Star Fox Adventures
“Do a barrel roll!” Those immortal words of wisdom were etched into my memory years ago. I didn’t just love the Star Fox series; I was borderline obsessed with it. There was Fox McCloud, flying a straight and pure course as the ace pilot of the Lylat system. He had a small team of rag tag flying buddies to back him up whenever something bad went down. And when the evil lord Andross reared his ugly polygon head, I enjoyed every moment of leading the Star Fox team to victory. With those fond adolescent memories afresh in my mind, I picked up Star Fox Adventures without hesitation. Unfortunately, the times have changed, and so has one of my favorite heroes.
In order to stay true with the continuum of the Star Fox storyline, this game takes place eight years after the defeat of Andross at the paws of the Star Fox team. The Lylat system has become complacent in these times of peace. With no threats to the solar system, the Star Fox team has become obsolete. Fox has become a little on the lazy side, Falco ditched the team, Peppy is getting senile, and Slippy…Well, Slippy is still annoying. Sadly, this once elite fighting force has become a band of space drifters, taking up whatever job they can possibly find. If things don’t shape up soon, they’ll be reduced to cleaning the floors at General Pepper’s office. Luckily for our downtrodden band of former pilots, a situation has arisen on Dinosaur Planet. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Apparently someone forgot to tell these folks that dinosaurs have been extinct for 65 million years. In any case, a group of dinosaur renegades called the Sharpclaw have attempted a takeover. It’s up to the Star Fox team to revive their old bravado and stop the fighting at Dinosaur Planet! And since there’s so much cash involved, Fox can’t wait to get his greedy little paws on an Arwing to blast the Sharpclaw into smithereens!
Just one catch, though. Fox doesn’t get to use his trusty Arwing to put an end to this new threat. He gets to use something far more interesting and unexpected: a stick. That’s right, he gets to hit dinosaurs with a stick in hopes of taking out the newest menace to the Lylat system. Oh yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Instead of handling all the dirty work by flying around the different planets, Fox is forced to ground his Arwing and do the adventure on foot. It’s up to Fox to get to Dinosaur Planet and stop the Sharpclaw through whatever means necessary and bring peace back to this war-torn planet…using a stick. Of course, he’ll have all his old buddies to give him advice, some new characters and amazing locales for his eyes to feast upon. But for old timers like me that have played through this series from its beginnings on the SNES, this jump from space flight to ground trekking can leave you disappointed right from the start.
I can deal with the stick issue. That can be forgiven. What can’t be so easily forgiven is how the stick is implemented throughout the game. Sure, the stick has a fair amount of versatility in Fox’s capable hands. It can be used as leverage for moving a heavy object or activating a switch. But other than that, the stick is useless most of the time. Fox can only do a forward swing with the silly thing if he’s alone. No action-packed combos, no awe-inspiring technical handling, just a simple forward swing. It’s almost if he’s trying to be a rookie Jedi or something. But if he’s faced with a few Sharpclaw thugs, he’ll break out with some fancy Matrix Reloaded moves and bash the baddies down to size. Unfortunately, even these cool attacks are only a matter of pushing the A button and watching the pretty graphics flash by. But other than the decent attack animation, the stick is essentially a tool that is used only for uncovering some hidden secret or advancing through a dungeon. It’s like the game developers tried to create a hack and slash game, then opted for puzzle solving at the very last minute. In the end, you’ll be wishing for at least some variation to Fox’s lacking arsenal.
Now I know you’ve all heard this by now, but I have to say it anyway: Star Fox Adventures reminds me of Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64. The same expanses of open areas, same concepts of towns, locations, shops, items, and exploration can be found in this game. Instead of spending his time blasting Sharpclaw scum out of the sky, Fox will be plodding around Dinosaur Planet completing objectives. Fox may have to find a specific item or meet a certain character, but he’ll have to search high and low to finish the job. There’s a neat little shop that sells items, but you have to go around collecting scarabs if you hope to make a purchase. And once you get that key item and use it for purposes intended, there’ll always be some new objective just waiting around the bend. Fox will make his way through various dungeons and figure his away around plenty of uninspired puzzles, and eventually come up with some new feature to his trusty stick or some other item. And so, Fox will keep going along this chain of objectives until everything’s accomplished. There’s no real freedom and a limited amount of exploration if you hope to advance further. The only way for you to even consider visiting a new locale is to complete the current objective and move on. Kind of sounds like a certain hero with an ocarina, doesn’t it?
And even the chain of objectives can be boring. Instead of massive, menacing dungeons, the stages of this game feel more like a nature walk. There’s usually nothing engaging but a few Sharpclaw hoodlums around the area. Sure, you’ll get to ride on hoverbikes and jump over a few lava pits. But it’s like you’re just ambling around an area, looking for a specific item or puzzle to solve. Unfortunately, most of these puzzles are usually basic and require only a fair amount of common sense in order to set everything right. Usually it’ll involve something with jumping from platform to platform, or pushing a well-placed block near an appropriate ledge. But since there are so few enemies around, you can explore the area to your leisure. And since Slippy can give you a basic walkthrough of the game in progress, there’s little chance that you’ll ever get off track.
Sadly, the only thing that is really beneficial about this game is the overall presentation. In their usual style, Rare have placed heavy emphasis on psychedelic graphics and vivid color effects. This game is incredibly enjoyable to look at. Dinosaur Planet may be in the middle of a crisis, but it’s still beautiful. The water, the trees, everything in this game is done with an eye for detail and appeal. While the water looks a little cloudy when compared to its Super Mario Sunshine counterpart, it still looks fresh and real. Also, Fox finally looks like he has real fur instead of tan polygons for a body. The dinosaurs are coated with realistic scales and have remarkably accurate designs. The lighting effects change as the day wears on. If you just stand still for a few minutes, you’ll notice that dusk starts to settle in. Eventually, the sunny planet will be blanketed in a thick layer of darkness. Also, the audio is done with a fair amount of attention. The music consists of a generic mix of jungle beats and bongo drums. All of the voice acting is done with crystal clear quality. Even though Peppy’s original voice actor is no longer with us, his sound advice still rings true. The only weird thing is that all the dinosaurs speak with a British accent. Maybe Fox’s translator is broken or something…In any case, Rare went out with a sparkly bang of wonderful graphics in a great presentation. It’s all these little minute details that add up to a bigger and better portrayal of Fox’s latest crusade, no matter how boring it may be.
Star Fox Adventures brings nothing new to the table of gaming. Actually, it kind of takes away from it. It’s levels and puzzles have little if any appeal. Its continual emphasis on completing tasks and finding items seems more of a tedious job than some fun gaming. The only saving grace of this game is Rare’s obsession with everything graphical. For all you graphic hounds out there, this game has some of the finest graphics ever seen on the Gamecube. But at what price do these fine graphics come? The pathetically rehashed hack/slash/puzzle solving style of gameplay does nothing to help this game. Whatever happened to that great pilot I once knew? You know, the one that could do barrel rolls with ease and could use a boost to speed through any oncoming obstacle? I want him back. This series needs a hero.