Review Slew: Star Fox Adventures

Review SlewStar Fox Adventures starts strong but its rocky development cycle eventually catches up with it.

Rare. Rare is a company that, some would say, used to be obsessed with trying to emulate Nintendo. All one has to do is take a look at their library of games to see more than a few striking similarities. Donkey Kong Country seems to emulate Super Mario World. Diddy Kong Racing emulates Mario Kart 64. Banjo-Kazooie emulates Super Mario 64 (the game’s star character, Banjo, is even said to be a tribute to Shigeru Miyamoto, who plays the banjo in real life). For Star Fox Adventures, Rare chose to emulate the legendary classic, Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.

The premise is that you are Fox McCloud, leader of the Star Fox mercenary team. With the promise of money as bait, you answer a distress signal from the Dinosaur Planet (also known as Sauria), on the very edge of the Lylat system. Turns out, these guys are in a mess of trouble – sections of the planet have been detached and now float in space, orbiting the planet. The Spellstones have been stolen and scattered across the land. The King Earthwalker (the game’s name for a Triceratops) is missing. The big bad at the center of all this chaos and destruction is General Scales, leader of the Sharpclaw tribe and all-around mean guy. Scales, perhaps not surprisingly, wants to rule Dinosaur Planet with an iron fist and very few people are willing to let this happen. Most of them, unfortunately, are powerless to stop him – which is where you come in.

It’s not very hard to see the Zelda resemblance in the gameplay. Despite some projectile attacks, and some changes to targeting, this is, by and large, Zelda for furries. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that; the additions to the Zelda formula Rare makes in Star Fox Adventures are pretty good. Take, for example, Adventures answer to Zelda’s Navi. Navi is a fairy that would follow Link around and provide the player with useful information (while obnoxiously yelling at him, “HEY! LISTEN!”). In Star Fox, you have Prince Tricky – a small Earthwalker, with whom Fox can issue commands to. Tricky eventually learns the abilities to dig in the ground for hidden items, attack enemies, and more. Despite Tricky sharing some of Navi’s annoyances (he’ll urge you to keep moving or ask if you want to play fetch with him), he ends up becoming a more endearing character because of his more useful qualities – he does more than just flood you with walls of text about where to go next or how to overcome a certain puzzle.

The game also tends to be more linear – whereas Zelda more or less puts you in to what feels like a free roaming world, Star Fox Adventures shuttles you along to a variety of largely disconnected locations – sections of the planet that are floating freely in space that you must reunite. To reach these areas, you must fly to them in your Arwing, which is just about the only obvious connection to Star Fox that this game has. And when I mean you fly to them, I mean this very literally: you play a small, Star Fox 64-styled minigame where you pilot through a field of asteroids and debris to the floating hunk of dirt orbiting Dinosaur Planet. Another area where Star Fox Adventures shakes things up involves what you do once you arrive at one of these locations.

You see, in the game’s opening cinematic, you are given control of Krystal, who is trying to find out what happened to her parents. She has tracked them to Dinosaur Planet, and she foolishly confronts General Scales before being trapped by him. The only way to free her is by collecting Krazoa Spirits. The game alternates between the two – collect a Spellstone, then collect a Krazoa Spirit, and then collect a Spellstone again. Once collected, each must be returned to their respective temples: Spellstones go in Force Point Temples, and Spirits go in the Krazoa Temple. This ends up being a rather clever way to break up how dungeons are handled; everything tends to flow and blend together much more fluidly rather than Zelda’s usual “Wander around until you find a big cave with DUNGEON NUMBER SIX written above it”. There’s always a clear path of where to go next in Adventures.

Unfortunately, the game quickly begins to tumble down hill the moment you start. Despite the game beginning its life as a Nintendo 64 game, Star Fox Adventures feels remarkably unfinished; the closer you get to the end, the more the game feels like its held together by chewing gum and duct tape. The plot stops making sense, the overall quality of the dungeon design begins to spiral out of control, and there’s a general lack of polish that slowly creeps up on you. It all climaxes at the final boss encounter, which makes no sense whatsoever and feels like it was bolted on from an entirely separate game (and it no doubt was). The game just completely falls appart in the end and becomes a disappointing mess.

Which, in a way, makes sense, when you consider the game’s mysterious development cycle. You see, Star Fox Adventures began as a Nintendo 64 game simply called “Dinosaur Planet”. In Dinosaur Planet, you played as one of two characters: Sabre, a wolf boy who lived on Dinosaur Planet all his life, or Krystal, a feline girl who was orphaned on the planet after her homeworld was destroyed. Both Sabre and Krystal were raised by a wizard named Randorn. Saber and Krystal had their own quests and dungeons to explore. And whereas the plot for Star Fox Adventures is somewhat flimsy (basically just a paper-thin excuse to make Fox collect a bunch of junk), the plot of Dinosaur Planet was much deeper, and much more involved. In comparison, it reveals Star Fox Adventures to be hollow shell of what really was. Dinosaur Planet’s plot involved an ancient race of dragons, called the Kamerians, who created the Spellstones and were summarily worshiped as Gods. However, it is said that the Spellstones would be the key to the destruction of Dinosaur Planet. Decades later, one of the last remaining Kamerians, General Scales, sought to use the Spellstones in order to rule the planet. For centuries, the Krazoa had attempted to stop this from happening – and incomplete plot tidbits (found inside game files on the disc) revealed that the Krazoa, when focused from within the Krazoa Shrine, would form “The most deadly weapon in the Universe”. Bosses in Star Fox Adventures that were casually brushed off as “Mutants” were actually fully fleshed out characters; one such character, apparently a relative of General Scales (possibly his father), seemed to hint that the Krazoa were lying to Saber and Krystal for their own gains. Clearly, this was all a far cry from the “Collect all this stuff so you can face the final boss and save the planet, Fox!” plot we got in Star Fox Adventure.

Everything changed at E3 2000. Shigeru Miyamoto made a joke that Saber seemed to resemble Fox McCloud, and remarked that Rare should make Dinosaur Planet in to a Star Fox game. Somewhere, somebody decided to take him up on that offer – details are hazy regarding whether or not Nintendo asked Rare or if Rare was the one who was interested in the deal – but it happened. However, rumors surrounding the deal suggested that not everybody on the Dinosaur Planet staff was happy with the change, and to make matters worse, Nintendo was being simultaneously both strict on how to use the characters and sparse on the details regarding what made up the Star Fox Universe and its cast. After a change in platform and a number of delays, “Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet” dropped the subtitle altogether and hit shelves – mere weeks before Nintendo and Rare called it quits, and Rare moved over to Microsoft. You can almost smell the bad blood, can’t you?

The end result is that, while visually pleasing, Star Fox Adventures is simply an above average game that grows continually more disappointing the farther you push your way in to its depths. It is ultimately shallow, unpolished, and although it may not appear to be at first, it eventually becomes a very tedious, boring game; one that gives you very little incentive to continue. Don’t waste your time.