Star Fox Adventures Dinosaur Planet Preview

We take a close look at Rare's upcoming GameCube adventure.

Originally announced at E3 2000 as the N64-bound Dinosaur Planet, this Rare-developed adventure has seen some pretty major changes in the last year. Throughout recent months, there has been much talk regarding Nintendo changing its target platform from the N64 to the upcoming GameCube. That much and more was indeed confirmed at this year's E3--not only was it revealed that the game is indeed headed for Nintendo's next-gen box, but it was also announced that the game will benefit from the graces of one of Nintendo's stronger properties: the Star Fox franchise.

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To those who've followed the Nintendo beat for the last year, the game's new title--Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet--may seem a bit awkward. But in truth, the change couldn't be more fitting. Walking, talking, intelligent animals, like the ones who inhabit the world of Dinosaur Planet, have always been one of the Star Fox series' mainstays. And since fans of the Star Fox series have yet to explore Fox McCloud's world outside of the context of his Arwing starfighter, the fit seems almost perfect. The result should be a welcome one. By nixing Sabre (the game's old protagonist) in favor of Fox, Nintendo has given Rare a strong property to work with, which should result in both a treat to fans and a great many opportunities for the developer to create a compelling adventure using the Star Fox series' themes and rich gameplay heritage.

Effectively, very little of the game has been changed, barring the Sabre-to-Fox model swap. It is still an archetypal Nintendo adventure, in the spirit of Ocarina of Time, featuring equal amounts exploration, combat, and puzzle solving. Rare also promises, though, that there will be a good portion of traditional Star Fox-style spaceship combat--though examples of this have yet to be seen. Setting the tone for all this, of course, is a story that builds on the series' continuing narrative: Eight years after his defeat of the vile Andross, Fox McCloud finds himself en route to Dinosaur Planet to investigate the evil General Scales' recent invasion of the harsh but beautiful world. At the outset of his journey, Fox gains access to a wondrous staff, with a variety of fantastical powers, around which many of the game's mechanics are focused. He also allies himself with many of Dinosaur Planet's native inhabitants, most specifically a young triceratops named Tricky and a mysterious feline-esque young woman named Krystal. Both will play a major role in the gameplay and the game's story. Tricky will constantly trail Fox, and you will be able to control his actions, to a limited degree. And Krystal, it is presumed, will be fully playable during certain sequences. Ultimately, Fox will find himself and his friends foiling the plans of General Scales and his henchmen in an effort to rescue Dinosaur Planet's captured pterodactyl princess and set things right in the green world. Rare will convey this story through super-detailed real-time cinemas, complete with fully voiced, and animated characters, examples of which were shown by Nintendo at E3.

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Some old faces will appear as well, though--most of the classic members of the Star Fox team play auxiliary roles in Fox's quest. Slippy the frog will provide Fox with weapon upgrades and the like, while Peppy the rabbit will function as mission control, helping Fox make sense of the lay of the strange alien land. Rob the robot, finally, will pop in from time to time and supply Fox with gear during his quest, just like in the old spaceship days. Falco the falcon--the fourth member of the Star Fox team--is purportedly absent, having decided to pursue his own agenda. That he'll appear in the game at some point, though, is a very good possibility.

The series' established background gives one the impression that Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet is set to emerge as a sufficiently well executed adventure game. We emerged from this year's E3 with some definite impressions of the game. Read on.

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Fox McCloud's latest adventure is quite heavily influenced by the gameplay mechanics pioneered by Nintendo in Ocarina of Time. In this respect, the game has not changed at all from when we played its N64 incarnation last year. In truth, the game's mechanics are a slightly altered version of those of the modern Zelda games. Fox automatically jumps over gaps, and can target enemies, which allows him to strafe around them, effectively providing him with freedom of motion without sacrificing his effectiveness in combat. In order to visually reflect Fox's focused state, the game's backgrounds blur-out when you activate the Z-targeting. The most drastic change in the control scheme is that it focuses on just one button: the A button on the GameCube's controller. Rather than mapping items and effects to different buttons (like the N64's C buttons), the game allows you to set them to the C stick's four primary directions. This means that you can have four items or effects "ready"--one mapped to up, one to down, one to right, and one to left. Rather than allowing you instantly activate an effect, though, pressing the C stick in the desired direction maps the function to the A button. For example, if you have a ranged attack set to right on the C stick, hitting right will "ready" the attack, allowing you to activate it with the A button. Needless to say, this scheme is inherently more limiting than Ocarina of Time's--since you do basically everything with the A button, you'll have to do a good bit of toggling, if you want to use several items in a quick succession. Hopefully, though, the game's design won't warrant that a great deal. You'll also have access to quite a bit of context-specific actions, all of which will presumably be mapped the A button. You'll approach a friendly creature, for example, and press A to talk to it. Opening chests, unlocking doors, and hitting switches fall into this category as well. Fox's staff will also have non-combat uses; he could, for example, use it to shape-shift into different forms, thus allowing him to pass through enemy-ground undetected. He could also use it to pole-vault onto other inaccessible platforms.

Your sidekick Tricky will factor into the gameplay as well. Basically, you'll have access to a set of commands, which will cause him to perform certain actions. You access his commands by pressing on the C stick as if it were a button. Tricky has quite a few abilities--he can distract your enemies, dig up items from premarked mounds, and even play fetch. And if you find that he's straggling about, you can call him back to your side with the "heel" command. One of the stages in the E3 build of the game had you use Tricky to distract a huge boss monster so you could get a clear shot at him. If Rare's previous work is any indication, we can expect Tricky's role to be quite significant, factoring into the game's general play sequences and unlocking various secrets and items.

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Despite its strong core design, though, Star Fox Adventures' E3 showing was pretty inconsistent, from a technical standpoint. It was readily apparent that the game was born on the N64--many of the game's textures were definitely of sub-GameCube quality, and the game's performance was spastic at times. The GameCube's power seems to be harnessed in less readily apparent areas, though. The game already features a good many expansive fog-free environments, which allowed for free roaming, and a good number of fairly robust character models. The game's water effects were also particularly impressive, and they'll apparently be put to much use by Rare. Ultimately, we feel that Rare and Nintendo were brave to show the game at such an early state. Given the developer's strong track record, it seems safe to assume that the often choppy, blurry build displayed at E3 will in no way resemble the final product.

Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet is scheduled to ship alongside the GameCube this November. We are very much looking forward to seeing the game in a more complete state. We'll doubtlessly have a chance to do so at this year's Space World, so keep your eyes open.

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