Thursday, February 03, 2005

Review: Starfox Adventures

Compared to some of Nintendo's other famous franchises, the Starfox series has had surprisingly few sequels over the years. Whereas the number of Zelda games is now in double figures, and the quantity of Mario games doesn't even bear thinking about, there have only been 3 games starring Fox McCloud and his crew (until February 14th, when the eagerly awaited Starfox Assault is released in the US).

Some of you may not have even heard of the series before. It originated on the SNES, with a game that was called Starwing in the PAL territories, and it was a first for Nintendo. In partnership with Argonaut (who recently went bankrupt), they designed the Super FX Chip, which enabled the aging 16-bit system to produce powerful 3D graphics (powerful for the time at least). Starfox was a "on rails" space shooter, with three different routes through the game, each trickier than the last.
You'd pilot your Arwing through varied locations such as Corneria, the mysterious Sector X, the ominous sounding Macbeth, and eventually end up on planet Venom for a showdown with the evil space monkey Andross. Your ship came equipped with lasers and smart bombs, and it could spin to avoid enemy fire as well as flip on its side to fit between small gaps. You were in constant contact with the rest of your team, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy toad (and you frequently had to save them).

Years, later, Nintendo made Lylat Wars (or Starfox 64 if you lived in NTSC regions) for the Nintendo 64. Rather than a full sequel, it was really a remake of the original game, but it improved on it in many many ways. The graphics were greatly improved, and free roaming areas were adding alongside the familiar on rails levels. You also got to pilot the Landmaster tank in several of the levels, and this time the splitting path through the game depended on your performance in the previous stage.

Meanwhile, Rare were making quite a name for themselves on the N64 with brilliant games like Goldeneye, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark (among others). They started work on a game called Dinosaur Planet, which was set to feature an anthropomorphic female cat called Krystal. Somewhere along the line, it was decided that the game would be moved onto the Gamecube, and also that the Starfox license would be squeezed into it. As fate would have it, Rare's first Gamecube title would also be their last, as they signed a multibillion dollar deal to make games exclusively for Microsoft (which they haven't really delivered on yet). So, does Starfox Adventures do justice to the brand name, and considering it wasn't really designed to be a Starfox game initially, does Fox's presence feel out of place? That's what I'm here to tell you.

Let me just start off by saying that these are most definitely the most impressive graphics I have ever seen on the current generation of consoles (yes I have played, Halo 2, and Chronicles of Riddick, and Resident Evil 4, and I still prefer the graphics in Starfox Adventures). The detail, the beauty, the way that there's no loading times between one area and the next. The vibrant colours, the fantastic day/night cycle. I spent quite a bit of time just standing around in the first person view soaking up all the detail. Then there's Fox himself - this has got to be the best CGI fur this side of Monster's Inc! It's not just reserved for cutscenes either, his fur is that good all the way through the game. Granted, some of this is a personal choice, as some would prefer the dark, gritty, oppressive visuals of RE 4, or the cel-shaded technique used it Wind Waker, but personally, I thought the visual style in SFA was amazing.

The music is pretty damn good too. I completed the game nearly a week ago, yet the tunes are still going around in my head (some game soundtracks have been rather forgettable of late). Special mention has to go to the tunes in Thorntail Hollow, and Cape Claw, with the chanting chorus (it sounds kind of African in origin, but I couldn't say for sure). The familiar Starfox theme is also included in the game in many different guises, from the "New Item" jingle that plays when you pick something up for the first time, to the "Victory" anthem that plays when you return a spellstone to it's temple.

Voice work is generally solid throughout the game, but Slippy Toad is still as annoying as he always was (this at least, shows a degree of consistancy with the rest of the series), and sound effects in general sound authentic.

Now we come to the gameplay, and before I say anything else I should point out that Starfox Adventures is nothing like the other games in the series. It's closest rivals would have to be the modern 3D Zelda games, namely Wind Waker and The Ocarina of Time. The controls are extremely similar, as is the way that you obtain new items or level up your staff to get new powers, which in turn allows you to explore new areas. One new thing it does add to the gameplay though is Prince Tricky, a juvenile Triceratops (or EarthWalker, as they're known in the culture of Dinosaur Planet) who you have to team up with to solve many of the games puzzles. You can ask him to stand on a switch for example, or dig up items from defined spots on the ground.

Overall I'd say that Starfox Adventures is a better game than the Wind Waker, but it doesn't quite match up to the benchmark in this style of game, Ocarina of Time. Why? Well, it's a bit more challenging than WW, you don't have to spend half your time exploring the bloody ocean (although there is some backtracking) and I thought the dungeons were more believably integrated into the world than in the Zelda games.

However, at times you do notice it wasn't originally intended to be a Starfox game, especially due to the fact that the rest of team are relegated to giving out hints, maps and progress reports on the pause screen. There is the occasional Arwing mission as you travel from place to place but they don't have the depth of a true Starfox shooter and are almost impossible to fail.

From a value point of view, Starfox Adventures takes about 15-20 hours to complete and can be picked up brand new for £20 for preowned for about £12. That's not bad at all considering how much fun you will have playing the game, and it's the sort of game you might find yourself coming back to in a year or so's time (if you're anything like me).

So, as long as you know exactly what you're getting (i.e. a Zelda style adventure/puzzle game, not a space shooter) you should be satisfied with Starfox Adventures. If you've already completed Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, and are looking for more of the same, then I strongly recommend buying this game. Rare's one and only Gamecube title is a gem, and a highly memorable experience. Let's hope Kameo, Conker Live & Uncut and any other projects they have in store maintain the same level of quality.

The Retro-Modern gaming score: 8 out of 10.

1 comment:

Darthmatty said...

Intriguing. I stroke my chin in a thoughtful manner.