A solid and charming adventure
Nintendo's Star Fox franchise has been around since the Super NES days. Back then the polygonal graphics were state of the art and its 3D space shooting style of game play was beyond anything that was out for the consoles of the day. While the original Star Fox was a technical achievement, it wasn't until the N64's Star Fox 64 that it was firmly established as a solid franchise. Star Fox Adventures is only the third game in the series and the first one to appear on the GameCube and takes the series in a different direction.
Fox McCloud, leader of the interstellar mercenary group known as Star Fox, is commissioned by planet Corneria's military leader General Pepper to investigate the source of a distress call coming from Dinosaur Planet. It appears that the planet has some problems. The most obvious of these is the fact that chunks of the planet have broken away from it. General Pepper believes that a planetary cataclysm might be immanent, and he asks Fox to get to the bottom of what is going on. Upon arriving on the planet, Fox soon discovers that there is a power struggle going on between the various local dinosaur tribes. In order for him to complete his primary objective, he has to interact with these tribes in one way or another, and thus ends up getting embroiled in the conflict himself.
The game is heavily influenced by Nintendo's other adventure games. Playing mostly from the third person perspective, the game follows a pretty straightforward formula. You'll be talking to characters to get new quests, finding key items needed to advance, completing various mini-game challenges, and finally, fighting large bosses. These bosses might seem intimidating at first, but they all have a specific weakness that you will have to exploit in order to beat them. You will sometimes need to use your staff abilities to take them down, other times you have to rely on the environment. The boss fights of Star Fox Adventures are easily the best moments of the game. One boss in particular has you atop a flying platform while you chase down a flying mutant dinosaur. This plays out in classic rail-shooter fashion where you'll be madly firing at the boss while avoiding his attacks. Also, the environment has hazards you'll need to avoid at the same time. The result is a frantic mix of offense and defense that brings back memories of old-school shooters like Panzer Dragoon.
There are several areas of Dinosaur Planet that you will not be able to reach on foot. These areas are the chunks of planet that have broken away. You'll be using your Arwing to fly from the main planet to these floating chunks. These flying stages, while they are a lot of fun, are few and far between. For every three minutes of space shooting goodness, there's at least two hours of on foot action. Sure, it's disappointing, but it's easy to forgive since the adventuring part is so well done.
Thankfully, item fetching isn't overdone in this game. While you will be asked to collect a certain number of items to solve a puzzle, it's very rare that you'll have to get more than three of any given item. You won't be collecting random stuff just for he sake of doing so like in some games. You might be asked to find three pieces of fire weed to light the town beacons for example. This is a good thing, and a stark contrast to Rare's previous titles. Donkey Kong 64 being the most notable.
Star Fox Adventures' biggest flaw would have to be the erratic difficulty level of the tasks that you'll be performing throughout the game. These range from mildly challenging to incredibly simple. There's very little here that will pose much of a challenge to anyone who has ever played a recent action/adventure game. The simplistic puzzles and challenges could be passed off as a design choice catered to keeping the game accessible to younger children. This would be understandable, but it's doubtful that even a twelve or thirteen year old would have much difficulty getting through this game.
Having simple enemy AI doesn't help matters either. Monsters generally attack the same way every time. It doesn't take much to beat them either. Fox has many different attacks he can do with his Staff, but simply tapping the A button will get you through most fights. He has some very nice looking combos that he can pull off. Unfortunately the game gives you little to no reason to actually use them. Better monster AI and a slightly deeper combat system would have given the game that extra little bit of challenge which would have made up for the simple puzzles.
The game is paced extremely well, both in terms of game play and storytelling. You'll be going from one objective to the next quickly and smoothly. This is helped along by the way the game hides its load times so it appears that you're going from area to area seamlessly. Only when embarking on space missions is there any noticeable loading time, and even then, it's so brief that you wouldn't notice it.
Star Fox Adventures is a very good looking game. The environments you'll be trekking through are colorful and full of lush vegetation, and a lot of attention was paid to the details, but that's nothing new from Rare. Whether it's the rippling of water when Fox runs or swims through it, or the blowing grass, or the smooth day to night transition and changing weather effects, these small details all help to create a world that looks alive. The characters you'll be meeting up with are all well done. Given the size that some of these creatures are, they animate quite well. You'll sometimes see them idly munching grass or laying down to sleep when the night comes. The only sore spot is that the rock and stone building textures look a bit blurry up close.
The dinosaurs you'll be talking to and fighting against all look good, though it's very obvious that much more time was spent on Fox himself. His model sports quite a bit of detail, most of which is seen through the game's in-engine cut scenes where a lot of his emotions are shown through both body language and facial expression. His fur looks very realistic and has depth and volume to it. Fox's movement and combat animations are also quite smooth and lifelike. There are even some idle animations in there that help give Fox an extra bit of personality. When you're low on health for example, Fox will slump forwards and pant trying to catch his breath.
The audio follows much the same pattern as the visuals. When you first boot up the game you're treated to a re-done version of the classic Star Fox 64 theme. It doesn't stop there though; there are a few other familiar tunes that have been redone for this game. The majority of the music however is all new and varied. There are some tracks that sound like they were influenced by popular movies like Star Wars and The Lion King. The music is all high quality and fits the particular area or scenario very well. Along with the music is a suite of well done sound effects. Combat sounds are quite sharp; smacking an enemy with your staff will give you a nice pronounced and highly satisfying impact. There are even different sounds for blocked strikes or for attacks that hit a wall, tree, or other object. Furthermore, the voiceover work in the game is above average. There are some moments that seem a tad overdone, but for the most part the delivery comes off well. Actually having a native spoken language for Dinosaur Planet was a nice touch. Overall, the audio presentation is on par with the game's nice visuals.
A fun Sci-fantasy story combined with great audio and visual work and good characters all combine to make a fun, well paced adventure game. Star Fox Adventures is a very good game that falls just short of being great thanks to simple puzzles and weak enemy AI. The varied game play is nice and keeps Star Fox Adventures from falling into the trap of repetitiveness that some adventure games have fallen victim to. All in all, there's more good than bad here. Any GameCube owner would be well served to add this game to their library.