Sunday, August 6, 2017

Star Fox Adventures

Star Fox Adventures
U.S. Release Date: September 23, 2002
The GameCube Archives Score: 8.0/10

I remember telling someone in the late 90's, "I'll take Nintendo and Rare over Sony and Squaresoft." I said this from a place of deep, Nintendo-fan pain, as I tried to console myself for the fact that the company who had  once made so many treasured games for Nintendo was then working exclusively for Sony. The only relief from this pain was the fact that Rare, a video game developer who seemed to pump out awesome titles such as Goldeneye and Banjo Kazooie like clockwork, was exclusive to Nintendo. And then, in the strange new world of post 9/11, they weren't. Nintendo sold Rare to Microsoft. Star Fox Adventures would be Rare's first game for the Nintendo GameCube...and their last game for Nintendo.

Who needs development studios, anyway, amirite?

And yet, shockingly, this isn't the only controversy surrounding Star Fox Adventures. The game actually began its life as Dinosaur Planet, a game in development for the Nintendo 64, which had nothing to do with Star Fox. It was changed to a Star Fox title at Nintendo's request, and eventually cancelled for the Nintendo 64 so that it could become a launch game for the upcoming GameCube. Many players were not only angered by the change--Rare suddenly having creative control snatched by Nintendo after so many years of great work--but by Rare's sale to Microsoft. On top of all of that, the first two Star Fox games were space shooters, but this was going to be a land-based adventure game! Reception to Star Fox Adventures unfairly suffered, and a meme that the game was nothing but a Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time clone, didn't help. I don't remember if any of these factors influenced me to completely ignore Star Fox Adventures' existence for nearly fifteen full years after its release date. Maybe I just didn't play it because of my neglect for my GameCube in general. Whatever the reason, I've played it now. Did it deserve all that vitriol?

"Hey, this doesn't look like space! This game must suck!"

SPOILER ALERT: Star Fox Adventures is a completely harmless game.
While the story might have worked better in its original, Star Fox-free state, it works just fine with Fox McCloud and friends tagging along. It's not like this is some complex, Shakespearean plot. There's a planet full of talking dinosaurs divided into tribes, and that planet has split apart due to the machinations of some sharp-teethed bad guys. The bad guys have also kidnapped a planet guardian named Krystal. Fox and his crew show up to set things right...and that's about it.
If anything, the story benefits from the humor of a fish-out-of-water "I'm in a hurry" Fox McCloud stuck dealing with a bunch of chilled-out dinosaurs. Fox is often humorously short and rude, and the fact that he is voiced by a Brit, faking an American accent, makes it even better. The game gives Fox a kid Triceratops sidekick named Prince Tricky, and I've heard that some people hate Prince Tricky, but those guys need to lighten up, because he had my seven year-old in stitches for the duration of the game.

I just cannot abide a triceratops sidekick in my game about an anthropomorphic space fox who can talk and fly a spaceship.

Rather than inflict the rest of the Star Fox crew on Dinosaur Planet's populace, favorites like Slippy and Peppy offer advice from the orbiting Great Fox starship. Honestly, this is comfort food for the long time Nintendo fan, and I'm not sure why anyone today would have a problem with it. Star Fox Adventures doesn't change the world, but it is quite fun, and a great technical display of the GameCube's graphical and musical capabilities.
First, it's bright and beautiful, full of color. Fox's fully-animated fur looks great, 15 years later. The dinosaur denizens are finely detailed and move well, including those on the opposite end of a Starfox beatdown. Graphical slowdown rarely if ever occurs. The environments aren't huge, but the interconnectedness of the game's diverse world is impressive, featuring all the grasslands, swamps, magma-drowned valleys, and snowy hills one would expect from a game of this sort. There are even a few graphical curveballs, like a smoky, crater-pocked moon-like area, and a palace full of columns of quivering water. Overall, this is quite a nice looking game, featuring some of the better visuals the GameCube has to offer, particularly amongst its sunnier, brighter games.

Don't go chasing them, Fox. I have heard that is inadvisable. The rivers and lakes you are used to are more recommendable.

From an audio standpoint, Star Fox Adventures contains a great surprise: a David Wise-composed soundtrack. Wise composed much of the much heralded, much beloved soundtracks for the Donkey Kong Country series, and while this particular score isn't among his best work, it's still a solid, enjoyable musical experience. The Star Fox Adventures soundtrack is less percussive and atmospheric than Wise's Donkey Kong work, displaying some world music and African influence, with some light, upbeat chanting thrown in from time to time. My only beef with the game's score is the brevity of the tracks, though I am noticing this trend as I go through most of the GameCube's catalogue--perhaps this is a result of the GameCube mini-disc's lower memory capacity? Like, for instance, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, tracks rarely top the two-minute mark before they loop.
Star Fox Adventures is fully voice-acted, and while some might find the character speech a little hokey, I enjoyed it. The voices highlight Rare's UK roots, with dinosaur voices ranging from posh British, to a thick Scottish brogue, while Fox and his crew speak in American accents. I particularly enjoy Fox's slightly rude, "I'm in a hurry" tone, particularly as he sounds like a Brit, struggling with a "cool American accent," ala Jax from Sons of Anarchy. Also, all of the normal atmospheric effects; water running, wind blowing, footsteps, monster yells, and explosions are immersive, and as they should be.
Star Fox Adventures' gameplay is where all the controversy falls. This is only the third game in the Star Fox series, but by the initial fan reaction, you'd think it had a three-decade history that was being violated. Yes, this is primarily a 3D, third-person adventure game. It does contains some spaceship on-rails shooter action, but those segments are brief, and simplistic.  However, it is unfair to review anything through the lens of what you wish it would be. You must review what it actually is. Star Fox Adventures is a very competently made 3D adventure, with tight controls, and some truly challenging puzzles.  It is not insanely difficult, yet it doesn't hold your hand, and you will, unless you are some kind of gaming savant, die a few times.

But not on the short, ridiculously easy Arwing sections, where you will only die if you go to pee, and forget to pause.

The controls are Zelda-inspired to the extent that the game is in 3D, and you can lock on to enemies. There are only so many ways to configure controls in a game like this, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most influential games of all time. Of course any 3D adventure worth its salt is going to take a page from it. Contrary to popular opinion, though, Star Fox Adventures is not a direct Zelda rip-off. It is inspired by Zelda, and that's it. Star Fox runs around with a fighting staff, learning new attack moves, and picking up items that help him to progress. As he attempts to save the dinosaurs' planet, he'll fight bad guys hand-to-hand, solve various conundrums, like crate and switch puzzles, and even race vehicles, and shoot down enemies while riding on dinosaur backs. In this way, the gameplay is actually a bit more diverse than Ocarina, though more streamlined, with a plot and path that is more linear. Star Fox Adventures stays fresh throughout its 15-20 hours runtime, though, with each gameplay element not quite overstaying its welcome before the game moves on to something else. Most importantly, Star Fox Adventures is fun.

Especially this leaf-raking portion.

It has just enough sense of discovery, and performing combos while wailing on bad guys with Fox's staff is a blast. Utilizing Fox's sidekick, Prince Tricky, to stand on switches and burn through briars is enjoyable, unless you are a cynical and cold-hearted jerk who hates joy. The control scheme, as it's influenced by Zelda, is intuitive, and the game's camera, generally the bane of these types of game's existence, never gets out of hand.
I think 20 hours completion time for a 3D adventure game is the sweetspot, but I am an old curmudgeon who is frequently confused when I'm told about modern releases, "It's really boring until you get about 20 hours in," I'm told about many modern games. That's nuts. There are too many games in existence to play each one for 300 hours apiece...unless the game is Breath of the Wild, in which case, I am sorry for being a huge hypocrite. Star Fox Adventures takes between 15-20 hours to finish, and once I gunned down the final boss, I felt neither tired of the game, nor shortchanged by a too brief experience. There is no multiplayer, and the game isn't really set up for you to go back and rediscover secrets and collectibles--it really is quite a linear experience. The hub area does include a store run by a delightfully cranky proprietor, but there aren't really many extraneous objects to purchase with the game's easily acquirable currency, though an offered in-store mini-game is continuously entertaining, mainly because it is fun to get one over on old Grumpy Pants. His name is actually just "Shop Keeper," but I like Grumpy Pants better, mainly because, ironically, the Shop Keeper doesn't wear any pants...though he does creepily wear a tunic.

One of the few collectibles is a cheat which makes the game's subtitles look like gibberish. You may want to pass on that.

If you're a fan of the Star Fox world, but not extremely anal about which gameplay style is featured within it, you should give Star Fox Adventures a spin--likewise, if you're a fan of early 00's 3D adventure games, or adventure games in general. With so much talk focused on what it is not, and less on what it actually is, I'll go as far as to say Star Fox Adventures is one of the Nintendo GameCube's hidden gems, though I'd stop short of calling it a classic. If you go into it with fair expectations, Star Fox Adventures will treat you, now back to Breath of the Wild. I still have 500 more shrines to find.

Follow me, Tricky, I think Breath of the Wild is this way.

Bright, polished looking game, high in detail, but moves smoothly.
Music and Sound
Good David Wise soundtrack, some enjoyable voice acting, and fitting sound effects.
3D adventuring that works, even though it won't set the world on fire.
Lasting Value
Lasts just as long as it should, then it's done. Few extra items and cheats to collect, and no multiplayer.