Boxed Away: A Star Fox Adventures Retrospective
For a company with such an impeccably rich back catalogue, Nintendo is often surprisingly hesitant to delve into it. Sure, the classic titles from the NES and SNES library have received 347 ports to every system imaginable, and the N64 has seen a respectable rehash of its most renowned hits, but one system seems to be regularly left to the annals of history – the Nintendo GameCube.
Enter – Boxed Away, a GameCube retrospective series.
To pay respect to the purple lunchbox, each fortnight I’m going to be taking a look back at a different GameCube game, focusing on titles that have never received a port or remaster to more recent consoles. The GameCube library has countless forgotten masterpieces, as well as plenty of oddities and hidden gems, and unless it featured Zelda it’s probably still stuck there. Heck, even Mario’s only outing still took almost two decades to get another look.
It’s unclear when or if we will ever see Gamecube games released via Nintendo Switch online, some type of Virtual Console or maybe even a Mini-Classic release, so in the meantime, we’re going to talk about them until Nintendo remembers they exist.
You know how the story goes. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl are an amazing fit and make some incredible memories together. Girl gets wooed by billionaire new guy and leaves for greener pastures. Billionaire then asks girl to forget everything they’ve ever been good at and instead make sports games for a motion-sensing camera. Thankfully though, the girl left behind a parting gift. Just like the lost relationship, it’s not quite perfect, but it is the perfect encapsulation of their time spent together, a symbol of what made each part of the pairing special on their own, but even more magical together.
Did that work? …no? Ok, that was probably all a bit of stretch. I miss Rare, don’t @ me.
Star Fox Adventures was Rare’s swansong for Nintendo hardware before (literally one day later) being acquired by Microsoft to develop games for the Xbox family. What started as an original property named Dinosaur Planet for the Nintendo 64 later morphed to adopt Nintendo’s favourite furry after Miyamoto pointed out some similarities between Fox McCloud and the game’s protagonist at the time – or so the story goes. A couple of character redesigns and some shoehorned Arwing sections later and the game was reborn into today’s GameCube forgotten gem.
The Star Fox team, having brought peace and prosperity to the Lylat system several years ago, now drift through the galaxy as struggling mercenaries for hire. Given the growing need for repairs to the Great Fox, the team (mysteriously sans-Falco) jump at the chance to help in the brewing civil war on Dinosaur Planet. For a handsome fee of course.
The story leads Fox on a mission to recover the ancient Krazoa Spirits and the magical Spell Stones and return them to their temple to stop the planet from crumbling. It wouldn’t be a Rare game without a bunch of things to collect now, would it? It also happens to be where furry fan favourite Krystal is held captive in a
It’s easy to see throughout the story that this wasn’t always going to be a Star Fox game. There are story elements that Fox and his crew are unnaturally shuffled into, and the story’s pacing suffers from some parts that were no doubt either completely rewritten or restructured to facilitate the change in cast. I haven’t had the opportunity to look through the recently leaked original Dinosaur Planet for the Nintendo 64, but given that this build already has Fox in it, it seems it wasn’t exactly a last-minute switch, so it’s a shame some of these story shortcomings weren’t rectified.
The game may begin with a simple Arwing level reminiscent of Star Fox games of old, but it’s not long before you touch down on solid ground for a Star Fox experience unlike anything before. Fox leaves his blaster and vehicles behind, left to rely solely upon an ancient staff found on the planet’s surface after being dropped from the sky by Krystal. It proves to be a versatile little stick, acting as an effective close-range and long-range weapon, and helping to solve puzzles.
Combat looks flashy but is fairly basic. Mashing the A Button will make Fox perform some nifty looking moves that would make Darth Maul proud, and you can change your directional input to mix up the type of attack performed. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much difference in terms of actual effectiveness. You’ll end up just holding forward and hammering the button, watching the same few animations over and over, and occasionally taking some time to block. It loses it’s sheen fairly quickly, but combat is never really the focus.
Using the C-stick lets you flick through a menu to access your different abilities, items, and commands for your dinosaur pal Tricky. He can be a little grating at times, but he comes in handy at specific points throughout the world. It would have been nice to be able to utilise him more generally as opposed to just at scripted moments, but regardless he acts as a good foil to Fox, who admittedly rather smug and self-absorbed here.
It’s clear to see inspirations from The Legend of Zelda series, sparking quite a departure from the platforming escapades of earlier Rare titles featuring animal buddies. The focus is on exploration, puzzle-solving, and acquiring new items and abilities to unlock more the world. Of the dozen or so hours you spend on this adventure, there’s a good balance struck between just exploring the worlds and more focused “temple”-like areas with specific puzzles and challenges.
Acquiring the Krazoa spirits requires Fox to pass a series of “tests” to prove he is worthy of carrying them back to the Krazoa Palace, and it’s here that I remembered why I didn’t replay this game more as a kid. Most of them are ok, but one challenge has Fox subject to frightening hallucinations and tasks you with keeping his sanity in check by keeping a little icon in between a safe area. Think of it like trying to balance a rail grind in Tony Hawk, except it’s with a rookie skater with 1 stat point in the balance area. It’s as frustrating today as it was back then and joins a couple of other immensely tedious moments that kept me from coming back to the game.
A fast travel system would have also been appreciated, as you’ll spend a lot of time retracing your steps over the same areas to move between levels, which can be a bit laborious. This is especially the case when it involves ladders (Fox climbs so slow), or where you need to operate mechanisms like buttons or levers over and over to progress.
Despite these gripes, there’s plenty to like here. It looks gorgeous for one thing, despite its roots as a Nintendo 64 title. The fur textures are particularly impressive, as well as some beautifully designed environments. Everything looks lush and full of life, and there’s plenty of variety that makes it a joy to discover each new locale, and it all runs at a smooth 60fps. It even has a widescreen option, which I very much appreciate here in 2021. It’s an incredibly impressive showcase for a game that came out in 2002 during the first year of the GameCube’s life.
The sound design is equally excellent, with a vibrant soundtrack and some charmingly camp voice acting, as long as you’re not opposed to the quirky British style of humour that permeates. I really like the native Dinosaur language here too. I remember my brother and me trying to learn it back in the day so we could communicate in secret, but then we got mobile phones and swiftly scrapped that idea.
The Arwing sections are decent if a little easy and unremarkable. They look and feel great, but all take place across generic asteroid belts between planets. There’s a decent system here though that could have been fleshed out into something more substantial. It is primarily used during the final boss fight with Andross, which despite the cheap bait and switch with main villain General Scales, was actually a fun battle. If we’re being honest and I had to choose between the Arwing battle we got and a boss fight with General Scales with the super simple staff combat, I’ll happily take the ending we got.
In the end, we have a game filled with plenty of familiar faces and trappings that may not rival something like Zelda or the pinnacle of the developer’s history, but Star Fox Adventures is still a charming and enjoyable little adventure. That undeniable Rare flavour is so prevalent throughout, and despite some quibbles, I still adored this adventure. With a couple of nips and tucks, this could have been a real classic, but some minor missteps and the (perhaps unfairly) lofty expectations of being saddled with the Star Fox franchise have kept it from achieving that status.
If you’ve never given it a try and you have the means of accessing it, I heartily recommend giving it a go. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fun little adventure that will remind you of a time when Nintendo and Rare made some wonderful things together.
Do you have a suggestion of a GameCube game you’d like to see us look back at next? Drop a comment and let us know!