Author’s Note: This will be the first in an intermittent series of “Nobody Expects!” posts, reserved for when I take a particularly iconoclastic/unexpected position.
I’ve been encountering the Star Fox franchise a lot this year. On a personal level, a fellow student at Hampshire College wrote, produced, and orchestrated a stage adaptation of Star Fox 64 titled “Barrel Rolls and Broken Dreams.” It wasn’t everything I’d hoped for, it but was still an impressive achievement, and the highlight of the play was not the many original additions but the sections in which they replicated, word-for-word, the levels of the original Star Fox 64 (complete with an a capella group performing the music). It infused me with an appreciation for the title that I had previously lacked. And so, when the Star Fox 64 3DS adaptation was announced, I understood some of the enthusiasm (though not all of it – it’s still a port, and the fact that the Ocarina of Time port is a killer app for some boggles my mind).
This also led to a lot of talk about the franchise “getting back on track” after “losing its way” with Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox: Assault. I didn’t play Star Fox: Assault, so I won’t comment on it – I’m fully willing to believe that it was less than stellar. But the antipathy towards Star Fox Adventures has surprised me.
Let me give you an example of the sort of coverage I’m talking about. Recently, IGN published a feature titled “Nintendo’s Franchises: Hot or Not?” They provides a reader reaction (“What we need is some Star Fox, c’mon Nintendo we want a legit Star Fox game like Star Fox 64.”) and then provided their own:
“Opinions seem split on Star Fox, and Seis_Siete sums it up succinctly. Many of you seem to like the idea of the franchise continuing, but you’re also quick to bring up the many perceived failures of the brand in recent years. So Star Fox seems to be getting a kind of conditional “hot” vote — in that it’ll be hot if Nintendo chooses the right creative direction for upcoming installments, and “not” if they keep churning out off-target titles like Star Fox Adventures.”
For once, I’m not taking IGN to task here – they’re making it clear that they’re reading the pulse rather than making a stand. And it’s a good thing, because when it came out IGN gave Star Fox Adventures a 9.0, writing “Star Fox Adventures arrives as a truly excellent 3D action-adventure for GameCube owners,” and concluding “highly recommended.”
I would certainly have not given Star Fox Adventures so high a score, but neither would I have given it a low one: it is the quintessential 7.5 (or 8.0, depending on how heavily you weigh the games graphical accomplishment), a game that is technically proficient on every level and inspired on none. But it certainly wasn’t awful: the worst thing about it was the story, and even that was considerably better than the frankly awful narrative of Star Fox 64.
Maybe that’s the problem. Star Fox 64 has become a cult classic in large part thanks to its so-bad-it’s-good dialog. Star Fox Adventures is a more polished game, but Star Fox fans don’t want polish, they want soul (and lots of explosions). But let’s give Star Fox Adventures some credit. There are games for the ages, that are great upon release and remain great. Some games are ahead of their time, and recieved mixed reaction upon release only to be acknowledge as great by later generations. But I feel the most common category of “great games” are those that are simply products of their time: deserving of their accolades upon release, but quickly made obsolete by later games doing them one better. Game design changes (some would say advances) rapidly, and while a certain level of greatness can cement a game in the historical record, there is a place for games with less temporal ambition: games that offer a good time here and now, and to hell with future generations.