Hello Star Fox Adventures, a.k.a Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet, a.k.a. Dinosaur Planet. We've been expecting you for quite some time. What has it been, two, maybe three years since you first showed yourself on the Nintendo 64? How many delays has it been since moving over to the GameCube? Three, perhaps four? You've grown up rather nice over the years. Quite a glossy shine you have on your graphics and polished gameplay to boot. It seems you've picked up a nice little license on the way to the publishing house. Was that your idea, or did Nintendo feel it was the best course of action for your last hurrah working exclusively for the company?
The above passage forms a consensus of how I approached Rare's final Nintendo-exclusive project. Many gamers watched the once original adventure title grow into a Nintendo license and crystalize in a beautiful package of videogaming joy. It has been a long haul to the finish line for Star Fox Adventures, and I'm glad to see it made it. Perhaps I'm not the only one to echo this sentiment now that I've got the game in my hands and am finishing up the adventure, but the most notable thing about this game is the fact that it represents the end of an era for Nintendo.
Maybe this is the nostalgic gamer welling up inside of me, but it's a little sad that Rare is leaving Nintendo's side after such a long and beautiful relationship. Who could forget the first drops of magic the developer worked on the Super Nintendo back in 1994 with Donkey Kong Country? What part of GoldenEye 007 for the N64 wasn't immersive the first time you played through it? Banjo-Kazooie (one of my favorite 3D platform games of all time) was an all-around good title, with a sequel that couldn't be ignored. Then there was Conker's Bad Fur Day, where Rare showed that its humorous side could make us gag in disgust.
Now comes Rare's first and final GameCube exclusive title, Star Fox Adventures...
Remember when I said the most notable thing about the game was that it represented the end of an era for Nintendo? That fact precludes the actual game itself, which is sort of a shame.
I would be lying if I said Star Fox Adventureswasn't a great adventure game and didn't sit on par with other titles in Rare's history of game developing. The game is good and it's worthy of being called one of the better games the GameCube has to offer. The problem is it really doesn't stand out in any way, shape or fashion. It plays like most recent Nintendo 64 Zelda titles, with nary an improvement or drawback in the mechanics. It looks like a Star Fox game...in a few instances. And, it has the standard cookie-cutter story, character types and motifs of any Saturday morning cartoon.
The story, thanks to the ideas of several Nintendo execs, takes place in the Star Foxuniverse, which assumes that a variety of woodland creatures proportioned in the same manner as human beings have developed the ability of interplanetary travel and warfare. The game begins about 10 years after Fox McCloud and his team of co-pilots defeated a mad-scientist ape, Andross, who for the record resembles a heavier-set version of Dr. Saiss from Planet Of The Apes. Peace has overtaken most of the galaxy since Andross' defeat, which leaves the Star Fox team bored and looking for work as rogue defenders for the weak. The team receives a distress signal from the uncleverly and obviously named Dinosaur Planet, where Fox eventually begins into an adventure involving traveling to temples and collecting crystals to restore order. He also does this with the aid of a adolescent triceratops named Prince Tricky...stranger things have happened.
Nintendo adventure game veterans should have no trouble jumping right into Star Fox Adventures. The game explores familiar territory, with hardly a twist on anything. Star Fox doesn't shake the tree that has firmly rooted a successful adventure title since the days of the original The Legend Of Zelda. The game paces itself exactly as players would expect. Fox travels to some forest or temple or other area of epic nature, learns of some crystal or spellstone or some artifact that must be collected to proceed with the story and follows a series of puzzles to reach that goal.
Star Fox pulls this off with finesse, however we're talking about a franchise that has shafted its roots and latched on to another form of gameplay. Granted, placing Fox McCloud and friends in the Dinosaur Planet scenario is interesting, it all feel just a little out of place at times. Nintendo's franchise feels a little tacked on, considering the game focuses on ancient magic, spirits and dinosaurs. Gamers have come to recognize Star Fox as being about fast-paced space shooters. The title is misleading, considering Nintendo dropped any mention of Dinosaur Planet from it, leaving it at just Star Fox Adventures.
Had things between Rare and Nintendo progressed differently, it might have been interesting to see the Star Fox team in a series of related titles with the "Adventures" moniker. An episode on Dinosaur Planet would have seemed more like a change of pace to the regular flow of the series involving space, blaster guns and starfighters. With Star Fox Adventures as it stands now, it sometimes seems apparent that Rare didn't originally intend for the game to be a Nintendo license.
Although once you actually play through the game, you might consider Nintendo played a smart hand in choosing their course of action. With the conformity to adventure titles Star Fox Adventures exhibits, the game might have been lost and forgotten in the annals of videogaming history with new and unknown characters. If the game had been released as originally intended, it probably would not have become the franchising giant clamoring for people's attention. It isn't the first time Nintendo has pushed a license onto Rare with positive results. Especially with character-driven platform titles, Nintendo-rooted mascots always get better recognition than the Rare-born ones. That is not to say that Rare's mascots aren't equally marketable, in fact I expect their characters to really blossom now that they are with Microsoft. But when it comes down to sheer pointing-finger recognition, people are always going to recognize Donkey Kong before Mumbo-Jumbo. And if you don't recognize where that last name came from, might point is proven.
It's nice to see Rare gave the GameCube its best for the last Nintendo project. Star Fox Adventures represents everything Rare has done well with Nintendo for about the past eight years. Even though pairing Fox McCloud with talking dinosaurs seems like an odd mixture, I think it shows that Nintendo is starting to get a little more creatively risky with its licenses. Considering that thus far, the company has turned Star Fox into a Zelda-type adventure title, turned Metroid into something resembling a first-person-shooter, and turn The Legend Of Zelda into a something resembling a Disney animated film, you get the feeling that Nintendo doesn't always have to stick with tradition.