Usually when I replay games I tend to stick to the classics, titles that score 9.0 or above. I have precious little time to play games that I have to make sure I’m always playing something worthwhile but every now and again I get the urge to load up something lesser, a game that I would merely describe as ‘good’. My latest replay is one such occasion, 2002’s Starfox Adventures.
This game had a fairly unusual development. It started life as Dinosaur Planet, Rare’s answer to The Legend of Zelda, a 3D action adventure title for the N64 but never made it to the platform due to a new generation-transition taking place before development cpould be completed. The title moved on to the newfangled Gamecube but underwent more than a graphical makeover when Nintendo approached their developer, liking the anthropomorphic charcter style to ask if they could make it a Starfox game. Rare agreed and the game’s hero, Sabre was replaced by Fox McCloud, the heroine, Krystal was morphed into another anthropomorphic fox and the title eventually changed to Starfox Adventures, becoming the third game in the series although it shares little in common with the other titles.
The game opens with Krystal searching Dinosaur Planet for answers about the extinction of her people riding a Cloudrunner pteradactyl. An encounter with a strange, flying galleon causes her to drop her staff before she lands on the vessel and meets General Scales, nasty boss of the Sharpclaw army. After escaping him she flies to the Krazoa Palace, answering a distress signal. At the palace she learns from several injured Earthwalker Triceratops dinosaurs that the place was attacked by General Scales who sought the power of the Krazoa Spirits, which, in reaction to the attack where dispersed across the planet. Krystal manages to retrieve one but is then trapped by a mysterious unknown being. Soon afterwards the Starfox Team minus Falco receieve a job from General Pepper who explains the predicament of Dinosaur Planet, large pieces of which have actually broken away from the surface into orbit. Fox flies down and soon learns that this is because General Scales has removed the four Spellstones from the Force Point Temples breaking the seal on the terrific magical energy contained in the planet, an energy so strong it is constantly pushing the planet apart. It’s up to Fox to retrieve the Spellstones and save both Krystal and Donosaur Planet.
It’s a big departure for the series having Fox step out of the cockpit for most of it. There are still some Arwing missions in there but the vast majority of time will be spent on foot exploring the planet, fighting bad guys and tackling puzzles. The game’s structure runs like this. Each of the four Spellstones is located on one of the orbiting regions that have seperated from the planet. Upon finding them they will open the gateway for him at which point he must return to his Arwing and fly a brief on-rails approach to the orbiting location. After landing he negotiates the many traps and puzzles and defeats a boss to claim the Spellstone before returning via the Arwing to the planet and taking it to its corresponding Force Point Temple. Then he will have to track down a Krazoa Shrine where he will have to undergo a challenge to free a Krazoa Spirit which must in turn be taken back to Krazoa Palace. Then the whole process repeats. Much of the gameplay revolves around Krystal’s staff which Fox finds early on. Aside from handling combat the staff can be imbued with a number of useful powers from firing projectiles to causing minor earthquakes. The staff has a power gague that can be refilled by collecting colour-coded energy crystals. You are also accompanied by Prince Tricky, a young Earthwalker to whom you can give a number of commands such as to find buried treasure or breathe fire on enemies or objects that need to be burned. Each time you command tricky his energy will be depleted a little and you will have to keep his stamina up by feeding him GrubTub fungus, little mushrooms that hop away from you and must be stunned to collect. Tricky basically acts like Navi in The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time.
And that’s a pertinent point to bring up because this game owes a real debt to the 3D Zelda franchise. The open-eneded overworld structure and dungeon-driven gameplay bears a close resemblance to Link’s adventures and the similarities don’t stop there. Many of the puzzles are borrowed from Zelda such as block-pushing target-shooting and wall-bombing, you can assign abilities to a shortcut button, not to mention the staff’s energy gague looks and acts a lot like Link’s magic meter. And most blatantly of all Zelda’s famous ‘puzzle-solved’ fanfare is copied note for note and used for the exact same purpose. But there’s one way in which the game isn’t much like Zelda. It’s nowhere near as good.
Starox Adventures is at best a reasonably varied romp through gorgeous landscapes, at worst a bloated, repetitive drudge with next to no gameplay merit. More than half of the puzzles and challenges in the game revolve around fetch quests. More often than not in order to progress you’ll need to find something and return it to its proper place, discovering any such object activates just about the most stupid ‘item-foun’ animation in gaming history and you have to watch it again and again. The environments themselves aren’t teribly well-designed, dominated by a lot of featureless corridors and a strange quirk in which waypoints feature a symmetrical design forcing you to pass by performing the exact same action whether you’re coming or going. You’ll have to revisit many locations to perform a lot of the same tasks and there’s tons of boring backtracking. The combat looks pretty flasy but is in reality rather shallow with Fox’s handful of staff combos handled entirely by the A button. The standard Sharpclaw enemies have a habit of letting you take them all out one at a time, even when there’s five or six surrounding you they attack one by one. The Arwing missions are short and pretty weak, capturing none of the frantic, intense action of Lylat Wars. The story isn’t great either. The idea of bits of the planet breaking off into orbit is cool but there’s not much more to it than that and General Scales isn’t a very threatening viallain. Worse is the painfully bad script and laughable voice acting, much of which was done by the Rare dev-team. A lot of characters have fairly cheesy regional British accents which might be oddly amusing if not for the atrocious delivery of the cliched lines. After Lylat Wars’ legendary writing and voice work it’s a real downer. Oh, and Prince Tricky is really annoying too.
Sounds like a stinker doesn’t it? Well don’t let the game’s many flaws put you off because it’s not in fact a bad game. There’s a decent bit of variety, with decent vehicle sections, including a couple of places where you ride dinosaurs as well as some first person shooting challenges. The gameplay, whilst totally unoriginal works perfectly well, Fox is responsive and quick, the controls are tight, the combat smooth and the various powers and commands all work well. The quiet, understated score perfectly evokes the tribal motif of the world although there are no real standout tunes and the sound effects are decent enough. It may be reptitve but having Zelda as your main influence is no bad thing and many of the puzzles are decent.
There’s even one way in which the game surpasses Zelda. The item selection interface that has always necesitated frequent pausing and unpausing of Zelda games is handled with the C stick. Flicking it opens up the inventory menu which has three columns, one for the various items you have gathered, another listing your staff powers and a third for Tricky’s commands. You switch between the coloumns by titlting left or right on the C stick and scroll through the options by tilting up or down. To choose an option you press A or you can press Y to assign it to that button for a shortcut. All this is done in real time without pausing the game and streamlines the experience in a way that Zelda is only just getting round to doing in Skyward Sword. Starfox Adventures also manages to nail down some of the atmpsohere that Zelda is famed for with locations like Moon Mountain Pass and Krazoa Palace proving nice and moody. Some of the dungeons are also pretty nice to explore, particularly Cloudrunner Fortress.
But there’s one aspect of game design in which Starfox Adventures really excels, the graphics. The game boasts seriously pretty visuals, a wide colour-palette brings Dinosaur Planet to life with brilliantly detsailed textures and character models. If the camera zooms in you can see Fox’s fur swaying in the breeze, defeated enemies disappear in a blaze of gorgeous purple light, indeed the lighting is fantastic throughtout painting a vivid sense of reality about the pretty locations. This game is neartly ten years old but it still looks absolutely great and surpasses most Wii games in the looks department. It’s technically impressive too. Most of Dinosaur Planet is one great big environment free to explore from Moon Mountain Pass to Cape Claw with large environments linked by long corridors. It’s in these corridors that the game does its loading with a loading spike noticeable by slight, forgivable glitches. Very impressive, at least for 2002.
Starfox Adventures is a story of highs and lows then. It looks superb and plays well enough, offering some decent variety but is nevertheless repetitive and sometimes lazily designed with little of real value to distinguish it. That said it always manages to be engaging. The difficulty level could be better with only occasional spikes in the challenge, such as the Test of Fear and there are almost no side quests to speak of, which is strange given the open ended design of the world and the fact that it only takes about ten hours to complete. Still, somehow this game is always likeable and inviting, and although it’s a major departure for the series I don’t think there’s anything wrong with focusing the Starfox story on a single planet. It’s not like it was a permanent change and the series’ mythology is developed fairly well.
Presentation – 7
The visual angle is outstanding but it’s all let down by a terrible script and hopeless voice acting.
Gameplay – 7
Everything works well but there’s just not that much to it.
Graphics – 10
Simply gorgeous throuhgout. One of the prettiest games on the Gamecube.
Sound – 7
A well judged tribal soundtrack is marred by that damned voice work.
Difficulty – 6
Generally a breeze with only the occasional challnege slowing progress down.
Longevity – 6
Not the longest game out there and not much to do after it’s over but there’s a bit of replay value.
A serviceable action adventure that fails to live up to its lofty ambition but is nevertheless quite entertaining.
out of 10