Star Fox Adventures fails to convince fans and outsiders not because it presents Fox and his crew out of their natural habitat, but because it amounts to little more than a good adventure game that stumbles a lot and never establishes its own character
The last title to be released as a result of the historic and fruitful partnership between Nintendo and Rare, Star Fox Adventures is also a very weird detour for the intergalactic mercenary squadron of anthropomorphic animals. Born as a new property titled Dinosaur Planet, whose development had started as a Nintendo 64 effort, the game saw – with a good slice of its construction concluded – its target system become the soon-to-be-released Gamecube and the characters of the space-shooting franchise be imposed on its design team.
As such, not only did it receive the honor of being one of the new platform’s first major releases, but it also had to manage the expectations of a very dedicated fanbase. After all, with two popular installments on its back, the Star Fox franchise had – by then – established itself as beloved, fun, and addictive take on the flying on-rails shooting genre. And with Star Fox Adventures, the gang was about to be thrown quite far away from the environment in which it had built its name, making the entry’s acceptance among the series’ most ardent followers turn into a considerable challenge.
For Nintendo and Rare, Star Fox Adventures was the end of a cycle that included the release of a sequence of games that held outstanding quality; so much, in fact, that it was from the hands of the British studio that the Nintendo 64 received at least half of its strongest titles. And, in a way, this final chapter of the association is a testament to how Rare was a gaming powerhouse during its time as a Nintendo second-party.
The title’s graphics are astonishing: characters move with stunning fluidity, scenarios boast excellent artistic design, animations are so finely done that even the protagonist’s fur looks natural, and the overall visuals – raking among the system’s best with some ease – still hold up. Meanwhile, its soundtrack, penned by the usually brilliant David Wise, may not be as strong as that of his most acclaimed works, but still clicks via the composer’s signature usage of ambiance and organic sounds. Furthermore, there are no hiccups whatsoever to be found in aspects such as controls and camera angles, which are flawless.
Nevertheless, Star Fox Adventures does not soar as highly as its background and technical proficiency indicate it could have, and that is not because one may have trouble accepting Fox’s new role as a ground adventurer, which is easily done, but due to minor shortcomings that appear in many of the game’s facets and that end up amounting to a significant pile of issues. The story itself, which gels both the lore Rare had built for Dinosaur Planet and the Lylat System, where Star Fox takes place, is slightly problematic. It starts when Krystal, a vixen, receives a distress call from Dinosaur Planet.
She heads into a local temple and is told by a wounded Styracosaurus of the attack executed by the evil General Scales, who intends to rule the planet. Upon learning that the war could be won if she were to gather six powerful spirits and return them to the temple, she decides to set out and look for them. Sadly, she is attacked by an unseen villain and is imprisoned inside a crystal. At the same time, somewhere else in the galaxy, the Star Fox team receives a call from General Pepper informing them of the conflict on Dinosaur Planet, which has been so damaged four of its regions have broken apart and now float in orbit. Short on cash, they accept the quest and Fox lands his Arwing on the surface.
In its setup, Star Fox Adventures has a bit of trouble integrating the parts that form it. The problem does not lie in the joining of Star Fox with the numerous charming, and sometimes threatening, dinosaur tribes that inhabit the planet, for they do come together nicely. The issue comes in how the saving of Dinosaur Planet itself, which is done by acquiring four important relics, and the rescuing of Krystal, achieved by collecting the spirits, are not smoothly united, because even though they exist in the same adventure, they never stop feeling like disjointed parts until the quest’s last act.
Additionally, and also related to setting, there is how Star Fox Adventures, in the omnipresent voice acting that it embraces, has difficulty in finding a tone, as it seems to be unsure whether it wants to go for the dangerous and epic or for the light-hearted and goofy, and it winds up missing both marks, as when it goes for the former it sometimes sounds cheesy, and when it goes for the latter it occasionally comes off as exaggerated.
In gameplay, although not excellent, Star Fox Adventures is far more solid. Its title as well as its construction under the supervision of Nintendo signal that it holds the company’s major adventure franchise, The Legend of Zelda, as its greatest inspiration. And every minute of its fifteen-hour running time confirms that suspicion, because that influence is noted in everything from the tiniest of its details to the biggest of its mechanics.
In relation to the little aspects, there is how Fox jumps automatically; how his health gains a boost whenever he gets one of the relics he is after; how he can assign items or skills to the Y button; how the A button works as an action command; and how combats, which are visually appealing but generally dull due to how they degenerate into button mashing, gravitate around locking onto foes. At the same time, as far as the game’s largest features are concerned, there is how Fox’s quest in Dinosaur Planet is a pleasant mixture of exploration and puzzle solving; and how the character has numerous tools that he can use to solve the riddles that are thrown at him and to interact with the environment.
Yet, despite those glaring similarities, Star Fox Adventures goes about its business in its own way. Although it does have a couple of locations that work as dungeons, they are more like chains of puzzles than the mazes of astounding structural complexity of The Legend of Zelda. More importantly, the game is actually mostly devoted to wide explorable spaces of intricate design where players must interact with dinosaurs and perform activities to progress.
It generates an interesting brand that requires meticulous investigation of the area and the execution of tasks that include collecting items, battling foes, tackling time-based tests, solving puzzles, going through platforming segments, riding dinosaurs, participating in a couple of races, and more. If there is one area where Star Fox Adventures cannot be criticized is in the variety of gameplay scenarios it sports; the game is very flexible in the kinds of challenges that are presented to gamers, and all of them are well-implemented. That is not to say, however, that they are without points of contention.
Star Fox Adventures is competent at what it does, but sometimes competence is not enough, and that includes situations where a game chooses to position itself so closely to The Legend of Zelda. Its biggest problem, therefore, is that it emulates an established gameplay format very well, but it fails to find an asset that is notable enough to build an identity around. As a consequence, the quest is underlined by a nagging feeling that an extra layer of brilliancy is lacking. The game is fun; its tasks are varied; and dinosaurs, as pop culture has proven time and time again, are inherently cool.
Nonetheless, Star Fox Adventures never truly amazes. Its puzzles are solid, but rarely notable; its activities are entertaining, but always fail to leave a mark; and its action segments – including a handful of bosses that are very different from one another – are nice, but not spectacular. Moreover, the game also contains a few habits that qualify as annoying, like specific portions that blatantly work as padding; a few challenges that confuse cleverness for frustration and that have players repeating long sequences if they fail; and a good deal of dull backtracking, such as the two instances when Fox has to re-enter the game’s two temples to place the final pair of relics he acquires.
Despite the overall absence of defining traits that hampers it, Star Fox Adventures does find some degree of uniqueness via a few of its features. Firstly, there is Fox’s trusty staff, which serves not just as a weapon during combats, but also as a source of magic. As the adventure goes along, he will come across various mandatory upgrades that will give the tool new abilities, such as shooting fire balls, letting out an ice breath, performing a ground pound, and even disguising the hero as a SharpClaw – the tribe led by the evil General Scales.
Needless to say, it is through these skills that much of the puzzle-solving is done. Secondly, there is Tricky, a young Styracosaurus that will follow Fox around through pretty much the entire quest; and even if – in terms of dialogue – the infant dinosaur will hit all notes of annoyance one expects out of an immature partner, Rare does a pretty great job with his implementation.
Fox can command Tricky to breathe fire, stay in place, dig patches of dirt on the ground, and come to him. Fortunately, the last one is barely necessary, for the dinosaur is very effective when it comes to following the hero, and players do not have to worry about him at all. As it happens with the staff, Tricky’s skills are put heavily to use in exploration and puzzle-solving. Likewise, they are also accessed via a very efficient menu that appears on the right corner of the screen and can be fully navigated with the C-stick, therefore – much to the benefit of the adventure’s flow – not requiring that gamers pause the action in order to activate any ability.
The sole frustration related to Fox’s companion is the fact he has to be fed every once in a while, for when Tricky is hungry he will be unable to perform any of his assigned moves. Although the feeding is not necessary with enough frequency to be very annoying, players will have to always collect the abundant wild mushrooms that appear in the environments and contend with the occasional complaints about hunger the Styracosaurus will utter, making one wonder why the mechanic was implemented in the first place.
The final components that add a dash of personality to Star Fox Adventures are extracted from the titular franchise itself. Peppy and Slippy, who stay in orbit aboard the Great Fox, can be contacted at any time for extra intel about the adventure. While the former will display a map with a flashing icon indicating the location on the planet Fox must head to, the latter will give tips on what exactly needs to be done next. As such, pleasantly, Fox’s two partners completely obliterate any chances that players will ever get stuck.
The most important element that is borrowed from the Star Fox series, though, is the Arwing itself, because whenever Fox needs to reach one of the regions of Dinosaur Planet that were launched towards space, he will have to jump into his ship and go through traditional on-rails flying segments where he will have to shoot enemies, avoid obstacles, and – as his ultimate goal – collect a certain number of gold rings that will deactivate the force field of the location he is heading to.
In what is a nice turn, traveling with the Arwing requires the collection of fuel cells, which are scattered around the world, a twist that gives gamers incentive to do some extra combing through the environments. Nevertheless, as it happens with nearly all other aspects of the game, the flying is a respectable asset, but it does come with a few caveats. The segments are exciting, yet obviously undercooked, as it feels they were quickly put together in order to sprinkle a heavier degree of Star Fox into the package.
Besides, given Fox has to backtrack to some of the locations, the stages will have to be replayed; in most cases, that issue is not so bad, but the flying level that leads back to Dinosaur Planet has to be navigated at least half a dozen times, which is undeniably a bit too much. Truth be told, the game tries to make these replays attractive by presenting a board with top scores for each stage, but since there are no rewards whatsoever for reaching high numbers, the proposition is not exciting. In fact, Star Fox Adventures, in spite of being a game with a satisfying length, fails to provide any optional collectibles or considerable extra secrets to boost its value, which is a big omission for a game with such a large scope and appealing scenarios.
Star Fox Adventures is, therefore, irregular. On many fronts, it is a game that boasts visible qualities and a perceivable level of polish; nevertheless, when placed under a scrutinizing light, almost none of them remain unscathed. As such, while in many ways one is able to see that the always gifted hand of Rare was behind the construction of the title, it is not hard to realize the project was not among the smoothest and carefully carried out efforts the company put together during their partnership with Nintendo.
Due to that, the last note coming out of that association is somewhat out of tune, signaling that the closing of an era was indeed fast approaching. In the end, Star Fox Adventures fails to fully convince fans and outsiders alike not because it presents Fox and his crew out of their natural habitat, but because it amounts to little more than a good adventure game that stumbles a lot and never truly establishes its own character.