Review by Halron2
"A fun joke, only badly told."
It’s not really common, in gaming terms, to see a title that’s a success in one genre migrating to another, specially if it’s a completely different genre and most of all if it’s a shooting title (right now I can only recall Panzer Dragoon’s transition to RPG). In that way, Starfox, one of Nintendo’s most loved series, becoming a full-fledged action/adventure game was strange news indeed. More than that, everybody was thinking ‘how can they pull this off and still make the series look relevant?’. Well, I guess Rare, the company that developed the game, wasn’t thinking too much ‘relevance’ when they came up with this game’s system: it’s little more than a visit to old, if dear, friends.
From the title, it’s pretty obvious that you get to control Fox McCloud in the game, renowned pilot who starred in shooting games in the past with great success. Actually, however, you start playing as a female counterpart for Fox, Krystal. After controlling her for a while, she gets trapped and it’s Fox’s task to save her and, at the same time, avoid the destruction of a whole planet (my God, how many planets have I saved from destruction just by playing these games?), freeing its population from a nasty tyrant and other smaller, however noble, deeds. Also, all of Fox’s old friends from past games appear at one point or another in the game and you can keep contact with most of them, helping our hero find his way through the planet. Nothing really new in this game’s story.
What bugs me is that the writers for this game couldn’t even turn this cliché into something decent. It’s actually pretty strange, sometimes it feels like the developers made a conscious decision to make this game’s dialogue and story so obvious that they become self-referring and, in that sense, a joke on the gaming industry itself. For example, the scene when Fox meets Krystal is so exceedingly corny (geez, listen to that tune) that it must be a joke, there’s no other explanation. To confirm that, Fox decides to save the planet just because he wants the girl! What’s strange is that most players will probably not get the joke or be lost wondering if it is in fact a joke or just laziness or lack of creativity from whoever was responsible for coming up with this game’s concept. Anyone trying to take this game mildly seriously will have the disappointment of a lifetime, specially in face of some poor excuses for plot twists and one of the most terrible last fifteen minutes (in addition to the ending) in any game I’ve ever played.
The plot takes place in Dinosaur Planet (original name...), a planet filled with, you guessed it, dinosaurs! Wow! Only these dinosaurs speak and, while they live in small tribes and such, are very civilized and polite. Obviously, they are met with some kind of distress, which we must solve. All of the villages are very tribal-like in design, even if they differ from each other enough, giving the game a good deal of variety. Each village is inhabited by a different race of dinosaurs, all inspired by real dinosaurs or other extinct animals (mastodons, brontosaurs and the like) and have a particular and distinguishing cultural trait. The most important races have a corresponding dungeon that you must visit by means of the Arwing (Fox’s own starship), since they have detached from the planet surface. All these dungeons follow traditional gaming settings, like a volcano, a water-themed shrine and so on (basically, we have one for each element).
In terms of gameplay, the story repeats itself. Starfox Adventures is nothing more than a reference joke, even if it’s still quite fun sometimes. In the action department, the game is a Zelda clone. By Zelda, I mean Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Everything, I mean, every little thing is exactly like these games. Even the colors of the money corresponding to how much they are worth. You get new bags to stack more money. Assign items to buttons. The combat system is identical. There’s a heart container-like item. ‘Fairies’ to revive you when you die. Well, you get the picture. This is the clone of all clones. It isn’t bad, specially since the N64 Zeldas were spectacular games, but, in terms of originality, this one deserves a big round zero. The flying sequences, when you go from the planet to other locations, are a copy of Starfox 64, only a lot worse in terms of gameplay. Basically, almost everything you see in this game has been seen before and arguably put to much better use. This is not to say that the game isn’t fun, it’s just not as fun as the games it copies.
So, in this Starfox all you do is go around bashing evil dinosaurs with your new-found staff (which belonged to the foxy-lady – pun intended – Krystal, by the way), which can be put to lots of different uses when you learn the right abilities (like firing flame or ice, boosting jump, shaking ground and so on), solving puzzles (generally so stupid they aren’t worth mentioning) and eventually fighting bosses who you don’t even have to hit with your staff for the most. Also, you get to use the special abilities of prince Tricky, a dinosaur as young as annoying that will be very helpful along the way. But if Rare though the inclusion of a multi-use staff and a teen dinosaur with a terrible voice was enough to hold the whole gameplay of one title together, they must have forgotten how imaginative they had been with they older titles for the N64.
To end the gameplay department with a lament, it must be stated that Starfox Adventures is probably one of the dumbest, most obvious and retarded games ever in terms of challenge. Because there’s absolutely none. There isn’t one hard enemy, one hard puzzle, one hard dungeon, nothing! Geez, I beat the game using just one bafomdad (the ‘fairy’ of the this game, which brings you back to life when you die), when you can stock up to ten at a time! Definitely one of the easiest games I have ever played, bar none. Also, the game is too short. In addition, no replay value, since every ‘secret’ is so obvious you will probably find it the first time through. Get the picture? Starfox Adventures may well be the perfect game for a rental system! Rent it, beat it in a single weekend (if you’re too avid a player and you know what to do, a day could suffice) and never set eyes on it again.
If there’s something that was done right in this game, it’s the graphics. What we get is not a daring realistic design, but in its place a cartoony kind of feel that matches the mood of the game perfectly. However, if the story, plot and the gameplay itself could (and probably should, for the game’s sake) be considered jokes, the graphics were taken very, very seriously by the developers. Everything, from character and background design as well as special effects, general visual concept and all other things that involve graphics, consists in the most impressive aspect of Starfox Adventures. Obviously, no great graphics can make a good game, but there’s no denying the excitement of watching thousands of hairs waving on Fox as he moves, the effects used for water with wonderful results, lighting techniques, all the special abilities, the animations for each and every character and dozens of other details that build the atmosphere of the game. It all adds a lot to the game and, in a way, the designs confirm the goofy, light-hearted and joking side of this game.
In terms of sounds, the game also fares quite well. Although not as impressive as the graphics, the sound here is well treated and wonderfully built. Not only the soundtrack fits the mood of the game nicely, also helping create any sense of adventure and excitement the game might have, the sound effects are used to a great result, as for example the little noises of nature we hear in each different village, the grunts of enemy soldiers nearby and so on. The soundtrack overall has a tribal feel to it, enhancing what the visuals show us in terms of the villages you visit, complete with strong percussion work and also chants in an African style (in Thorntail Hollow, you’ll hear a piece of music that will carry you straight back to Disney’s Lion King), but it can change according to the situation, including themes for boss battles, flying in the ship, meeting enemies and so on. One of the tunes that can’t go without noting is the ‘love theme’, which plays when Fox meets Krystal and is one of the most ridiculous pieces of music I’ve seen in a game in my life. But, it still fits the objectives of the game.
Also, there’s the voice acting. Surprisingly, voice acting here isn’t all that bad, specially considering how many times we’ve endured terrible voices in games. Most characters get decent personalities in their voices, even if sometimes they can sound a bit forced (like, for instance, the warp stone with its Scottish accent). Interesting to note is the fact that the voices are used not only in dialogue, but sometimes building the mood of a certain location, like when we hear the crying of the queen in the first village or a trapped dinosaur calling for help in the beginning of the game.
Overall, Starfox Adventures isn’t a bad game at all, still offering some fun for anyone who tries it, specially if they liked the games that are copied here. However, nothing really new is offered, so the feeling of disappointment is also pretty much unavoidable. In a way, the game still works as a funny light-hearted joke on the gaming industry itself, playing with the clichés we’ve come to expect in most games and despise in most cases. However, for this to work perfectly the developers should have taken much more care with this game, instead of piling cliché on cliché and hoping for the whole thing to work on its own. Even if this is indeed an original attitude in the gaming world, in terms of gameplay originality and lasting appeal, the game just plain fails. Starfox Adventures is doomed to be a minor entry in a very dear gaming series and a mostly forgettable game. If only the developers had taken their own joke more seriously...
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 05/06/03, Updated 05/06/03
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