and hoping for one last return to glory. Meanwhile, the only survivor of a dead planet - a furry female named Krystal - answers a distress call from the remote Dinosaur Planet - a planet that literally seems to be falling apart. Arriving to investigate, she discovers that political radical General Scales has upped his usually underwhelming reign of terror to a cataclysmic level, threatening the entire planet by removing the four sacred spellstones that hold it together. However, Scales captures Krystal, and imprisons her in a large jewel before she can act. It is at about this time that General Pepper contacts the crew of The Great Fox - it seems that he has a mission for them - their help is needed on a faraway planet. One that appears to be tearing itself apart. And so Fox and co. head off to Dinosaur Plant, hoping not only to save it's Jurassic inhabitants, but also to save themselves by giving them one more taste of adventure. And so begins their most epic quest yet....
Star Fox Adventures deviates from the path set out by it's prequels, instead showing extreme rebellion by being a game more akin to the Zelda games than to games such as Rogue Leader, and so as plots go, this is pretty standard for the genre. Damsel in distress? Check. Suitably shady villain? Check. World in need of saving? Check. Still, the whole thing is pulled off with such style and enthusiasm that you can't help but get involved. You'll actually want to save Dinosaur Planet, due mostly to the wonderful character displayed by it's varied inhabitants (ranging from airborne dinos, to docile herbivores, woolly mammoths and fearsome predators). You'll actually want to kick General Scales in his cold-blooded lizard ass - he really is quite a well scripted villain. And most of all, you feel a connection to the Star Fox team - this being a more story-led excursion than previous outings, they are much more rounded as characters this time round (even though for much of the game, all but Fox himself take on the smallest of roles, usually only giving hints). There are several memorable set pieces in the plot, too, such as the first, wind-swept, rain-soaked encounter with the General, a jailbreak sequence that puts The Great Escape to shame (well, not quite, but still, it's pretty cool), and a finale that actually throws up a few genuine surprises.
The main thought that seems to surround this game is that, well, it's a little bit like Zelda, isn't it? Well, yes, it is. But to dismiss it as a stop gap while you wait for The Wind Waker would be unfair, because this is a fantastic game in it's own right. As Fox, you get to explore the varied landscapes of Dinosaur Planet - from the icy Snowhorn Wastes, to the hellish DarkIce Mines, from the sunny beaches of Cape Claw to the sinister and imposing Walled City - in search of the four spellstones, and attempting to locate the Krazoa Spirits (beings akin to the gods of the planet) along the way. This translates as a truly epic-feeling adventure. While you'll need to visit many of the areas on several occasions, the design of the game means that each area that you explore looks, and plays, different to the last. While the thought of having the whole planet to explore may feel a little daunting, you are helped greatly by the fact that after each excursion you return to Thorntail Hollow - a sort of base camp, from which you can prepare for each journey by chatting to the locals for advice, or shop for supplies (the shop is particularly cool, allowing you to haggle the prices of the goods you buy). While this makes your time on Dinosaur Planet feel more structured and less intimidating, it doesn't interrupt the flow at all, mainly due to the fact that there is usually some sort of side quest that need completing at the Hollow, meaning that your time there feels less like a pause in the action, and more like a continuation of it.
However, when you first take control of the game, you aren't actually playing as Fox McCloud, but instead you take the role of Krystal. The opening scene, while pretty easy, is actually a bit of a surprise: it's all very Panzer Dragoon, as Krystal encounters Scales' floating airship as she flies atop a winged dinosaur. It's all really atmospheric, with the pouring rain and all, and is probably one of the best openings on a GC game to date. The unexpected play style sets the tone for the rest of the game really quite well - there are several such varied interludes from the main adventure mode, which really give the game some gloss - moments such as the frequent Arwing sections, which are old-school Star Fox all the way as you bez around the planet's orbit, shooting bad guys, meteorites and other such obstacles while trying to pass through various gold or silver rings, or utterly stunning moments where you take control of a speeder bike in order to go down assorted slopes, no doubt taking very twisty and perilous paths. Such moments truly do raise the game above almost everything else on the 'Cube - Rare could have simply pasted Fox McCloud into the game (which was initially due to appear on the N64 under the title of Dinosaur Planet, and without the Star Fox characters), and left it as a standard 3D adventure title, but instead they really have gone all out to make it feel like a Star Fox game, despite the change in genre.
When you finally take control of McCloud and land on the planet, pretty much the first thing you'll do is find Krystal's magical staff, which was dropped during the aerial encounter with Scales. The staff is a really shibby little gizmo - although at first it's uses are limited, as the game progresses you'll be able to use it to shoot enemies with fireballs, shoot ice at the bad guys, cause earthquakes, propel yourself into the air, or, if you're feeling unimaginative, to bop enemies on the head with. While the staff is the main item you carry, there are several other cool pieces of equipment that you pick up along the way, such as a disguise that lets you pass by enemy guards unnoticed. And if the items don't offer you enough to do, there's always Prince Tricky (or, as I like to call him, Prince Git), a really annoying little Dino sidekick, who has some cool moves at his disposal, including the ability to dig for treasure, or a fiery breath that can melt icy walls. It's just a pity that you have to put up with his whiny voice in order to have access to these abilities. In small doses he's okay, but if you sit down for a four or five hour playing session then you'll be hearing the Jurassic Juvenile's petulant tones in your sleep. Brr.
There are minor gripes with the game though. All the jumping is done automatically, and while this is fine for the most part, it can cause moments of frustration when Fox stubbornly refuses to jump - especially in a fairly early scene when you must cross a flowing river by jumping a sequence of moving platforms - miss one, and you get caught in the current and fall off a waterfall. Fail to make the jumps in time and your platform falls off the waterfall. And can you get the bushy-tailed bastard to jump when you want? Can you canaries! This one section actually took me half an hour! Prince Tricky also causes brief bursts of anger, as he often refuses to stay put when you tell him to. You'll find yourself encountering puzzles that require the little Dino-Lite to stay in one spot on numerous occasions, and half the time you'll tell him to stick to the spot, only to find the little bugger snapping at your heels still as you move on. Still, these are the only two real frustrations in the game, which is quite impressive, as several of the set-pieces seem ripe for controller-snapping rage (such as the occasion where you must carry a volatile explosive barrel up a winding path with kegs rolling towards you), but manage to keep you this side of sanity due to the sheer gameplay genius that is on offer.
Graphically, this is a real stunner, packet to the roof tiles with spectacular lighting effects and superbly animated character models. The weather changes at the drop of a hat, with sudden rain showers descending upon you, day turns to night with some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets seen on a console, and lakes of fire offer up heat hazes to make your eyes water. It all looks truly lovely. But it is the lush environments that are the real jewel in Star Fox Adventures' graphical crown - each area looks very different to the last, and each looks gorgeous. Damp mist clings to some of the woodland paths, the sea stretches in front of you on the beaches, the snow effects look crisp, cold and clean, but most impressive of all is the mine level - conveyor belts chug along in the background, jets of fire shoot up at regular intervals, great towers of construction machinery protrude above you, woolly mammoths are trapped in wheels along the walls powering the place, and lakes of lava are dotted across the floor. It all looks very hellish, and I wouldn't be surprised if it gave one or two of the more younger players out there bad dreams.
Aurally, too, this game is a real treat. The tunes on offer are all very understated, meaning that often they can play without you really noticing, but this just adds to the atmosphere - gentle, quiet tunes play as you pass through the more sedate areas of the game, while tense and dramatic music kicks in as you tackle the more action-packed moments. The voice work, too, is on the whole excellent, with only a few exceptions - Prince Tricky's voice is very grating, the storekeeper's voice is a high-pitched cackle that, while quite annoying, fits the character superbly, and the Warpstone, a giant stone statue, speaks in a Scottish accent like that used by Mike Myers in Shrek - again, this voice sounds odd, and is a little annoying, but it suits the character, so I'm not sure if it's really a complaint or not....
All in all, Star Fox Adventures is a superb title, and a fitting end to Rare's relationship with Nintendo. It takes the Star Fox franchise in an unexpected direction, but pulls it off so well that it's almost a pity that forthcoming Star Fox Armada is a return to old school Fox action (as great as the first two games were). And while the jumping causes some annoyance, and while Prince Tricky is undoubtedly a bit of a Jar Jar figure (even Fox gets annoyed by him), the only sizeable complaint is that the game just isn't quite long enough (a complaint that is being held against an alarming number of the big titles for the 'Cube). While it lasts longer that games such as Luigi's Mansion or Pikmin, you'll still finish it within a few weeks (or, if you're feeling dedicated, within a weekend). This is a shame as, had the game lasted just a little bit longer, it could well have gone down as Rare's greatest game yet. As it stands, though, this is undoubtedly one of the top games on the 'Cube to date, and seems likely to remain so for quite some time. A true gaming gem that you really must play.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 02/02/03, Updated 02/02/03
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