It took what seemed like centuries for UK-based software powerhouse Rare to finish development on Star Fox Adventures, but the time is finally upon us. Rare is giving their last hurrah as a Nintendo-exclusive development studio with Star Fox Adventures, and setting their sights on a pixel-shaded future with Microsoft’s Xbox. Originally, Star Fox Adventures (formerly known simply as Dinosaur Planet) was slated for release on the N64, but after considerable retooling, it is now fit for release on Nintendo’s 128-bit system. So the real question here is, was it worth the wait? Simply put, yes. While the bobble-heads at Rare have basically taken the fundamental dynamics of the recent Zelda games and produced an adventure that is highly reminiscent of Shigeru Miyomoto’s work, the end result is a collage of different play-styles that actually ends up being an incredibly satisfying journey. It may take some people considerable time to warm up to Fox McCloud’s new styling, but once you make it through the obligatory fetch quests and a few hours of lukewarm intermissions, you’ll be hopelessly addicted until you slam face first into the end credits.
Those expecting an experience akin to that of Fox’s past adventures should be glad that they’ve taken the time to read a review about the game before going out and purchasing it because Star Fox Adventures is nothing like the original Star Fox or Star Fox 64. Instead of using his trademark blaster, Fox utilizes a magical staff, and outside of a few tacked on old-school flying sequences, there is very little to represent his heritage of speed and technology. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Shigeru Miyamoto had a hand in this game’s creation, and that most certainly bodes well for anybody who isn’t blind, dumb or dead. The story takes place eight years after the events that led up to Andross being overthrown by the Star Fox team. Things haven’t been looking too promising for the team due to low demand for good paying missions requiring talented fighter pilots. But before too long, General Pepper requests Fox and Co. for a very special and high-paying mission involving a crumbling Dinosaur Planet and a world of needy inhabitants. Rare also threw in a damsel in distress, a few interesting plot twists, and tons of characters brimming with personality for good measure.
No matter how far-fetched and admittedly out of place the story becomes, one thing will be instantly identifiable: the gameplay. Rare has basically lifted the exact same play mechanics from the past two Zelda games, making for a deep yet simple control scheme. Fox can hack and slash with his magical staff in the same way Link does with his sword (though the combat dynamics are updated for maximum intensity), he can roll, and he can quickly access various items or map them to the Y button for faster access. Fox also locks onto enemies while in combat, and jumping is automatically triggered.
Of course, the various environments were developed with the control scheme in mind so you can expect for the Link-style gameplay to be put to full use, often requiring that you utilize multiple strategies and varying mindsets in order to progress. Dinosaur Planet is laden with tons of different locales ranging from crater-infested areas, ice and fire worlds, ancient temples, and quaint villages. ThornTail Hollow, populated with various intelligent dinosaurs, serves as the game’s hub world and allows you to access a myriad of other areas, though some locations call for Fox to jump into his freshly-fueled Arwing in order to reach.
Star Fox Adventures is an impressive undertaking, if only for the fact that Rare somehow managed to form a cohesive whole from the various locales, characters, and magical undertones by embedding an evolving storyline that makes the extensive traveling, interacting, and wizardry seem not only feasible, but also stylish in such an outlandish setting. Fox’s objectives are pretty clear from the get-go: free the captured Krystal from her prison by collecting six Krazoa Spirit, and save the planet by tracking down four Force Point Seals. But a means and an end are two separate things. While Fox may know what needs to be done, the process of actually doing it is never exactly what you would expect. Fox will need to make plenty of friends in order to “get the job done”, and his first acquaintance is a dinosaur child who also happens to be a Prince named Tricky. Once you rescue Tricky from the evil clutches of General Scale’s thugs, he will play the part of sidekick, and as you progress through the game, Tricky will learn new tricks and his powers will increase.
It’s to be expected that a game that so closely follows the control style of the Zelda series is going to be rife with a major dosage of puzzle solving. Yes, puzzle solving does factor pretty heavily into the experience and yes, there are even dungeon-style areas to work your way through. In this respect, Star Fox Adventures does an admiral job of presenting the player with set objectives and modifiable dynamics. It isn’t always clear what must be done in order to get past some of them, but it is almost always very rewarding once you figure them out. Some of the more interesting puzzles involve Prince Tricky, as he can be directly controlled or just prompted to perform helpful tasks like sitting on a trigger switch while Fox progresses ahead, breathing fire to melt certain objects, letting Fox know when an action can be triggered, or even digging up various items.
Besides borrowing heavily from one of the most ingenious franchises ever, Rare has gone with an astoundingly impressive visual design that rivals the best of the best in terms of graphical splendor. Every character in Star Fox Adventures, particularly Fox, has received the star treatment by a host of steady, incomparably talented hands. Fox’s fur is beautifully rendered, right down to the individual hairs sprouting in every direction on his face. The facial animation is unprecedented in terms of coming off looking genuinely natural. The environments are teeming with tons of tiny nuances and the texture quality on everything on-screen is superb. Every piece of proprietary rendering algorithms that the GameCube is capable of seems to have been taken advantage of to the max, which makes it all the more surprising that the frame-rate isn’t in a constant state of fluctuation, and instead stays well above adequate FPS the entire time.
As if solid gameplay and an outstanding visual presentation wasn’t enough, Rare also kicked it up a notch in the audio department, providing full Dolby Pro Logic II support. The host of musical additions is all wonderfully orchestrated, and some are extremely catchy. Voice acting is doubly excellent because not only is the talent behind the script more than capable of dishing out quality performances, but some of the dialogue is spoken in the form of dino-talk, a fully realized language with its own set of unique dynamics. (If you’re interested in learning dino-talk, you need look no further than the instruction manual.)
It took some patience but once I got to the candy-coated center of Star Fox Adventures there was no turning back. The sheer diversity of objectives, loads of entertaining mini-game activities, satisfying puzzles, interesting story, and likeable characters endeared me to the title irrevocably. It offers up a fairly lengthy quest, cashing out at around 25 solid hours of game-time. Rare made sure that gamers who stick with Star Fox Adventures get their money’s worth. BradyGAMES provided the strategy guide we used to haul-ass through the game in a timely manner, but even with detailed and illustrated instructions and advice on how to proceed in the most efficient manner, Star Fox Adventures proved to be well over 15 hours long. Props to BradyGAMES for such a comprehensive and easy-to-understand strategy guide, it made our job substantially easier. Keep in mind that while there are instances when the Zelda style of progression misses the mark, and there are occasionally frustrating puzzles in the game that tend to drag the experience down from time to time, at the end of the day Star Fox Adventures proves to be brilliantly constructed and a noble last effort from longtime Nintendo mainstay Rare.