Review by Dorkmaster Flek
Reviewed: 12/20/02 | Updated: 12/20/02
I can feel the bile burning my throat when I play this game...
Star Fox Adventures. The only game to conjure up deep inside of me a rage against Nintendo. The second Nintendo game to upset me actually, but the first to make me truly angry and sad. But that’s for later. Firstly, the game. The background story does not get the privilege of being in my review because it is not worthy of this game, in my opinion. As far as background stories go, it’s certainly not bad. Okay fine, here’s a synopsis. Basically, a girl named Krystal who is traveling through space answers a distress call from Dinosaur Planet in the far corner of the Lylat System (and this is where the bull-you-know-what starts...), but things don’t work out as planed and Fox and his team answer the distress call to save the planet and her as well. So anyway, in comes Fox and immediately we see that this game is no slouch in the looks department.
I’ll admit, Rare definitely knows how to push consoles hard. They did it with the N64 and they’re doing it again, considering this is a first, maybe second generation GCN game. Gorgeous use of colours in the texturing, amazingly reflective and distorted waters, and fur? Oh yes the fur is beautiful indeed. I don’t know how, but Rare has somehow managed to implement shader effects for grass, Fox’s fur, and even the wooly mammoths in the ice areas. You can almost reach out and feel the fur. There are also heat wave effects in the lava areas, and the sheer size of the areas are indeed a sight to behold. Combined with the water and heat effects, it just looks really good. You can count on Rare for that. All this and a steady 60 FPS that barely wavers. Very impressive indeed.
The sound is also impressive, although not quite as impressive as the graphics on first examination. The effects are great, no question there. Fox running, his staff hitting wood, metal, it’s all bang on. The music...well, the music is very good. It’s all MIDI using the MusyX system Factor 5 developed, and some of the tracks sound almost like real instruments, especially the ones with the chanting choirs in the background. There’s only one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb: the victory fanfare that plays every time you get an item. Brass instruments are the worst of any MIDI instruments, even if they are half decent. Composition wise it’s fairly solid, although some tracks are clearly better than others. You’ll recognize the Star Fox melodies from Star Fox 64 and whatnot. Of the new compositions, the music for Cape Claw is probably my favourite, although the music for the Krazoa Shrines is a close second. On the topic of the voices, I would categorize them as over the top, but enjoyable. The two leads (Fox and Krystal) are actually quite good (when Krystal isn’t talking Dino-talk, which is about 5 whole minutes, if that), as is Tricky, Fox’s sidekick.
But how does it play? That’s the big question. Well, to be honest, it feels like Zelda with a fox. That about sums it up. The controls are very similar to Zelda (right down to the autojump) and it even has a lock-on for fighting, which is quite welcome. All things considered, it doesn’t innovate the adventure genre in any big way, but it does do most things right. I’m an adventure/platform addict, so while this may not sit right with other casual gamers, it goes down fine with me. And I’ll be damned if there aren’t a few nifty puzzles to solve along the way too. The first big change is the C-stick inventory. I actually liked this because it meant you didn’t have to pull up a subscreen every time you wanted to use an item. In fact, unless you want Slippy’s advice, you don’t have to pull up the subscreen at all except to save. General Pepper’s “mission status” screen is informative, but mostly useless in practice. The other big change is the sidekick system. I was actually happy with this because what could have been a simple gimmick in the game turned out to be well worked into puzzles and secrets. Utilizing dog-like commands, Fox can tell Tricky to stay put on switches to hold them open, search the area for secrets, call him back, and have him breath fire (because that’s what Dino-princes do of course). It’s a familiar and enjoyable feeling coupled with a few new tricks to keep it a little fresh. Of course, being a Rare game it’s a collection fest for sure. But I was very impressed to find purposes behind the mindless collecting. You have to find mushrooms to feed your sidekick, because he needs to eat. That’s what things do. You find fireflies to use in your lantern because you need to see in the dark. You find fuel cells because your Arwing needs fuel to fly around. The list goes on. Job well done here as well.
So I’ve given a fairly positive review of this game (justified by the 9/10 score I gave it overall) and if that’s all you need to know, then you can stop reading now because the rest of this “review” will be mostly ranting on my part. For those of you still here, you’re probably wondering why this game makes me so angry and sad. Basically it all boils down to one thing: what this game was supposed to be. It’s fairly common knowledge that this game began on the N64 and was moved to the GCN. A good move in my opinion, and the game definitely benefited from it. And I’m sure quite a few people who know this game also know that it did not begin as a Star Fox game. If you didn’t know that (and you’re still reading this) then you’re in for quite a surprise...
No, this was not supposed to be a Star Fox game. This began as a game called Dinosaur Planet (which was supposed to be the subtitle of this version), conceived entirely by Rare as an original story. It was more highly anticipated than Rare probably knew, as many people, such as myself, followed the development of this intriguing title. The concept art was promising, and the early music samples were a real treat. In fact, it was a joy to hear some of these compositions retained for this version of the game (my favourite Cape Claw theme being one of them). The story, the original mind you, followed two characters: Krystal, of course, who was orphaned at age six and adopted by a wandering wizard named Randorn, following him for ten long years, and Sabre, the 20-year-old son of Randorn. Sabre’s older brother was killed on the battlefield when he was young and his father went mad with grief, disappearing into the wilderness. Now Sabre is (or was) determined to track him down. It’s true that Sabre bared a slight resemblance to Fox, but these characters were actually originally conceived as a race of cat-like humanoids, not foxes. Obviously, this change came after the switch. This is why the BS starts with Dinosaur Planet being in “a far corner of the Lylat System”. It was never supposed to be there.
Unfortunately, that’s about all we know of the original story, although it certainly looked promising. The concept sketches of the characters looked fantastic, and it was even primed for a little romance, dare I speculate. But most importantly, it was an original creation with no franchise roots to adhere to, and thus it could go wherever it wanted. But when they decided to move it to the Cube, at Nintendo’s suggestion no doubt, Nintendo decided to inject the Star Fox characters to make the game more marketable. Blasphemous as it is for a Nintendo fan like myself to say, so much for the “Nintendo Difference”. When the Star Fox universe moved in, Sabre was replaced by Fox, and Krystal (who had a knee length tribal-like garb with boots for hiking) suddenly became a fox with a much skimpier outfit and a bigger chest. I did not like this. I appreciated Rare’s effort to make the female character look more real, like a warrior who fights to survive, in both the concept art and the early builds of the game. I could’ve dealt with that, and I’m just nitpicking there. The story, and even the gameplay, took a huge turn because of this decision, however.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how much of the story was altered to accommodate the Star Fox universe, but judging by the Arwing missions being put in due to the whole floating islands thing, and the ending of course, I’d say we lost a big chunk. The gameplay on the other hand, is fairly obvious. In the original builds, both characters were playable. Yes, that’s right, Krystal did not get trapped and immobilized for the entire game at the very beginning. Sabre utilized a sword and had Tricky for a sidekick, and Krystal used her staff and had a CloudRunner for a sidekick. The Warp Stone character was used to switch between them if I remember correctly (it’s been a while since the E3 previews). And he didn’t have a name yet either. I can only imagine how a flying sidekick would have been used in the puzzles and secrets. Between moving the game to a new system and completely changing the design to accommodate the Star Fox characters, Rare basically remade it from the ground up at Nintendo’s command.
Now, I understand Nintendo’s idea of take a franchise and do something new with it, and it is a good idea in principle. But it is not an excuse to butcher a completely original game for “marketability”. The review above, and the overall score, take this game at face value. Had I scored it compared to what it could and very well should have been, it would be lower. I’m convinced this is the reason for Nintendo and Rare falling out. It’s like Mario RPG all over again. The game comes out good, but the companies fight over the development and never speak to each other again, and it’s sad because Nintendo was dumb enough to let them go and Microsoft was smart enough to snatch them up fast.
So in conclusion, I weep for this game. I enjoyed it, maybe even loved some parts of it, but for every joyous moment in this game, there is sadness in me wondering what we’re missing. Original concepts generally don’t go over well with executives because they’re unpredictable. But with Rare and Nintendo backing this, there is no doubt in my mind that this would have been great. Anything with the Rare logo will sell. Who knows? Maybe it’s better Rare didn’t stay with Nintendo. They make money with Microsoft, and we don’t end up with Pokémon: Elements of Power forced down our throats. (Check out Rare’s website if you don’t get that joke)
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
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