Fear of a Dinosaur Planet
Up until last week's Nintendo Show, Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet had seen a lot of publicity, but very few had actually been able to play much of it. The game's space sections weren't on show at E3, and the third person sections have been limited to some water, a few trees and a patch of grass. Nevertheless, the game is extremely popular. You only had to look at the queues for it at The Nintendo Show to realise that. The question is whether or not it can fulfil its potential. For the benefit of those who were not already aware, Star Fox Adventures is the latest in the long-running series of space flight games that started life on the Super Nintendo. For the first time in the series, players will be able to manoeuvre the heroic Fox McCloud around a 3D landscape outside his trusty Arwing, using all his wit, cunning, small-arms weaponry and agility to outfox (hah!) a wily collection of embittered dinosaurs causing hassle for the friendly natives of the Dinosaur Planet. The battle to reclaim the planet from these upstarts will be waged on land and sea in third person adventure sections, and in the skies above the planet in classic space combat sections. During the course of the game Fox will team up with his pals Slippy, Peppy and even Rob the Robot, and aside from that Star Fox Adventures also features plenty of recorded dialogue, an original musical composition to accompany it and plenty of non-player characters to interact with. The reason that the space sections of the game have taken so long to get going is that Star Fox Adventures actually started life as a Rareware-developed third person adventure game on the N64 that had nothing to do with Star Fox. As it turned out, Nintendo had bigger plans for it though, and pushed the release date back until virtually nobody had any recollection of it. The plot concerns the dastardly General Scales, who eight years after the defeat of Andross (see Star Fox 64 for details) has claimed the pterodactyl princess of the Dinosaur Planet and is generally causing mischief for the locals. His reign will be short-lived though, if Fox and the lads have anything to do with it.
We'll fight them on the beaches, etc
The most obvious comparison for the third person sections we can think of is Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In terms of visuals, controls and targeting, players of Ocarina will be completely at home, and if those same players were into Star Fox 64 as well they'll have a damn good idea of how to play the rest of the game when they get their hands on it. The 3D world seen in the third person adventure sections at The Nintendo Show was lavished with detail and very lifelike. It bears a certain resemblance to Phantasy Star Online, with a ton of detail piled on. As Fox stepped out of his Arwing we observed reeds swaying in the wind and water trickling past us in a nearby stream. Tearing around the local area it became pretty apparent that Fox's animation is incredibly complex. If you dive into the water he swims almost like a crocodile, his big furry tail stuck out behind flapping in the current, and as he dashes up the banks you can see how Rare's abilities in 3D movement have improved since the days of Donkey Kong and co., as his tail moves delicately from side to side and his legs sweep through the long grass. It's almost a shame though that Fox is a, well, a fox, because foxes are furry creatures, and Rare don't seem to have got that just right this time.
Move onto the space sections though, and you can have no complaints. The map system allows you to pick a location from those orbiting the planet, and once settled you leap into your Arwing and head into battle after a brief pep talk from Slippy or one of the others. We're not sure how our first objective - to fly through ten golden hoops - really helped the plight of the dying dinos on the ground, but it was certainly good fun. Asteroids move left and right, up and down, back and forward; it makes for some thrilling action. As you dodge the huge bulk of these giant space rocks you realise how beautiful space can be. What you'd perhaps expect to be huge areas of blackness are filled with glowing nebulae and planetary constellations, and the asteroids and enemy ships you're paying attention to in the foreground are sumptuously detailed, right down to little outcrops of rock on the surface of the larger asteroids. You can blast away some of the smaller ones, but the larger are indestructible, and even have their own gravity which makes it difficult to avoid them. The surface of the larger asteroids is peppered with huge canyons of space rock to fly through, often revealing power-ups or an elusive golden hoop. It's exciting, and very pretty. Control-wise it feels just the same as it always has, which isn't a bad thing. You can boost yourself, swing left, right, up and down, turn your ship sideways to fit through smaller gaps, fire off lasers and rockets and more. The engine seems to be holding up very nicely too, with very little in the way of clipping or other glitches.
Star Fox Adventures looks amazingly attractive, and with any luck the creative minds at Nintendo and Rare will have hatched an entertaining plot that does more than just pad out the puzzles and blasters. The version we saw didn't look all that complete, lacking any sort of front end and ending abruptly with a thunking great stone wall in the middle of a cave. "You can't get past that," we were told. There wasn't much cohesion between the surface and space missions that we could see, although presumably this will be filled in in time. The difficulty here is that Dinosaur Planet was progressing for quite a long time as a third person adventure game, and one has to be concerned that perhaps the end product of this crossover will feel like two separate games bolted on to one another. Rare know their stuff though, and given the extremely intuitive controls and exciting space combat sections we've experienced thus far, one has to have a degree of confidence in them. Between the various people involved in this project and the technology they're working with, something good is bound to turn out.