Fox McCloud, Star Fox's furry hero, first appeared in an impressive 3D space shooter for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and later in another one for the Nintendo 64. But in the aptly named Star Fox Adventures, Fox spends most of his time on foot, exploring the colorful and vividly detailed world of Dinosaur Planet. Besides being a highly anticipated game that's been years in the making, Star Fox Adventures is also the last hurrah for longtime second-party developer Rare on Nintendo's systems. The England-based company has been responsible for a number of fine Nintendo games over the years, including GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, Killer Instinct, and even R.C. Pro-Am for the old 8-bit Nintendo system. Now that the company has officially severed ties with Nintendo and been bought up by Microsoft, Star Fox Adventures is a bookend for Rare's long-standing commitment to Nintendo. And while Star Fox Adventures won't go down in history as Rare's finest achievement, it's still a great action adventure game by any standard, filled with a surprising amount of variety and lots of impressive graphics.
Star Fox Adventures is a lighthearted game with a likable cast of characters who manage to be cute and pretty cool at the same time. Soon into the game, Fox and his crew, who form a spacefaring mercenary squad, receive orders to investigate a disturbance on Dinosaur Planet. The Star Fox team could seriously use the reward money being offered, so they set off for Dinosaur Planet posthaste. Things get complicated down there: Not only is Dinosaur Planet literally being ripped apart, but it's also being trampled by the armies of the evil General Scales, and its spiritual protectors have dispersed. There's even a damsel in distress. Fox will need to right all these wrongs, and in so doing he'll restore peace to the kindly dinosaur tribes of Dinosaur Planet. It all sounds very urgent, but like most action adventure games, this one will require some patience and couldn't really be called fast-paced. The game is filled with cinematic cutscenes that are never very lengthy but do a good job of keeping you focused on your objectives and on what's going on with the plot. The plot itself keeps the action moving along but never gets too thick, and it packs in a couple of decent twists for good measure.
As evidenced by the game's premise, one of the main strengths of Star Fox Adventures lies in the variety of things you'll get to do. This is definitive action adventure gameplay: You'll explore, fight, search, sneak, scrounge, run, jump, fly, shoot, swim, crawl, dig, ride, warp, and shop your way through Star Fox Adventures. Granted, the emphasis is on the exploring and the scrounging--much like in some of Rare's previous efforts, Star Fox Adventures often consists of your having to run about an area looking for all types of doodads, whatsits, widgets, and thingamajigs.
As if to spite you, there's this one little cutscene, accompanied by a triumphant little tune, of Fox looking really stoked as he discovers a new item, and it plays each time he does. Fox's cheerful expression will probably cause yours to turn sour after you've seen this same sequence for the hundredth time. Some of the game's numerous errand runs aren't even thinly veiled, as characters will flat-out deny you unless you go and fetch them a certain number of a certain type of object. For what it's worth, none of the game's fetch quests are obnoxiously long--it's just that they're plentiful and can get repetitive. But as you play Star Fox Adventures, you'll catch on that another surprise is always just around the next corner, so you'll willingly slog through the scavenger hunts just to see what happens next.
The controls of Star Fox Adventures work well and don't take much getting used to. You can make Fox run nice and fast using the left analog stick (though he's woefully slow at climbing up ladders), and the GameCube controller's C stick affords you with easy access to your inventory. Like in Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, there's no jump button in Star Fox Adventures (though Fox can execute a quick evasive roll). Fox will automatically jump when you'd expect him to, and he'll automatically grab ledges and pull himself up if he falls a bit short. At first this all seems pointless, since platform jumping sequences aren't much of a challenge if you don't need to time your leaps. But rest assured, you'll need to make some careful, well-timed motions to get through a few tough spots later in the game. As you move about, the camera angle stays locked at a fixed distance from Fox. You can press and hold the Z button to look around from a stationary first-person view, and you can press the left shoulder button to center the third-person camera behind him at any time. In practice, you'll be pressing the left shoulder button a lot, but you'll likely find that this system is a good compromise between having to control the camera manually and having an automatic camera that wouldn't allow for any flexibility.
Combat isn't a huge part of Star Fox Adventures. It's simplistic, but it's good looking and it isn't frustrating. Soon into his journey, Fox discovers a magic staff that will serve as his primary weapon. By repeatedly pressing the A button, you can make Fox execute powerful combos that can make short work of most foes. Conveniently, the game switches to a camera perspective relative to your foe whenever you approach one, which makes targeting a cinch. As you fight, you'll find that different combos are possible if you hold the analog stick in different directions, but this is mostly for variety's sake. Like virtually all aspects of Star Fox Adventures, the combat becomes more interesting over the course of the game, in this case because you'll get to imbue your staff with various new powers as you go along. For instance, you'll like having the option to freeze and shatter your foes instead of just pounding on them. Some later enemies can't be defeated by conventional means, though most all of them, including the game's occasional boss characters, can be beaten using simple patterns.
Star Fox Adventures is a forgiving game that was clearly designed to be well suited to all audiences, both in its content and in its gameplay. You can save your progress just about anywhere, and plenty of health power-ups are strewn about most every area. Even if you do lose all your health points, you can typically start right back up without losing much progress, and if you have a certain type of item (actually, it's a rabbitlike creature), you can pick right up from where you got knocked down. Star Fox Adventures has plenty of simple puzzles in it, mostly involving locked doors or other such obstacles, and some of these can be tricky to figure out, but here again, the game tries to make sure you won't get too frustrated. For example, you can optionally purchase regional maps of just about every area in the game, and these make navigating Dinosaur Planet's big areas a lot easier. Also, at just about any time, you can radio your crew and get their valuable feedback for free--Slippy Toad gives you not-so-subtle hints about what exactly you should be doing, and Peppy Hare provides a full map of Dinosaur Planet showing the relative locations of the game's main areas.
At times you'll wonder whether these two shouldn't just take Fox's place on the ground, since they seem so well prepared. Their help is purely optional, so those bent on figuring things out for themselves can feel free to do so. It's worth pointing out that not all the puzzles are made easy by asking Slippy for a pointer, but none of the game's puzzles are particularly difficult regardless. Many aren't really that interesting, either, and seem to be there just to slow your progress--they have very specific, often obvious solutions that can be time-consuming above all else. Yet like the combat, the puzzle-solving portions of Star Fox Adventures do get a little more involved as the game wears on. For instance, not too far into your journey, you'll join forces with what looks like a little triceratops called Prince Tricky. Tricky becomes a trusty sidekick, and he'll follow you through thick and thin, helping you solve puzzles along the way. Tricky has a number of different skills (easily accessible from your inventory) such as digging up items or breathing fire, and you'll often use these to get through different areas. But since all of Fox's various gadgets and all of Tricky's skills can be used only in very specific places, you'll find that the puzzles in Star Fox Adventures are much more about observation than logic.
Sometimes Star Fox Adventures is about good old fashioned shooting. Yes, Fox McCloud will get to hop in the pilot's seat of his powerful Arwing starfighter, which he'll use to fly to Dinosaur Planet's more distant regions. At these times, gameplay essentially becomes a reenactment of the previous Star Fox shooters. In the Arwing, you can fire your lasers, shoot bombs, perform barrel rolls, and slow down and speed up at will, all while having to dodge enemy fire and various obstacles. These sequences last for only a few minutes, but they're fun enough to make for a good diversion and some nice nostalgia if you played the earlier Star Fox games. You might find yourself wishing there were more flying to be done.
The shooting sequences are notable since they're a throwback to Star Fox's roots, but the truth is that Star Fox Adventures has lots of clever little twists like this. They tend to be integrated almost seamlessly with the rest of the game, which itself is one gigantic and nearly seamless world, featuring huge, diverse environments with little to no loading times in between them. The course of the game is mostly linear but does open up a bit eventually, allowing you to go out of your way to try some new moves in old places and see what types of goodies you can scrounge up that you couldn't reach before. Since Fox runs along briskly, and since the game looks so good, you probably won't mind having to revisit some areas more than once.
Screenshots and movies of Star Fox Adventures shown prior to the game's release got a lot of people talking, and with good reason: This is one outstanding looking game. The graphics aren't totally flawless, as some of the level architecture is pretty simple and the frame rate occasionally drops from silky smooth to just plain smooth. Still, Star Fox Adventures has much, much more eye candy than most games. Actually, calling it "eye candy" isn't giving it due credit--the visual effects found in Star Fox Adventures make the characters more believable and the environments more lifelike. Beautifully done weather effects change the look of Dinosaur Planet at different times, and all manner of colorful foliage and wildlife populate the place. You can often see a very long distance toward the horizon, and the whole world of the game constantly seems to be in realistic motion, like it's truly alive. Between that and the game's expressive character models, some sporting what looks like real honest-to-goodness fur, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better-looking game out there than Star Fox Adventures.
This is certainly one of those games where the quality of the visuals enriches the entire gaming experience. When you're stuck looking for yet another key somewhere, you'll often gently remind yourself to take in the sights rather than wrack your brain. Of further note, those armed with high-definition televisions can opt to play Star Fox Adventures in progressive scan mode, which makes the graphics sharper and even more vibrant.
Those armed with Dolby Pro Logic II surround sound systems will be better off still, though Star Fox Adventures sounds good anyway--the game's audio quality generally stacks up to the quality of its graphics. A mix of British and American voice actors do a consistently good job of delivering the dialogue, all of which is spoken aloud, and Fox's voice is particularly well done. There's different music for each area of the game, and these tracks tend to fit well despite looping a bit too frequently. The game's sound effects themselves are serviceable though somewhat generic, and you may recognize a bunch of them from other games. But all in all, Star Fox Adventures is an aesthetically pleasing game in every way.
Actually, Star Fox Adventures is simply a great game in most every respect. It's true that those expecting the same sort of frantic shooting action that characterized previous Star Fox games won't find it here, nor will they finish Star Fox Adventures in just a few hours like they could finish those old games. This is a completely different type of game that expects a little patience from you, as well as a willingness to not just move along from point A to point B, but to also survey the scenery from time to time. It's true that Star Fox Adventures didn't even originate as a Star Fox game, but the game's main cast fits in perfectly with everything else that's going on. And given the amount of detail in all the game's environments, you'll likely be struck by how long the game turns out to be--probably around twice as long as the typical action adventure game these days, and Star Fox Adventures has some hidden bonuses to be discovered, too. It's sad that this is the last Rare game for a Nintendo system. But if you're gonna go out, you might as well go out in style, and Rare certainly has.