Review by Richo Rosai
"A Magnificent Exercise in Style, but Both Rare and Star Fox have Seen Better Days"
Charming, and Somehow Familiar…
Like many gamers, I have a history with the Star Fox franchise filled with fond memories. So when I heard that the game was switching developers and genres for a trip to the Gamecube, I was very intrigued and at least a little worried. In any event, this was one game I didn't intend to miss. And while I can say that my fears that Star Fox might be ruined were dispelled, it's not because Star Fox Adventures lived up to my hopes for a good Star Fox game. It's because Star Fox Adventures isn't a Star Fox game at all. It's Zelda 64 with ''fur rendering''. Is this such a bad thing? Well, not as long as you take it for what it is.
The opening scenes of Star Fox Adventures are truly awesome. They throw you into an on-rails shooter battle, intriguing you as to just what kind of game you're going to be playing. Unfortunately, although you're teased with a slight show of innovation here, a mere thirty minutes later you'll realize what this game really is - linear, formulaic, predictable, and repetitive. Fortunately, Rare has slapped such a gorgeous coat of paint onto this repetitiveness that Star Fox Adventures still manages to be great fun. When you strip away all the glitter, Star Fox Adventures is basically just a Zelda 64 ''modification''. Your character runs from area to area being told what jewels/pendants/stones/spirits he needs to collect to restore peace to the world. You stand in front of item receptacles and use ''C'' to place those items into the receptacles. Jumping is automatic. Battling is based on a targeting system. It's stuff we've all seen before (namely in Zelda 64), and it's stuff that's all been executed more beautifully before. What serves as Star Fox Adventures's saving grace is the quality of its presentation. The graphics are superb, the characters endearing, and the voice acting top-notch. Just don't expect much immidiate replay value.
The Rough Beneath the Diamonds
You start out the game as ''Krystal'', a female fox who suffers from being creepily underdressed. The stroyline is setup and the controls explained through a short firefight with the game's antagonist (from the back of a flying dinosaur) followed by some on-foot exploration and primitive item manipulation. We are then thrust into Fox McCloud's world where, after a cute cinema starring some of the best-loved Star Fox characters, the main piece of the game takes place. Fox is a feisty critter with a British attitude who seems to be from the same race as Krystal. He arrives on ''Dinosaur Planet'' in order to stop the above-mentioned antagonist, General Scales. To do this, he has to restore four ''spell stones'' to their proper place in a temple somewhere, and defeat General Scales, who is responsible for the whole mess. So you set off to collect a spell stone. Then you solve a puzzle (and of course, it's usually a contextually illogical one). Then you find some item that opens to door to the next spell stone. And it goes on like this for a very long time. The variations on puzzle-solving methods seem potentially wide, but eventually turn stale with the same obvious solutions to the same puzzles throughout the entire game. The most innovative color in this palette is your little dino-puppy pal Tricky, who follows you around and obeys your commands inasmuch as they will help you solve puzzles. All this is broken up by the sparse-but-challenging boss battles that boast many times more creativity than the bulk of the game.
But so it is with Star Fox Adventures. Rare never gives you a chance to hate the game, always redeeming themselves with a quick right jab in the form of a mini-game or boss just when you start to sneer. The biggest redeeming quality of Star Fox Adventures is its wide variety of these mini-games. While the main game can be a bit tedious, it's frequently broken up by these sub-games that test you reflexes, memory, and ''push-the-button-really-fast'' skills. The biggest and most apparent of these are the Arwing stages. While they're really just simplified affectionate nods to the classic Star Fox games and just achingly beautiful enough to make you sadly dream of what could be, these space-shooting areas are well-polished and nicely integrated. They also feature a score-tallying system, providing some much-needed replay value.
But other than these rationed moments of fun, I'm hard-pressed to find a reason to play through Star Fox Adventures again anytime soon. Apart from the mini-games and bosses, it works more for me as a very long, occasionally interactive movie, the script of which is far too predictable.
Raising the Bar
The Nintendo Gamecube's graphical capabilities have consistently amazed me, and Star Fox Adventures is no exception. In fact, it writes a new rule. Heat warping, fur rendering, detailed facial expressions and eye movements, advanced reflective surface effects, camera focus/blurring, widescreen format and progressive scan functionality - it's all here, and it has never looked better.
The first things you'll notice are the excellent lighting effects and smooth animation the game offers, as Krystal does battle with a flying ship on the back of her dinosaur before a dark, stormy sky. From second one, the screen is littered with special effects, and the frame-rate never even winces. It only gets better. On Dinosaur Planet, massive environments open before your eyes with no draw-in (and no load times either - all the data is streamed in-game). Wide grassy plains, frozen rocky valleys, and fiery volcano labyrinths are just a few of the well-textured locales waiting for Fox in this longer-than-most adventure. The light/shadow models are all top-notch as well, and they react realistically to local light sources. The game also slowly moves from a daytime to a nighttime world, blanketing the latter with a deep purple.
The characters are all rendered realistically, and the movement is above average. You'll rarely see any polygon bleeding as the characters run, jump, and carry on conversations. Most of the mammal characters were also treated to a weird ''fur rendering'' graphical touch-up, by which they appear to have fuzzy hair protruding from their bodies. Some call it unnecessary or even gimmicky (an on/off option would have been nice), but it adds variety and depth to the already astounding visuals.
Rare has really outdone itself this time, creating graphics full of vibrant character, special effects wonder, and raw quality that set a new standard for the console. Your eyes are one part of your body that won't feel any want for the duration of Star Fox Adventures.
''We are the Knights Who Say, 'Hey Fox, I'm Hungry!' ''
Although geeky veterans of Monty Python may be prepared for it, many will likely be surprised by Star Fox Adventures' notably British flair. Rare has made their national orientation more obvious here than in any game they've ever done, and the most apparent manifestation of this shows up in the form of the character voices and dialogue. Although the implementation is mild, British accents, humor, and mannerisms abound (while ironically, Fox actually sounds like he's a British person trying to imitate an American), giving the game a kooky feeling (at least by ''our'' standards). That being said, the voice acting itself is some of the most consistently high-quality work ever done in a game. The characters are natural, believable, and individual, drawing you that much more into their world. It's like a mid-budget cartoon, which is great by video game standards.
The other sound effects are passable, but not quite up to snuff. Rare lost considerable points with me by using the exact same damn sound that's been around since at least as early as 1993 in the form of FPS legend Doom's BFG 9000 for the sound of their main weapon. The rest of the sound effects follow this pattern, sounding cut-and-paste but doable.
Neither is the music anything to write home about. Suitable but forgettable musical archetypes fill up most of the tonal space here, with some much-need ambiance added for appropriateness of mood. The best musical treats in the game are the adaptations of classic Star Fox tunes, which grab your attention and direct you to memory lane.
Exceptional acting, passable sounds and moderately enjoyable music produce an audio experience that's good, but not great. Also, your sidekick Tricky's annoying voice may eventually wear out your TV's mute button...
Z-Targeting, Now Without the Z
Star Fox Adventures' controls also mimic Zelda 64's in most every way. Jumping is predetermined and automatic, an item menu is your most important tool, and all the battling is done based on a circular targeting scheme. However, the game once again fails to perfectly mimic its predecessor, and the controls end up somewhat messy.
Fox is basically agile and responsive to your commands. Your movement consists of analog running, leaping across gaps, and mindless button-mashing fights. But there are a few frustrating problems that overshadow much of the good in Star Fox Adventures' controls. The first of these is the lack of a functional camera. Your only camera option is to auto-center the camera directly behind Fox. When you need to get a look from a specific angle, you'll find yourself struggling with the sensitive analog stick to line Fox up in just the right direction. The second is the lack of a trigger button in the battle system. Any time you have your weapon drawn and come within battle range of an enemy, Fox will automatically face said enemy. This is fine if you feel like fighting everything that pops up, but annoying if you're trying to get somewhere without any hassle. The only option is to put your weapon away as soon as you're done with it every time, which is more trouble than it sounds. Lastly, Fox's fire blast, which is used to solve probably at least half of the puzzles in the game and which is aimed from a first person point of view, has an extremely sensitive auto-centering function. You'll have tilt the stick to a very specific angle and hold it there in order to pull of any decent shots. I would have liked to turn this off.
So, while most of it is standard, a few major gripes keep Star Fox Adventures' interface from being the joy it could have been with a bit more tweaking. Suffice to say you'll get used to the controls fast enough, and the game isn't that hard in the first place, so don't expect a particularly bad time with the controller.
A Mixed Bag
So as long as you like Zelda 64, high production value, and British accents, this game should prove worthy of your purchase. But you should be warned that it's not up to Rare's standards of ingenuity or complexity, and you may leave it wondering just what happened to the Rare that brought us Battletoads, or Donkey Kong Country for that matter. And while it lacks just a little in enough vital areas to qualify as a slight disappointment, it's a technically astounding and epic adventure worth remembering as the end of one of the most fruitful relationships in video game history.
GRAPHICS - 10
GAMEPLAY - 8
CONTROLS - 7
SOUND - 8
REPLAY VALUE - 6
[ + ]
Interesting assortment of mini-games
[ - ]
Stuffed with repetitive, linear, item-hoarding gameplay
If you like this, try:
Zelda: Majora's Mask
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/17/02, Updated 01/25/03
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