…Tedium, Thy Name is Andross
Long, Long ago, a game by the name of Dinosaur Planet was being developed by Rare for the Nintendo 64. It was to be a game about Krystal, a blue-haired fox, and her companion Sabre on their mission to save Dinosaur Planet. During development, Shigeru Miyamoto said that the resemblance between the anthropomorphic characters in this new IP and those of the Star Fox series were striking. Soon after, the game was reworked to include the Star Fox brand and the result would eventually become a launch title for the Nintendo GameCube. The game received much praise when it released in September of 2002. It was favorably compared to similar games in the Legend of Zelda series, but some said it was too much of a departure from classic Star Fox titles, which up to this point only included critically acclaimed rail shooters.
It’s been twelve years since the release of Star Fox Adventures. Does it live up to the original hype? How has the black sheep of the Star Fox IP held up over time? Read on and you will find out. This review is based on a blind playthrough. I completed the game in 15 hours, 36 minutes, and 33 seconds with 99% completion (I missed a Cheat Token in the final quarter of the game)..
WARNING: This is a complete review of Star Fox Adventures. There will be spoilers.
Star Fox Adventures | Story
The game opens up with a down-on-its-luck Star Fox Team roaming space looking for something to do. Falco left, Slippy’s useless, and the Great Fox is practically scrap. General Pepper radios in and asks them to investigate Dinosaur Planet, a world ravaged by a recent war. several large pieces of the planet have been torn off and are now orbiting the planet. Being a mercenary, Fox agrees to restore the planet, for a fee of course. Meanwhile, a young blue-haired vixen named Krystal is infiltrating the space galleon of General Scales, the evil tyrant responsible for the destruction of Dinosaur Planet. Krystal’s battle with Scales results in her defeat, but she escapes. She finds her way to Krazoa Palace, a temple dedicated to the ancient Krazoa spirits. During her exploration she discovers that Scales has recently plundered the temple, defeating the mighty Earthwalker tribe who are sworn to protect it. Deeper inside, Krystal locates one of the six missing Krazoa spirits, but ends up being frozen inside a crystal after returning it to the antechamber on the roof.
Fox eventually learns that in order to restore the planet he must retrieve four sacred Spellstones that were stolen by General Scales and his Sharpclaw tribe as well as the five remaining Krazoa spirits. Once the Spellstones are returned to the Force Point Temples and the spirits are returned to Krazoa Palace only then will Dinosaur Planet be whole. Along the way Fox will interact with the leaders of the many tribes that inhabit Dinosaur Planet who will aid him. Decent story, yeah? Unfortunately, as the game progresses the characters become less and less involved and their motivations and actions become less and less believable.
A huge problem with this game is the lack of flow in the story. It ends without a climax. After all of the running around, you find out that Andross was channeling the power of the spirits through Krystal in order to revive himself. General Scales is the antagonist from frame 1 until the cutscene before the final boss, but the game goes out of its way to rob you of a final confrontation with Scales. Inside the final Spirit’s shrine Scales pops out and reveals he had the spirit the whole time. Just as it’s about to come to blows inside an arena, a disembodied voice insults Scales and commands him to give you the spirit, to which he complies. General Scales even admits he has no idea who the voice is and has no reason to do what it says, but does anyway. I would also like to note that a boss fight with Scales actually starts after the cutscene, but if either of you connect with an attack the cutscene with the voice takes place. Afterward the Sharpclaw are cheering, seemingly for Fox. Fox, by the way, manages to vaguely recognize the voice, despite the owner (Hint: It’s Andross) having a different voice actor in every game. I would think that if Fox could identify the voice the player might be able to as well. Otherwise, why say it?
Star Fox Adventures | Characters
After a brief introduction following the Krystal section, which serves as a tutorial, Fox will find Krystal’s magic staff and befriend the Earthwalker tribe’s prince, Tricky. For some reason, Tricky, although sentient, is treated like a dog throughout the entire game. He learns commands, must be fed, and comes when called. His mother, the Queen Earthwalker, seems to be perfectly fine with this arrangement, as are the rest of the NPCs that casually watch as Fox treats him like some inferior species. I’m pretty OK with this because Tricky is quite possibly more annoying than Navi from Ocarina of Time. More on that in a later section.
The characters’ problems and motivations are shaky at best. In the coastal area, a large Brontosaurus requires that you retrieve all of his gold bars that he buried in the sand all over the coast because he forgot where he put them. Another example of this is the queen of the Cloudrunner tribe. When you initially rescue her Tricky responds to her thank you by making some racist comment about her Tribe. According to the two of them, the Cloudrunners and Earthwalkers have been at odds for a while, but despite Tricky’s behavior, she’s 100% on board with helping you retrieve the sacred artifact (a Spellstone) and will help you any way she can. What is her motivation for trusting me? Why even believe I’m there to help her or that I’ll use the Spellstone to help her people?
All of the leaders are like this, despite some of them obviously being very grumpy or borderline antisocial. The leader of the SnowHorn tribe is seemingly able to sacrifice his only daughter (and heir) to the Sharpclaw because she gave them the Spellstone in exchange for the lives of the remaining SnowHorn. The only people who make any sense in this game are Fox (who is motivated first by money and then by hot Vixen tail), General Scales (Who desires power and wants to rule the planet by fear), and Queen Earthwalker (who just wants to restore the planet). Even Krystal, who probably says maybe 20-30 lines in the whole game makes little sense at times. When you rescue her at the end of the game (prior to the final boss) She cares nothing for you, grabs her staff out of your hand, and attacks the Krazoa god that you spent the entire game reviving in order to save her. Then, during the ending it’s implied that she has the hots for you. Maybe I’m too judgmental, but what kind of character does a complete heel-face turn like that without a reason?
Star Fox Adventures | Sound & Music
The music is by far my favorite part of the game, although that isn’t saying much compared to the rest of the game’s problems. It’s pretty atmospheric rather than melodic most of the time, which reminds me a lot of Secret of Evermore. Some of it is used for (what I can only describe as) comedic effect. When Fox first sees Krystal trapped at the top of Krazoa Palace it starts playing what is essentially porn music. He admires how beautiful she is and then notices the Krazoa spirits and exclaims “How can I get mine in there?!” I took this as literal as possible. The credits theme is pretty good too. Among the unused tracks for the game are remixes of the Star Fox main theme and Area 6 (SF64) which sound pretty good, but I prefer the original’s orchestral style.
The voice acting is another thing entirely. It’s pretty mediocre for a video game, although I will admit my opinion this is biased because the standards for the industry have risen dramatically in recent years. It’s definitely not as bad as Mega Man 8 or Resident Evil, but the bar is pretty low on this one. Tricky is the biggest offender of this. He follows you around for the majority of the game, begging you to feed him, slow down so he can catch up, or to do something productive because he’s bored. This happens too often, comparing to Navi’s “Hey, Listen!” Unfortunately for the player, Tricky is necessary to solve puzzles and you can’t just put him away like you can Navi. “Come on Foooooox, I’m Hungry!” is etched into my Parietal lobe.
Star Fox Adventures | Graphics
As I explained earlier, Star Fox Adventures started out as a Nintendo 64 game, but was reworked to be a launch title for the GameCube. This game is definitely in the top bracket for GameCube games. This is very impressive for a launch title. Other than having high standards, there are several key aspects that added a little something extra and you can’t help but notice. Fox and Krystal stand out from the environments they traverse because their models contain a high level of detail. Their fur is actually rendered in real-time as well. Because of this, the changes in lighting caused by the game’s fairly accurate day/night system make them stand out. Despite the detail, the game has almost no load times, which stands out compared to other disc-based games. Also, unlike a lot of games for the time, Star Fox Adventures includes a widescreen mode. Graphically, this causes the game to age a little better. This is objectively the best part of the game.
Star Fox Adventures | Gameplay
Unlike traditional Star Fox games, Star Fox Adventures is in the action-adventure genre. The majority of the game has the player controlling Fox on foot, wielding a magic staff instead of a blaster. The game borrows many aspects from the Legend of Zelda series but the execution is questionable at best. You have your equivalent of bombs, arrows, and rupees. As you progress, you’ll unlock more powers for your staff and find more miscellaneous items that will enable you to overcome obstacles and continue the game. Some of the staff upgrades serve a dual purpose, allowing you to solve puzzles but also enhance your combat abilities. For instance, the blaster upgrade can be used to activate switches at range or damage enemies while the ground quake upgrade can hit large pressure plates as well as topple over large enemies. The problem is your ability to switch between these on the fly is limited. In Ocarina of Time you have access to three item hotkeys that you can customize from the menu. In Star Fox Adventures you only have one. You don’t have to pause the game to access them, but it’s still a lot of menuing even in non-combat sections. The menu is controlled in real-time by the C-Stick and it’s divided into three subsections: staff powers, Tricky commands, and items (consumable and key items). Once you highlight the option you need you can assign it to the Y button or simply use it with the A button. Not surprisingly, as you acquire more items you will need to spend more time switching between them because you will need different items more frequently. This isn’t even counting all of the consumable items you have to manage throughout the game. Bomfodads, Scarabs, MoonSeeds, Bomb Spores, Fireflies: The list goes on.I feel that if this were relegated to a pause menu and I had access to the entire C-Stick to assign things to it would have been a much more enjoyable game.
In addition to the various items required to solve puzzles, Fox will also need to utilize Prince Tricky’s Sidekick commands. Tricky can dig for hidden items, use his flame breath to destroy flammable obstructions, and stand on platforms or pressure plates for you. In order to obey you, Tricky must eat blue mushrooms, his favorite food. Blue mushrooms are always around where you might need Tricky so you’ll never have to worry about finding some. However, what purpose does it serve to have to require them at all? Tricky can eat up to five mushrooms at once and you can hold up to fifteen in your inventory. That’s more than enough to use Tricky for one, possibly two dungeons. Aside from being needy and annoying Tricky is also solid, enabling Fox to stumble around him when you are traveling to and fro or lining up a jump. If you run too far ahead of Tricky or jump some platforms/climb a ladder he also has a tendency to teleport to you, compounding the problem.
Aside from solving puzzles, Krystal’s staff is the primary means for Fox to deal damage to enemies. Spamming the A button and hitting an enemy results in a combo attack. It typically takes two combos to take out most enemies. As you approach enemies with your staff out, Fox will automatically target the closest enemy. Instead of moving in the direction of the joystick you’ll strafe around them. While in this mode, using the roll button in combination with directionals will result in various evasive moves. Combat in Star Fox Adventures is very simple and rather slow because you have very few Area of Effect options, slow menuing for choosing different staff abilities, and the enemy AI has “Mook Chivalry,”. By the time I got far enough to realize how pointless normal enemies were, I began ignoring enemies and the auto lock-on actually became a hindrance.
Space combat serves as a means of transportation, but the gameplay in these sections is unlike anything in the main game and is a severe downgrade in quality and depth compared to the series’ previous game, Star Fox 64, released over five years earlier. The graphical detail might be comparable, but you can tell that Rare knew this wasn’t as important as the core game. The Arwing cannot charge and the dual laser upgrade only increases the size of your projectile, but I believe all of the enemies die in a single hit, whatever increased damage it might deal is minimal. The objective of each Arwing stage is to fly through a specified number of gold rings before the end. As you progress, this number increases, but each stage has to be replayed multiple times as you backtrack as part of the story and repeated stages have the same ring requirement. I didn’t find any of these stages difficult and rather than serve as a fun way to break up the game play, seemed more like a way to pad the game’s length.
The gameplay follows a pretty traditional flow, but unlike Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask, I always felt very limited. Whenever you acquire a new staff power or item pretty much only one area opens up. There are very few optional parts of the game and most of them are found through natural objective-based gameplay, but aside from that you just go from A to B to C to D. Some of what could have been optional upgrades are either necessary just as you can acquire them or a seemingly useless item you get early is only usable in one area. The game has quite a lot of backtracking, a standard amount for any game in the genre, but because of the linear design the backtracking actually feels more tedious than in a game that has more of it. When you have to go back through Hyrule Field for the 10th time you remember where there’s a cliff you can use the hookshot for and three more places where you can bomb that weren’t on the way, etc. In Star Fox Adventures backtracking doesn’t help me discover more, it just attempts to create the illusion that the game is bigger than it is. This is evidenced by my completion time during a blind playthrough (with 99% completion). Part of the reason for this is a faster second half. There are four Spellstones but only two Force Point Temples. When you return to a Force Point Temple most of the puzzles are done shy of a few new ones (of a similar theme) in a deeper section unlocked with whatever upgrade you got last.
Star Fox Adventures | Misc Highlights & Flaws
This section details a few gripes I have that are significant enough to mention but either don’t fit in another section or detail a singular event that doesn’t happen often.
Star Fox Adventures features only four bosses. While the number is a little low for a game this size, the problem are the bosses themselves. The first one is typical enough. You do everything you were taught to do by the game’s mechanics. It goes downhill from here though. The second boss of the game is almost a direct copy of King Dodongo from Ocarina of Time. The final two bosses of the game are both rail shooters.
The first looks like Doom’s rendition of a Red Arramer from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and the final one is Andross himself. The fights are fine enough in a vacuum, but Rare makes the preceding parts of the game not required. Think the final bosses of the many games you have played. They typically have multiple phases or forms, one of which is an epic cinematic masterpiece that makes the main character look like a total badass, but the remaining phases incorporate everything you’ve learned while playing. This is accomplished by having boss refights or cameo appearances from earlier bosses or being designed around effective use of the equipment/powers you get throughout the game. As a result, your previous accomplishments actually mean something because they actively prepare you for the final encounter the game is culminating toward. Star Fox Adventures gives you the final boss you wanted (General Scales), takes it away, and replaces it with an encounter barely worthy to be on the easy path on the way to venom.
The lighting in dark areas made it very hard to tell what was going on. Nighttime was annoying sometimes, but I’m referring to the pitch-black places that require fireflies to see. In these areas the fireflies barely let you see a character length or two around the character. I spent ten minutes on a short section where I had to carry an explosive barrel to a cracked wall and blow it up. By the time I figured out how to walk I had memorized the path and the fireflies were actually useless because they barely illuminate anything. Fortunately there are only a handful of these sections in the game.
Some of the dialogue has no voice actor or character attached to it. It’s not as simple as a text box telling you how an item works. The tutorial section with Krystal contains lines of dialogue of some arbitrary text telling you what to do. The Krazoa Spirits also don’t have voice acting, even wispy. While not a huge deal, it keeps the player at a distance, always painfully aware they’re playing a game. It’s like watching a movie with the audio commentary turned on, constantly reminding you that every scene is crafted for your amusement, for better or worse.
Star Fox Adventures is a relatively easy game, but one particular spot frustrated many games more than a decade ago. Each time you meet a Krazoa spirit you must complete a minor dungeon and then pass a test of some sort to prove your worthiness. These tests represent a positive trait such as combat prowess, observational skills, memory, and button mashing (Strength). The fourth of these tests is called the Test of Fear. It’s a essentially a QTE where you watch a cutscene of monsters trying to frighten Fox. During this you must do your best to keep a constantly moving red notch within the center of a slider bar. Each time Fox is scared the notch will move to one side and you must hold the analog stick in the opposite direction in order to return it to the center. Hold it too little and the next scare might push it out before you can react. Hold it too long and you might risk pushing the notch out yourself. Should the red line leave the green area the test ends in failure and you are teleported back to the beginning of the mini-dungeon and the puzzles are reset. Each attempt requires you to solve the puzzles again and return to the antechamber. While it only took me 4-5 attempts to beat this, it was frustrating because each attempt was separated by minutes of monotonous puzzle solving. The difficulty of this test is several levels higher than anything else in the game, including the final boss. My advice for this section is to completely ignore the cutscene (cover it or turn down the volume if you have to) and only react to the movement inside the slider bar. You will need intense concentration to “overcome” your fear.
Star Fox Adventures | Break Down
- Fitting music (With some high note tracks thrown in)
- Negligible load times
- Amazing graphics for a GameCube launch title
- Widescreen mode
- Second half feels less boring?
- Muddled menus
- Linear gameplay with high levels of backtracking
- Only one “real” boss. Final boss undermines everything the game teaches
- Simple AI, Simple Combat
- Weird story holes (character motivations, inconsistencies)
- Crude space combat compared to Star Fox 64
Star Fox Adventures | Rating & Final Thoughts
Star Fox Adventures
2 out of 5
One day after this game was released, Rare’s acquisition by Microsoft was finalized. The company produced a legacy of amazing games during the late 90’s. Part of this rating is based on the company’s previous accomplishments; Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing and Battletoads to name a few. Each game in this list is of a different genre and all of them were executed very well. Compared to those, this game falls short in many ways. It has nice graphics, above average music, and fast loading times. The other aspects of this game, while ranging from mediocre to above average, were plagued by poor design choices. Between the inefficient menuing, linear progression, and the spiky flow the gameplay and story had, Star Fox Adventures falls short as a Star Fox game, a 3D Legend of Zelda clone, and is a low note for Rare prior to leaving the House that Mario Built. As a game made in 2002 it was probably worth the 7/10 ratings it was given by mainstream critics, but there are other games, some new, some old, that did things much better. I regard Star Fox Adventures as a book on how not to do it.