E3 2002Star Fox Adventures hands-on impressions

We played through the E3 version of Star Fox Adventures at the Nintendo booth.

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Star Fox Adventures was fully playable at Nintendo's booth, and we had a chance to explore much of what will be in the final version of the game. Star Fox Adventures was incredibly impressive from a visual standpoint, and we were able to see many of its different gameplay elements.

The game's introduction featured Krystal, the blue-furred fox princess, in distress, riding a pterodactyl and caught in a rainstorm. Krystal's dialogue with her aerial steed relayed the reason for her flight from danger and the urgency of her quest. Without giving away too many specifics, the game focuses on the conflict between the peaceful spirits and dinosaurs of the planet, and the militant forces of the evil General Scales.

During the opening sequence, Krystal loses her magical staff and is immediately overcome by an enormous airship, emblazoned with the skulls of massive dinosaurs and bearing an animate dragon figurehead at its fore. The game shifted smoothly from the real-time cinematic sequences to active control of the pterodactyl, where it handled in a similar fashion to Fox's Arwing, albeit without the fancy roll maneuvers. The pterodactyl was able to fire a blue-tinged breath projectile and swoop fairly agilely across the screen. During this encounter, the objective was to fire the breath weapons at the ship's rear-mounted cannons while dodging their fireballs. After a certain amount of damage was dealt, the ship decelerated abruptly, and Krystal then had to avoid colliding with the ship's massive rotor. The ship then moved back into the distant position, where the cannons had to be obliterated, and then the rotor could be picked apart blade by blade. Once the rotor was damaged, the enemy ship's captain presumably decided to mount a frontal assault, and upon bringing the ship around, the dragon figurehead began to stream out massive flaming projectiles, which had to be dodged and countered with well-timed shots. Damaging the ship thoroughly dropped it into the water, at which point Krystal landed on deck, dismounted, and bid her companion farewell.

Once Krystal begins to explore on deck, the game transitions into the third-person perspective, where the main set of controls can be explored. Characters are controlled with the analog stick and move smoothly, with animations for sudden stops, light jogs, and slow halts. They can also perform rolling maneuvers to get past opponents and can strafe from side to side. The A button controls the majority of the game's critical actions, including lifting and throwing objects, drawing and using a weapon, and interacting with nonplayer characters and the environment. The C stick controls the game's inventory, where items can be selected from numerous categories, including the game's different staff upgrades. The magical staff that Krystal and Fox wield has numerous abilities, including the ability to shoot flaming bolts at enemies or triggerable switches. The staff can also be used for more mundane actions, such as bashing enemies or as a lever for lifting heavy objects.

Considering the depth of Star Fox Adventures as a stand-alone platformer, it should come as no surprise that there is an abundance of items to collect. Items with silly fantasy names such as dumbledang pods, pukpuk eggs, and bafomdads imbue the main characters with more health, energy, and extra lives. Throughout the world Fox will also find living scarabs hidden under rocks or in barrels, which if caught as they scurry away can be collected and used as currency. Scarabs can buy you maps of the various locations in the gameworld, restorative cures, useful new items, and even the chance to gamble. The gambling game we played allowed us to wager on our ability to recover a number of fleeing scarabs in order to win back double our bet.

While much of the game takes place as a third-person platformer, many key sequences in the game will introduce new gameplay elements as well as traditional Star Fox space-shooter action. We were able to play an Arwing level, where the camera pans across space and zooms across Fox's noble ship, much in the style of Star Wars films. The ship was nicely detailed, with individual plates of metal appearing battle-worn and all rendered in real time. Once the ship is in your control, you are informed by Star Fox team members that you need to race through seven golden rings to activate a warp portal necessary to proceed to the desired location. Space in this area is absolutely littered with exploding air mines, asteroids, opening and closing space station platforms, and swarms of robotic enemies, who fly in perfect Galaga formations. In one stage, as Fox explores a snowbound area, he has to chase after a pair of enemy soldiers on speeder bikes across icy terrain. As the bikes fly out of the encampment, the level turns into a complex racing game track, with various forks and alternate routes, steep incline curves, and speed-inducing downhill areas. The objective, to smash the other bikes along the course's walls, became all the more impressive when smoke and flame proceeded to billow from the bikes' damaged engines.

Even considering how long the game has been in development, Star Fox Adventures looks amazing. Each of the game's mammalian heroes is rife with details--from the most complex of facial animations, eye movements, and mannerisms, to the individually modeled strands of fur on their bodies. The gameworld's locales are lush, with plenty of vivid plant life, roaming animals, realistic pools of water inhabited by swimming fish, and plenty of ambient sound bringing it all together. Other creatures in the world are well animated as well, especially during dialogue sequences and during combat. The enemy AI was impressive, with enemies blocking attacks and getting hurt only when struck during openings in their attack animations.

We played a lot of Star Fox Adventures, but at this stage, it seems like the game is nearly finished and could be explored for hours and hours more. If the playable areas were any indication, fans of the previous Star Fox games or platformers in general would do well to keep an eye on this game. We'll have more on Star Fox Adventures as the game approaches its release date this fall.

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