Review Date: 4/27/03
Years after Team Starfox split and went their own separate ways, ace pilot Fox McCloud gets back together with Slippy Toad and Peppy Hare to go into the mercenary business. Aimlessly patrolling the Lylat system and down on their luck, they finally receive orders for a high paying job and suit up for action. It just so happens that Dinosaur Planet is literally being torn apart and chunks of the planet are now in orbit around the troubled motherland. How is a simple fighter pilot going to put the planet back together and collect his fee? A good question, and one that Fox spends the entire game trying to figure out.
The game certainly starts out promising enough, as a beautiful female fox named Krystal receives a distress call from Dinosaur Planet while investigating the mysterious murder of her parents. She comes face to face with General Scales, a tyrannical ruler bent on ruling all of Dinosaur Planet with an iron claw, and learns of the planet's plight. Unfortunately, before she can do much about it, she is captured and imprisoned in Krazoa Palace. After such a stunning prelude, the game goes rapidly downhill as soon as Team Starfox arrives on the scene. The grave and serious tone of the game shifts to adolescent male cockiness, and Fox's "shoot first ask questions later" attitude seems ill suited to address the problem at hand. The game quickly turns into a massively tedious scavenger hunt as Fox attempts to figure out how to bring the planet back together, aided by the obnoxious and annoying Prince Tricky of the Earthwalker tribe. Fox's apathy and distaste of the mission translate directly to the player, which makes the majority of the game feel like a cumbersome chore. The only thing that kept me going was the hope of rescuing Krystal from her glass prison.
Technically, the game is superb. The nearly seamless levels are large, colorful, and beautifully detailed, and the very brief load times are only noticeable when you run across the boundaries of one area into the next. The levels also feature a number of wonderful environmental effects such as rain, snow, fog, and lightning, and the world experiences night and day as well. The level design makes it easy to figure out where to go next, and there are plenty of goodies to investigate and unlock in the nooks and crannies. The music and sound effects are good and environmentally appropriate, though nothing stands out as overly noteworthy. The character design is excellent, and the fur shading used on Fox and Krystal is quite impressive. Krystal is utterly adorable and her motion cycles are very cute and feminine. She also flicks her tail in a delightfully coquettish manner. Unfortunately, apart from Fox and Krystal, the voice acting fails to impress, with most of the secondary characters sounding like an odd ESL cast. The acting is fine, but the accents, pronunciation, and intonations are noticeably off. For the most part, the controls are responsive and work well, and the chase camera is usually cooperative. Probably the most annoying problem with the controls is the inverted y-axis control, which should have been made configureable on the options screen. In normal third person mode, up is up and down is down, but in first person mode and flying missions it switches to standard flight-sim behavior, which results in a considerable and frustrating continuity issue.
The game is quite difficult at times and requires quick reflexes and precision handling to meet certain objectives (or maybe I'm just really showing my age). The target demographic is also unclear. The visual design and presentation definitely appeals to younger players, but the difficulty may turn them off. (although I've noticed that some younger players just like to run around the environments and not bother with mission objectives at all) The game also features a lot of subtitled text, translated from the developer's own dinosaur language. This is probably the strangest aspect of the entire game and definitely a questionable design decision. Clearly a lot of effort went into creating Dino Language, but younger players are likely to be frustrated by the amount of reading and older players are going to find the strange sounding language awkward and annoying to listen to. (it sounds like an odd mix of French and Chinese that has no flow or rhythm at all)
The characters and overall presentation are also rather adolescent, and apart from her brief intro level, Krystal is handled with all of the respect and dignity of a cheap stripper. As soon as Fox encounters her on display as the caged animal that she is, he gets an immediate hard-on accompanied by a tasteless porno jazz soundtrack. The end of the game is even more disrespectful, as the oversexed Krystal swishes over to Fox (again with the porno jazz accompaniment and an up-the-skirt camera angle) and seductively tells him "I just had to come back to thank you..." Fox blushes and Rob notes that his temperature is rising, but Fox assures him that he'll be just fine, making an uncomfortable allusion to some hot fox mating action that's about to take place off camera (or am I just projecting?). This pretty much spoiled the whole experience for me, and it's even more frustrating that Krystal's story is left without any resolution at all. Did she find out anything about her parents or is she still pursuing her quest for answers? We don't find out. We also don't learn anything about General Scales, who after being such a nasty and imposing threat simply disappears, and the Sharpclaw that served him go back to being good guys. None of it makes any sense, but as long as Fox gets paid and gets some nookie, I suppose he doesn't care. And that's what it seems like the developers want the player to feel as well. The job is done, so let's celebrate and to hell with the consequences.