The fur flies again.
If only I could wield the awesome power of Shigeru Miyamoto. Not only has he designed some of the best software in the history of video games, but people listen to what he has to say. If Miyamoto wants to make a game based on a talking club sandwich, chances are it will happen. But if I suggested there should be vampires in Gone With the Wind or ice cream trucks in The Lord of the Rings, who the hell is going to listen to me? I swear - Gandalf demands a snow cone!
Miyamoto-san suggested that the Starfox license should be combined with Rare's Dinosaur Planet, and whaddaya know - it birthed Starfox Adventures, an adventure game of exploration and puzzles in the style of Shigeru's own Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, with doses of classic Starfox shooting action. Witness the power of Mario's papa.
Eight years have gone by since Fox McCloud and his Starfox team saved the Lylat System from the nefarious Andross. Fox's latest exploits take him to Dinosaur Planet, a world on the verge of eminent explosion and catastrophe. Entire continents are hurtling off the face of the planet as a bitter struggle for control rages on the surface between the different dinosaur tribes and the encroaching dictator, General Scales. Dinosaur Planet needs a hero, and there's only one man, err, fox for the job.
The original idea of Dinosaur Planet focused on evolution - a tribe of fox-like mammals struggled against a world of stronger dinosaurs. It was slated for the N64, and I had a chance to play it at E3 several years back. While I'm not against the idea of the Starfox revision, the story execution came out weak. Plot elements are explained too matter-of-factly and there's little character development or depth. Neither is there an air of epic grandeur ala Zelda or even a believable rivalry ALA Mario to compensate for such shortcomings. And to top it off, the ending sucks.
Even though the story is shoddy, the gameplay still holds water as it follows in Zelda's footsteps. Armed with a mystical, upgradeable staff, Fox can swiftly take down droves of scaly foot soldiers and trigger switches and puzzles. One weapon upgrade allows him to shoot bolts of fire from the staff. The least impressive upgrade acts as a key to open up formerly locked doors. I would have liked more upgrades that could modify Fox's combat style or open up new maneuvers, but it's not bad as is.
Aiding and abetting your journey is your chatty sidekick, Prince Tricky. He reminds me of Trixie, Bubba's pet Triceratops from DuckTales. Prince Tricky can stand in place on a switch, run to you when called, and dig up treasure. Basically, he's your dog. You can even buy a toy ball and play a rousing game of fetch. Tricky is mostly used as an accessory for different puzzles as well as finding some of the multitudinous objects lost throughout the planet. Yet Tricky can't help you fight, nor will he ever shut up. It's a shame he can't be neutered.
Tricky isn't the only dog playing fetch on Dinosaur Planet. Most of Fox's adventures on the planet revolve around retrieving different objects. You need fuel pods to jumpstart your Arwing, scarab beetles to spend at the store, even Bafmodads for extra lives. Yes, that's right. Bafmodads. Don't ask.
Then there are the specific doodads you'll need to progress the story. Spell stones, flame stones, sun stones, Krazoa Spirits...this is one demanding planet.
To find the laundry list of items, Fox must wade through a variety of different puzzles, challenges, and tasks. There are plenty of standard switch-pulling exercises as well as some 'beat the clock' tests. One repeated set of puzzles involves transporting explosive barrels of gas across different pitfalls to break open doorways. For the most part, the puzzles tend to be fairly rudimentary and familiar. The handful of puzzles that aren't as direct leave you scratching your head, often wondering aloud how exactly you solved it.
For example, one puzzle requires a blazing shot of fire to burn timber. Yet in a subsequent puzzle, those same flames are used to freeze something made of wood. Wacky voodoo Dinosaur physics? Gosh, I wonder which way the toilets flush on Dinosaur Planet.
Besides the brain puzzles, there are battles to whet your more violent appetites...but prepare to be left hungry. As an incoming enemy approaches, the camera automatically locks in, centering on the opponent. Fox can only fight one enemy at a time, while the other oncoming attackers stand at the wayside like a cheesy kung-fu movie. Suddenly, I miss I the swarms of Heartless attackers from Kingdom Hearts.
Different directional commands can alter the chain of attacks, but there's little need for anything fancy. Only when faced with a handful of the heaviest armored opponents will Fox need deft timing to find an opening. You can get away with just a straight mash for most enemies. Fox also cannot move while defending himself.
If there are two things this game loves to lay on you, it's fetching and mashing. Apart from fighting, there are a few instances where you must prove your strength by mashing the A button as fast as you possibly can.
Fox makes his way towards the errant chunks of planet via his trusty Arwing. The controls are taken from the previous Starfox games are are comfortably familiar, but the charge-up shot and aerial flips are removed from your Arwing's repertoire. These sequences, while a befitting change of pace, lack polish and integration. Plus, it's more thumb burning as you blast away space debris and missiles.
While it doesn't deliver in terms of plot, Starfox Adventures looks resplendent. Throughout Fox's hairy adventures, you will marvel at the individual strands of rendered grass and fur. Some parts of the planet have incredibly beautiful design, from the Roman Columns made of water to the fusion of Asian and Incan design in the Walled City. The water effect tends to look too rippled, but hey, it's an alien planet. The refractions of light and the reflections on the water are just stunning.
As you begin the game, the Dinosaurs speak the strange language of Dino-ese. This foreign dialect leads to voice acting that lacks proper emotional intonation. Everyone is yelling their lines, floundering over exactly how to pronounce the odd words. After your comrade Slippy finally builds a translation device, the voices come out decent. Each tribe speaks in a different accent; sometimes the accents come off as oddly trying to be funny when it isn't especially warranted or fitting. I mean, this is Starfox, not Conker.
Despite some outstanding graphics and gameplay that recalls the best of Zelda, the story disappoints and multiple facets of the action fail to reach their full potential. It's just a good game that missed out on being a great game. At around 20 hours, Starfox Adventures can be beaten within a rental period, which is my suggestion to you. Hey, at least that's one suggestion that has a shot at being listened to...