Starts strong, but eventually loses steam
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 fighter jet, which is just about the only real connection to Star Fox that this game has. 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 lose momentum. Despite 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 apart in the end and becomes a disappointing mess.
Which, in a way, makes sense, when you consider the game’s mysterious development cycle. Star Fox Adventures began its life as a completely different game called Dinosaur Planet, starring a completely different main character. It wasn't until Shigeru Miyamoto suggested that Dinosaur Planet's main character resembled Fox McCloud that Rare and Nintendo joined forces to retrofit the game with Star Fox characters. As the story goes, not everybody at Rare was happy with the change, as it basically meant removing large portions of the story they had spent months constructing, and Nintendo was reportedly very strict regarding how Rare could use and develop the Star Fox "universe". Coincidentally, Star Fox Adventures marks the last game Rare made for Nintendo - Nintendo sold the company to Microsoft shortly after it was completed. 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.