Review by King Kool

"Does not improve upon OOT OR Star Fox"

This is it. This is the last Rareware game to come out for Nintendo exclusivity. This is Rare\'s swan song for Nintendo. Long ago, when this was just Dinosaur Planet and was gonna come out for the N64, I was looking forward to it. Later, when Miyamoto-san wanted the Starfox license added to it, it interested me even more, being an immense fan of Starfox 64. Now, with Microsoft acquiring Rare away from Nintendo, there was nothing stopping me from getting this.

I love Rareware games. I was reared on the N64, where Nintendo and Rare had a load of titles I played endlessly (Diddy Kong Racing, KI Gold, Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark). Even if I didn\'t quite enjoy some of them (DK64, Jet Force Gemini), I still remember them fondly, as they\'re not bad games. They just weren\'t my kind of games. Nevertheless, not many companies have released six games I enjoyed thoroughly on one system, so I knew, if nothing else, statistical odds were in my favor. I bought Starfox Adventures and popped it in.

Starting the game, you\'re in control of Krystal, a foxy anthropomorphic mage, as she explores an ancient palace after nearly being intercepted by the evil General Scales, a Tyrannosaurus with a severe rage problem and megalomanic tendencies. She quickly gets herself in trouble, and the game follows Fox McCloud for the remainder of the story.

Hard times have befallen the Starfox team, as Falco left under mysterious circumstances and Slippy and Peppy have stopped active pilot duty. The team accepts a mission from General Pepper: Dinosaur Planet has been broken into pieces with the removal of four Spellstones. General Scales, leader of an army of bloodthirsty Tyrannosauruses, stole the stones. Fox\'s mission is to bring the Spellstones back to their proper place and bring peace back to Dinosaur Planet. But it quickly becomes apparent that there\'s something darker afoot in this prehistoric world...

Graphics - 10

In a word, absolutely... uh, in two words, absolutely amazing. In a world filled with talking and furry animals, good graphics can mean the difference between convincing anthropomorphism and damn ugliness. Since the Rare team did have many YEARS to work on this, I’m glad the output is as strong as it is. The design that went into the game is everywhere. Even though the characters were already designed for them from the last two Starfox games, Rare has put their own twist on the Starfox team seven years from now.

Fox’s adventure will take him to many archetypal places for adventure games; old cavemen-style buildings with cracked and moss-covered stone, infernos brimming with lava, snowy wastelands with slowly-falling snow (some with little snowflake patterns), ancient ruins, temples, etc. Nothing will greatly surprise anyone familiar with the genre (well, the moonlike dustbowl parts might). No points for originality, but strong execution of things already seen can be just as good as seeing something new.

Anyway, the most impressive example of the graphics is certainly the animation given to the characters. Dozens of tiny hairs bristle on Fox’s head. His mouth has lots of tiny teeth that show when talks or smiles. His eyes, eyelids, brow, cheek, ears and even his TONGUE are all animated extremely well, all working together to make some excellent emotions and lip-synching.

Not everything is lip-synched quite as well as Fox is. Most minor characters will be slightly more marionette-like, and some character’s species simply prohibits any lips at all (General Scales is a Tyrannosaurus, and the shape of the skull just doesn’t lean to lip-synching.). There is no excuse, however, to some of the shortcuts taken. Slippy and Peppy talk to you often as floating heads, as does General Pepper. They all are lip-synched normally as full-bodied people, but as floating heads, they drone on in a lip animation loop. They move their mouths as the sound plays, meaning they could be moving their mouths when the disconnection noise is being played. This just looks incredibly lazy and doesn’t improve on the 2-frame open-shut mouth animation of Starfox 64. But, I don’t let it detract from the score.

Sound - 9

The sounds in the game are nice, but all things considered, they’re probably not on par with the graphics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve never been too picky when it comes to sound effects, except for two things: They can’t give me a headache, and they have to sound like what they’re doing on screen. (Top Gear Rally for N64 was a big offender in this category, but that’s a different review.)

In this respect, all the sounds are fitted well. Hitting a dinosaur with your staff sounds just like you’d expect it, and there are a lot of groans and snarls from the dinosaurs, fishy sounds from the Krazoa, etc. A few sounds, however, are familiar to me; they were probably taken from a sound library. Walking by the pepper-shedding mushrooms will elicit a “whoosh” sound effect I’ve heard somewhere. Again, this doesn’t exactly scream “originality,” but it doesn’t happen enough that I think it’s a real negative.

I’ve always been a fan of the music in Rareware titles. This game follows the trend, but it’s sometimes wrongly used. At least twice, the music changed into “dramatic strings mode” before I knew something bad was happening. If they were trying to surprise me that barrels were being lobbed at me, there are better ways to do it. Of course, any negatives from that vanish at the rocking jungle remix of the Lylat system map from SF64. I could listen to that all damn day.

But the best sounds in the game come from the voice acting. Yeah, it’s still just all the Rareware employees trying to act, but the results of that have never been so bad (And at worst, have been unintentionally hilarious). S. Malpass (Jonathan from Perfect Dark) does well enough as an older, but no less reckless Fox. My favorite is the Warpstone, dubbed expertly with a true Scottish brogue you just wouldn’t expect from a three-story monolith.

The recurring cast doesn’t fare as well with their new voices. Slippy and Peppy sound just dreadful. Slippy used to be androgynous and helpless, but now he’s just shrill and screechy. Peppy sounds about a thousand years old. The only real improvement is General Pepper, who has been voiced with the perfect blend of military rigidity and constipation.

Gameplay - 5

I’ve tried to keep the review positive at the beginning. You may have noticed some glancing blows, many of them either saying the game’s not being original or it’s not improving on something from the last generation. These two things are the two greatest problems with the game, and they are HUGE. First off, Star Fox Adventures doesn’t improve on the Zelda formula that we all loved from OOT. This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the second problem; there’s not much in this game you haven’t seen before in Zelda or other such games.

Let’s go into greater detail on my second complaint first. If you haven’t played Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, stop reading this and get it. It’s easily one of the greatest games ever. I stepped into gaming too late to play the SNES or NES ones, so the N64 version of Zelda is tucked in a very special place in my gaming heart. And it’s probably this reason to why I resent the rippings-off SFA perpetrated so much.

What kinds of rippings-off? Let’s see... the controls are probably about as similar as they could be, given they’re on different controllers. You can even assign a spell or item to Y and roll forward with X, like OOT. If you have the staff out, you lock onto enemies, a la the Z-Targeting from OOT. The no-jumping, the way Fox hangs off of ledges and climbs ladders, the letterboxing, and many tiny, barely detectable things that may be impossible to describe. He even opens boxes is a weirdly similar way, and then it hovers in front of him while it spins in midair. It’s all so similar to OOT, I was experiencing more déjà vu than during Metal Gear Solid 2.

Am I being fair by so liberally comparing SFA to OOT? I think so. It’s not always fair to compare something to the best of its grade (Like saying, “Rocket was all right, but it’s no Super Mario 64!”). Not everything can be as good as the output of what the best is capable of. Then again, we’ve seen the output Rareware is capable of; it’s top-of-the-line. Ever since the game was slated for the N64, we all knew it was “Rare’s take on Zelda” the same way that Banjo-Kazooie was “Rare’s take on Super Mario 64.”

There wouldn’t be too much wrong with Rareware releasing a game that was IDENTICAL to it’s 64-bit ancestor. The game has aged remarkably well. But herein lies the problem; there’s too much that Star Fox Adventures does WORSE than the old game. For example, the game is ropier than the original; Zelda can be a little rigid, but nowhere near as rigid as this game. I can say with reasonable certainty that you’ll be doing everything in the same order as everyone else. Not only that, but there are several points in the game where you’re stuck at one point, unable to go back and explore for something you may have missed.

That’s not too big of a problem, I guess. Then again, the game isn’t very long, either. Not only are there less tasks to do in this game than in OOT, the things you do are fairly simple. I beat the entire game in exactly one week (bought it on a Tuesday, started playing it around 9:00 PM, and beat the last boss the next week around the same time). The experience isn’t nearly as satisfying as OOT.

I mentioned the “Z-Targeting” style lock-on system that SFA has. It works similarly to OOT, in that you cannot turn away from an enemy when locked onto them. But, unlike OOT, if you have your staff out, you will ALWAYS lock onto an enemy, you can’t switch targets while locked, and the only way to unlock from an enemy is to run away from them. Not only does that mean you can’t pick any certain enemy to deal with among a group of them, (like the one that’s stronger than the rest and can kill you easy peasy...), if you’re in a hurry and an enemy accosts you, just hope you don’t have your staff out. I heard some people talk about “combos,” but it’s just holding the Control Stick a certain way while you mash the attack button. Ugh. Moving on...

Another thing that bothered me was how the game threw tons of items at you, but each item only had one use, and then it was totally useless. I’ve got a horn to call mastodons, a horn for baby pterodactyls, and a Tyrannosaurus disguise that I’m almost never using. You may disagree, but when a game is designed that you dodge hell itself to pick up an item that comes in handy less often than the MEGATON HAMMER, it makes me wonder if my work was for naught.

Not only are the Action RPG elements subpar, so are the Arwing elements of the game. You have to fly the Arwing when going between sections of Dinosaur Planet. There are gold rings and bombs, but the lock-on shot is MIA, and the entire sequence feels like a beta of SF64. It also feels incredibly forced. It just seems like they wanted to have something else to remind you that it’s still a Star Fox game.

Then there’s the ending. I don’t mean the ending cinema; I mean the least 3 or 4 hours of the game. It’s hard to describe how, but it feels incredibly rushed. I don’t mean “rushed to release,” I mean like “get moving to the end of the game really fast” kind of rushed. There are also two or three big twists towards the end (I won’t say what) that made very little sense, and they just add to the restlessness of the last section of the game.

There are some things that are unique and fun, like your sidekick Tricky, and the many \'\'Tests\'\' you have to go through for the Krazoa, but it\'s far too little to separate this from just being a knock-off of OOT.

Overall - 6

I’m not really certain who to blame for the failure of this game. Is it Rareware’s fault for following too closely the beaten path of OOT? Or is it Nintendo’s, for prying midway through development and getting Star Fox jammed into the game, probably where it didn’t belong? I can’t help but wonder what Rareware might have come up with if Nintendo had not intervened. Once again, we see that two companies working together don’t always come up with something that is the sum of their talents. Star Fox Adventures is an unmoving and entirely forgettable experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 02/19/03, Updated 08/06/03

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