Title: Star Fox Zero
Version Tested: Wii U
Available On: Wii U
Genre: Arcade On-Rails Shooter
Official Site: https://starfoxzero.nintendo.com/
Release Date: 4/22/2016
Where to Buy: Retail Stores, Nintendo Eshop
It’s been a long wait for Star Fox fans to get back into the pilot seat of an arwing. The last new entry in the series was Star Fox Command back in 2006 for the Nintendo DS. And while a remake of the N64 classic was released as Star Fox 64 3D on the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, it only made fans crave for the day a new entree in the series would come. And now that day has come…kind of. Let me explain.
The plot of the game almost note for note that of Starfox 64 and in turn the original Star Fox on the Super Nintendo. The evil scientist Andross wants to take over the lylat system and the mercenary group Star Fox is hired to take him down. All these years later, the plot still works. As soon as the intro happens the story quietly fades into the background and the gameplay is at the forefront. Star Fox zero plays very similar to Star Fox 64. Most levels consist of linear paths that you will need to fly through to reach the boss at the end. But many times you will also break into All-Range mode where you have full three-dimensional movement of your air wing. You also have the returning landmaster tank but from here things become different from the N64 classic. Both the arwing and landmaster can now transform with a tap of the A button to become the walker and gravemaster respectively. The walker can go into tight spaces to infiltrate enemy bases and can hover for as long as the meter allows. And the gravmaster allows the tank to take to the skies and control like an arwing as long as the meter is not drained. And the final vehicle added is the gyrowing. Which is a small helicopter that can deploy a small robot to hack computers for infiltration missions.
Every planet you will travel to on your quest will provide you a new objective and design to challenge you. Whether it’s to help the Cornerian army defend against andross’s forces in an epic space battle, go through an area undetected to take out an enemy’s defenses, Rescue a teammate of yours, or blasting through a sector to reach adros. The level design will keep you on your toes at every moment and there’s rarely any downtime keeping you engaged the entire time with set pieces that a joy to play through and experience. The only grip with the level design is the repetition of certain levels. Mainly three that are used twice each and don’t play very different from one another. While a level near the end of the game isn’t as big of an offender, stages like the asteroid field and the great fox feel too similar to one another and both versions of zonus are the same level. The only change is the vehicle you control and that’s rather disappointing.
Now completing the game normally will send you on a linear path towards venum. But just 64, if you perform certain requirements like traveling to a portal or accomplishing a mission rather than completing it, you can change your route allowing you to get to a new stage and find new ways to play through the game. In total, there are 19 different paths you can take but in the main game, you are able to select any level you’ve unlocked at any time. If you want a more traditional Starfox experience you can later unlock Arcade mode which will score you as you go through the game on a path you decide to take as you play with the game keeping track of your best scores for each of the 19 different journeys. But in arcade mode, you have a one backup life policy. Die without 3 gold rings and you’re sent back to the start. If you want more to do, you can also check the game’s tutorial mode which acts like a challenge mode where you need to collect tokens as fast as you can in various challenge courses that will open up as you progress through the game.
So everything so far sounds similar to Star Fox 64, but there’s one major change to the game that’s the defining aspect of Star Fox zero, the control. In Star Fox zero all movement is handled by the left stick, and the right stick controls the smart bombs, boost/braking, and u-turns, with the ZR button controlling your lasers. But the aiming is now separate from the control of the ship itself. On the gamepad screen, you will have a cockpit view of the action where you can look at anything in fox’s viewing range. You move the gamepad to the location you want to shoot at to move your reticle. So you need to focus on both aimings from the cockpit and managing your ship’s location on screen at all times. Needless to say, this is the biggest point of controversy when it comes to Star Fox Zero. Nintendo has made the game feel like you’re piloting a real aircraft in a way. But that control requires a lot of skill even for the most veteran player and this alone will be the biggest factor for if you can enjoy the game or not. It doesn’t help that they are required at all times with no other controller being allowed. The only way to get around it is to play in Co-op where one player flies the ship and the other shoots. But besides that, the game will force you to use the controls this way with no other way around it unlike games such as Splatoon that made motion controls purely optional. And there is no way to customize button layouts as well, which would have helped as performing tasks like the famous barrel roll is now done by tapping the right stick left or right twice which feels very awkward.
It was hard to grasp for the first few hours. But once I began my 2nd full playthrough of the game, everything started to click in for me, now I was able to start performing maneuvers that would be impossible to do in any other Star Fox game thanks to this control scheme. In fact, this can really make parts of the game stand out more than before such as in the encounters with star wolf which thanks to the cockpit view make you really feel like you’re trying to tail your enemy and shoot them out of the sky. It doesn’t beat an n64 controller, but the control still works. Once you master the controls of Star Fox Zero, you will start to get an immense feeling of satisfaction from the game. But to get to that point requires time and dedication that only a few players will have.
Not helping those players settle in is the iffy graphical quality. Some areas look great such as the space scenes, Corneria, and Zonus. But some places like the inside of bases and the character models can look straight out of the Gamecube area and it’s incredibly distracting. Though to be fair the game has to render everything twice thanks to the separate view on the gamepad, but still, this is far from what the Wii U is truly capable of.
Luckily the sound of Star Fox Zero will undoubtedly entertain players. With constant voice charter from the gamepad that contains without a doubt, the best voice works the franchise has seen yet and from the tv incredible music. From the heart-pumping beginning notes of Corneria to the space opera scene of the Star Wolf theme to the peace and victory of the ending credits. Star Fox Zero contains an incredible soundtrack that will please both long time fans and players of all kind. The only nitpick about the sound is the fact that all radio chatter comes through the gamepad itself with no way to switch it to the TV as well.
Star Fox Zero is a game that will only become as good as you are playing it. If you aren’t willing to adapt to the at first confusing controls and the frustration that will come with them, you’re not going to have a pleasant experience. But if you’re willing to go with the ride and learn the game’s mechanics. You will find an adventure that lives up to the Star Fox legacy and that will be well worth the ten years wait it’s been. Welcome back Mr. McCloud, we’ve missed you.
- Gameplay: Fun and engaging once you learn the controls and will reward your skill as you progress.
- Graphics: Great in some areas but very dated in others creating a look that doesn’t seem as great as it could have been.
- Sound: Rock solid with fantastic voice acting and an incredible soundtrack.
- Presentation: Feels like an updated version of the 64 classic while keeping the best elements to appease old-school Star Fox fans.
- Fantastic level design that encourages skill and creativity
- Great Sound in both VAs and Music
- Tons of replay value
- Engaging boss fights
- Motion controls are required at all times
- A steep learning curve that will require time and dedication
- Reusing of levels that don’t feel different at all