Review by ConfusedGuy

"Dinosaurs are rolling in their fossilized graves."

Originally conceived by Rare as a new franchise called Dinosaur Planet, and originally planned for the Nintendo 64, the premise of this game was given a facelift and a few years of delays when Nintendo and Rare agreed it would be a good idea to make a new StarFox game. The previously-faceless lupine hero of Dinosaur Planet became Fox McCloud, and with a pinch of Arwing and a dash of Slippy, StarFox Adventures was born.
However, as time went on, Rare began to develop more unrest than games. Gamers were expecting a sequel to Perfect Dark, among other great things, and Rare wasn't delivering - showing little product and violently shoving release dates further away. Internal politics were becoming dubious; many wondered if the company would be sold, or had already been sold. Mere days before the release of SFA, word became public and official that Microsoft had purchased Rare. So with all this tumult and turmoil, it's really no wonder StarFox Adventures turned out as lackluster as it did.

It all begins in a decidedly non-StarFox prologue. A foxy fox lady named Krystal is responding to a distress call down on Dinosaur Planet, and is waylaid by the malignant General Scales, who means to (and pretty much already does) command the entire planet. Krystal escapes, however, and makes her way to the Krazoa Palace, a shrine celebrating the planet's ancient benefactors, the Chozo-like Krazoa. However, in the Palace she is once again taken by surprise, and captured in a magic crystal with no hope for escape. Only after this does Fox McCloud come into play; the StarFox team has a big payment coming for their deeds, but General Pepper wants them to save Dinosaur Planet first - as it turns out, the planet is being sundered apart by magical forces, and now has four impromptu moons (land masses magically raised from the surface of the planet). Fox's mission is to investigate, and do what he can to save the planet. Along the way, mostly towards the end, there are a few (mostly dopey) plot twists, to the end result that the entire story more or less mocks itself.

StarFox Adventures, in theory, has two main gameplay facets: the StarFox, and the Adventures. Classic StarFox action resurrects itself in the form of a sum total of five (possibly six depending on how one counts) Arwing flying stages, where Fox must pass through gold rings to progress. Laser upgrades, bombs, enemies, hazardous obstacles, meteors, and other mainstays of flying in these stages do little more than briefly interrupt the rest of the game. These sections, inspired by the very bread and butter of StarFox, are so short, so sketchy, and so shabbily designed that they may as well have never existed.

Unfortunately, the flying sections are some of the best parts of the game. In a way, it could be said that SFA took a page from the N64 Zeldas in its Adventuring, but in the process it also rended and destroyed that page beyond most recognition, in a cruel, twisted bastardization of all that it stands for. Most of the game centers around either running from one place to another, or collecting items, with an occasional puzzle or 'minigame' thrown in for kicks. Most adventure games also have a healthy dose of action to keep them going; SFA does not. There are stages where Fox races a jetbike against other jetbikes, but it's not at all fast, or challenging, or exciting. Fox has a staff for fighting enemies, but combat in SFA is a cruel parody of the very concept, being only an exercise in pressing the A button, sometimes requiring timing (waiting for an enemy to put its shield down), and only incorporating holding the control stick in some direction or futilely jumping around if a player really feels like it.

Said fighting staff also has a number of magic powers, which Fox finds in magic underground caves over the course of his adventure. It can shoot fireballs, shake the ground, freeze things, and do other miscellaneous duties when necessary. The staff is more a skeleton key than anything else; almost anything can be solved with it, when the right power is used at the right time. Think of it as a fancier, longer version of Link's ocarina. If staff powers are the first tier of Fox's abilities, his inventory is his second; this inventory encompasses both story items found along the way and other items purchased at the one and only Dinosaur Planet shop in the game's main hub area. The shop is somewhat of a mystery in itself, as the shopkeeper ''likes to haggle'' and allows Fox to do so, but will rarely accept a price of more than two scarabs (the planet's currency) below the marked price, even when that price is a cool 130 scarabs. Wallet sizes also come into play, with an initial capacity of 10 scarabs, and larger wallets earned along the story's progression as a means of 'helping' Fox buy the right things at the right time.

The third and final tier of Fox's abilities are his sidekick, Tricky. Tricky is the prince of the EarthWalker tribe, and, full of energy, wants to help out however he can. A handful of his abilities are instrumental in solving puzzles, namely digging up items in secret spots, lighting things on fire with his flamethrower breath, and standing in place to hold a pressure plate down. However, outside of these situations, Tricky is often more harm than help - every time Fox turns around, the little guy is standing right there, directly in his way. And though he might be small, getting around him isn't always an easy task. SFA is full of little annoyances like these, especially objects that Fox should be able to easily move around but can't. On that subject, another notable annoyance is respawning; in many areas, enemies respawn within seconds. Though this makes killing them sound like a useless chore, the game contradicts itself by making them fairly irritating hindrances.

If there's one thing Rare did right, it's the way the game looks, and possibly how it sounds as an addendum. SFA's graphics are a marvel to behold, with dynamic lighting and shadows, water effects, and smooth textured surfaces that have to be seen to be believed. The sound effects are often great (many of them are ripped directly, without modification, from Perfect Dark), with the possible exception of the new item jingle, which a player will hear so many times during the course of the game that it loses all meaning except unadulterated rage, and the voice acting, which has few highs (Fox) and many lows (everything else). The soundtrack is pleasing, its tracks usually ranging from ambient to ear-catching.

There are a few tasks in the game which aren't necessary for its completion, many (if not most) of which are thoroughly unrewarding. There are, specifically, certain wells from which Fox can earn and use decidedly useless Cheat Tokens. So, really, the only replay value SFA could have in any practical sense is playing it through again, although it's a good 10-15 hours on its own (most of which moves agonizingly slow).

To its credit, StarFox Adventures is by no means the worst game ever made, nor is it a complete failure - it is a nice showcase for graphical prowess. However, in terms of gameplay, in terms of the StarFox franchise, and in terms of Rare's reputation, it's a long way from success. Not exactly a fitting finale for what was once one of gaming's greatest development relationships.

Overall arbitrary rating: 4/10


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 01/28/04


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