Back in the 16 and 64-bit eras, UK-based developer Rare was exceptionally good at looking at what its then almost-parent Nintendo was doing, then developing their own killer take on it. I mean, seriously, look at the evidence – Diddy Kong Racing gives Mario Kart 64 a run for its money, but is awash with way, way more content. Banjo Kazooie is right up there with Super Mario 64. And one of the great pieces of gaming gossip of the 90s revolves around Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s alleged distaste at the wild success of Donkey Kong Country. Rare and Nintendo were on the same side, but were in a quiet sort of rivalry that resulted in some really damn good games.
Star Fox Adventures is another game in that pantheon – and as I reconsidered this unique little tile as it turns 20 years old, I realized two things: first, the march of time is crushing and I feel ancient. Second: this is sadly the last great Star Fox game, at least for now.
Which is funny when you think about it, as Star Fox Adventures didn’t even begin life as a Star Fox game. It was originally announced as Dinosaur Planet, an original Rare property that was basically the company doing for the Ocarina of Time formula what Banjo-Kazooie did to Mario 64’s take on 3D platforming. It starred dual protagonists, a fox and a wolf, but after Miyamoto saw the game in action, he made a suggestion: why didn’t it just use Star Fox? Thus the game changed forms, and then platform – jumping from a surprisingly complete N64 build to a massive do-over on GameCube.
At the time, Star Fox Adventures was met with bemusement. It scored well, and people spoke highly of its visuals in particular – but to many, myself included, it was a Star Fox game without much of what made one fall in love with the series. Here was this great little Zelda-alike, but the thing I really played it for back in the day were the little Star Fox dogfights that’d occasionally bridge your hopping around the planet.
Then there was the game’s cobbled-together nature – one could tell it was a different game that’d had Star Fox grafted onto it. And nowhere was that more evident than in the game’s final stages, where a villain built up all game is despatched quickly in a cutscene, only for traditional Star Fox big boss Andross to take over out of nowhere. It doesn’t feel unfair to call it a little fractured.
Hindsight is a hell of a drug, though, and looking back on Star Fox Adventures now, I appreciate it more. One can look at it as the start of a worrying trend for the Star Fox series – that is, allowing Fox and company out of the cockpit – but it’s a damn good Zelda clone, and demonstrates once again how Rare was at taking Nintendo-built formulas and evolving them in unique and interesting ways.
It also did have things to bring to the table for the series, too. The Adventures Arwing is one of the best looking in the series, in my opinion, and likewise I love the idea of Star Fox as a clapped-out mercenary unit struggling for work in a peaceful world after saving the world in past adventures.
There’s something about that particular setup that feels unashamedly British: when made in Japan, the Star Fox team was a slick operation with the latest technology. Under the Brits, they’re a slightly crap rag-tag operation with a knackered flagship, struggling to pay the bills. That feels very British. In fact, I like the series’ addition to the Star Fox lore in general – Krystal is a decent character, even if she is bait for the worst of Deviantart. She should’ve been in Smash, using Adventures’ staff and its elemental magics, instead of Falco.
Anyway, I like it more now than I did then, which is curious. It perhaps got the hard time it did back then not just because Star Fox wasn’t the greatest fit with what the original Dinosaur Planet was, but also because this is probably the weakest of Rare’s Nintendo tribute acts. It’s no Zelda – it ain’t even close. But it is a decent bit of fun.
It also feels a fitting farewell to Rare and Nintendo’s relationship – it was the last Rare game released before Microsoft swept in and purchased Rare, including Nintendo’s 49% state in the company, for £375 million. In a way, Rare delivering a strong clone of a Nintendo formula while also using a Nintendo IP feels like a perfect encapsulation of that industry-defining relationship.
But also, sadly, it’s the last great Star Fox game, isn’t it? Assault, made by some of Namco’s Ace Combat team, was a mess. Command is an interesting game, but not a particularly good one. PlatinumGames-developed Star Fox Zero has a good game in there, struggling to get out, but it’s bludgeoned to death by Nintendo’s desire to crowbar in an interesting use of the WiiU GamePad.
And so here we are. We’re 20 years on from Star Fox Adventures – the last great Star Fox game, even though it isn’t even really a proper Star Fox game. F-Zero fans might be crying, but what’s worse? Getting no game at all, or getting three rubbish ones? I suppose we’ll always have Star Fox, Star Fox 64, and Star Fox Adventures. That’s a decent trilogy.