In a random sort of segue, my last article mentioned my desire for Retro Studios, famous for their absolutely amazing Metroid Prime games and now Donkey Kong Country Returns, to get a hold of the Star Fox franchise to make a truly perfect new Star Fox title. I’d like to speak as if I have a definite authority on the matter insomuch as I’m a huge Star Fox fan. I’ve played all five games (wow, really only five?) and continue to feel some odd desire to connect with Fox McCloud, though not in a weird furrie sort of way. Of the five games, one stands out as a concrete example of a Star Fox game that lost its way: Star Fox Adventures. How could such a game come to pass? That’s why I’m looking at it exclusively for this month’s Bad Games That Should Have Been Great.
A little history on the project before we begin: During the N64’s heyday, Rare was chugging out good game after good game, both with original properties like Banjo-Kazooie and properties created by other companies such as Goldeneye and Donkey Kong 64. Early concept pieces started to surface regarding a project they were calling “Dinosaur Planet,” a Zelda-like game set on…well…a dinosaur planet. The main character was a fox and carried a magic staff that could shoot fire and propel her to greater heights, among other things. Nintendo saw this and said, “Hey, why not make this the next Star Fox game?” For better or worse, Rare went ahead with the title as Star Fox Adventures On Dinosaur Planet, shortened to Star Fox Adventures once it finally got released for the GameCube. And there you have it, we get the worst Star Fox game as a result.
To preface everything, Star Fox Adventures isn’t necessarily a bad game, but it is an awful Star Fox title. Were it released as its original concept everything could have been easier to swallow, the little nit-picky aspects could be shuffled away looking at it as something new and exciting, but instead there’s no way to look at the finished product and say, “What the hell were they thinking?” When you think of a Star Fox game, the first thing that comes to mind involves R-Wings and space battles. Adventures sorely lacks R-Wings and space battles as they previously appeared in Star Fox 64. Keep that in mind by the way; Star Fox Adventures is the game they did directly after Star Fox 64. That’s like following Pokemon Silver with Pokemon Snap as the next chronological game to the series’ canon.
What little R-Wing moments Adventures has felt like something tacked on to appease both Nintendo and Star Fox fans, with the latter feeling downright bamboozled. The only time the R-Wing was used boiled down to just a quick warp between areas, though you could do a mini-game where you had to collect gold rings in order to advance. Basically it felt underdeveloped and didn’t deliver the Star Fox charm that was expected.
The meat of the game turned out to be the on-foot world traversing and dungeon navigating that would draw parallels with the Zelda franchise. Fox’s staff had different abilities that only really worked in specific instances. That staff boost ability I mentioned earlier? You had to have a place to stick the staff in order to allow it to boost you to a higher ledge. Certain enemies were weak to fire and others were weak to the earthquake attack. The various rooms of each area required a switch be activated to open the next door, blah blah blah, it was Zelda with Fox McCloud.
And once again, I have to say that it wasn’t a bad attempt at the Zelda formula. The basic structure was there just fine, the world was very well fleshed out and the progression of the story flowed as naturally as possible. Until every moment you were reminded that you were supposed to be playing a Star Fox game. The final boss inexplicably turns out to be Andross for some reason, and Falco appears in the eleventh hour to assist you. Slippy provides you with…I forget why Slippy was there actually. But Peppy becomes the Navi for Fox, giving really annoying comments performed by the worst Peppy voice actor the series has endured.
One of the largest problems with Adventures really is the voice acting. Peppy’s clearly forced “old character” voice is painful, but just about every character you encounter has some accent that grates on your ears and dialogue that makes you want to scream at the screen. Tricky, a triceratops prince, becomes the main aggressor throughout your campaign as he’s constantly following you wherever you go. Seriously, an animal buddy is one of the worst things you can attach to a game.
Oddly enough, one thing critics seemed to be just fine with was the combat system. Somebody along the line decided that Fox’s staff was a cool weapon to use and that combat was deep and satisfying. This is about as much of a lie as you can tell and on par with saying that Cheetos provide a rich array of flavors in a single bag and can act as an entire meal. The attack moves Fox can perform are all scripted, of which there are a total of three. Enemies can be damaged by any, so you pretty much pick your favorite and start spamming it. And I seriously mean spam those attacks as each enemy has a health bar made of hearts that requires you to strike them upwards of four times each, meaning your elaborate and flashy staff moves do little more than waste time. God of War, for all that I find offense with, at least makes you feel adequately powerful the majority of the time with the moves you pull off. Combos flow into one another and swarms of enemies provide little resistance when you’re at your best. Star Fox Adventures is the opposite. Fox flails around with the same three moves but does such little damage that the entire exercise feels more like it’s for the designers to feel happy that they programmed three cool animations and less about you enjoying said animations after about a dozen uses.
There just isn’t any real substance to speak of here and it’s entirely because the game has Star Fox slapped on the front. Were Rare to go back in time and finish the game as originally intended with just Crystal as a character, there’s a high chance Dinosaur Planet would have been a cult hit, if not its own franchise. Instead, we added a female fox for Fox McCloud to swoon at and little else. I’m actually just about out of things to say regarding Star Fox Adventures, but I have one last story to tell: The story of how Other Chris and I became close friends.
A few years ago I was involved in a student-run TV program at the University of Oregon called Duck U. I happened to be an executive producer that year and as such, I had weekly viewings at my house. About an hour before a viewing, I was sitting alone playing Star Fox Adventures just waiting for people to arrive. Other Chris was the first person to show up and immediately asked what I was playing. I told him it was Star Fox Adventures, a game that sucked. He asked why I would play it if I knew it sucked, to which I replied, “Because I have to play it for the franchise to make sense.” He became enamored just watching me play, clearly hating the game I was powering through just to see the ending for no reason other than to feel justified as a Star Fox fan. We formed a powerful friendship that persists to this very day, making it the only worthwhile piece of anything that came out of Star Fox Adventures.
It probably wouldn’t be fair to rag on this game without mentioning what I expected it to be. Naturally, the best course of action would be to just drop Star Fox from the title and make it Dinosaur Planet again, forcing it to stand by itself. Assuming that wasn’t an option, the next best thing would be to retool the combat system. Add more combos, better enemy tactics, and a greater sense of power when wielding a magical weapon. Take a look at any Zelda game, especially the console Zelda titles. The sword combat is simple, yet it functions perfectly. Attacking enemies feels natural and the sword combos flow smoothly into one another.
The combat now fixed, we move on to the voice acting. I’d be in favor of the Banjo-Kazooie style of voice acting, which boils down to random jibberish from the characters with text to read along with. These are dinosaurs, so why the heck not? That way I don’t have to listen to the inane crap being spewed into my ear holes.
Lastly, either do away with the R-Wing segments completely or make them integral to the game. As they appeared in the game, they were nothing more than a hold over from the previous title in the franchise, totally worthless in this new setting. If every new area required a daring R-Wing flight through a canyon or an ice cavern or a boss that got so huge that it required you to take to the skies, then maybe things would have worked better. Adding R-Wings to a game with one-on-one ground combat ensured that neither half of the mechanics worked at 100%.
Should you play Star Fox Adventures? As a bad game, it’s not the worst. If you’re desperate, like me, to find play every inch of a series’ story, then go right ahead and blast through it. There isn’t much incentive to explore extra areas and look for secrets, so the overall game shouldn’t take you very long in the grand scheme of things. At least we got a better pilot than Slippy out of the equation.
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