I was excited for Star Fox Zero, I really was. And I can’t say I’m disappointed in the title as much as I’m disappointed in myself for expecting more. Because fool me once, shame on you – but fool me twice, shame on me.
When Star Fox 64 hit the Nintendo 64 back in 1997, it was an instant classic. Then we cut to 2011’s release of Star Fox 64 3D. It was essentially a port of the 64 version, but tweaked to embrace the Nintendo 3DS’ superior architecture and 3D capabilities. Now, cue 2016 and Star Fox Zero. With some new ideas peppered here and there and a shinier coat of paint, we essentially have the same game as it’s 1997 ancestor – for the third time.
It’s not entirely fair to bash Star Fox Zero for its archaic DNA though. We were told a year ago that the title was a reboot for the franchise and it was classified as a reimagining of the classic Nintendo 64 version. I just wish there was more to it. I won’t even surmise the overall plot because I’m sure you already know it. The only real tweak to this one is that it’s all General Pepper’s fault that Andross is pissed off to begin with. It’s more revenge based than just an evil genius gone rogue.
The big questions revolve around the motion controls and Wii U Gamepad. No, they are not optional. You’re stuck with them But the motion controls work pretty well.
The big questions surrounding the game revolve around the motion controls and Wii U Gamepad, of course. No, they are not optional. The only way you aren’t forced to play with the Wii U Gamepad’s gyroscope as your virtual cockpit and aiming device is if you decide to go into two player mode and just take control of your ship. You’re stuck with them. What I can report is that the motion controls work pretty well. Unfortunately, in my case at least, it takes a damn long time to get used to them. Using the Wii U Gamepad screen as a cockpit though? Not so much…
You’ve really never been asked to play a video game like this before, and it’s jarring. You start out your first mission on Corneria where you can tell immediately that the game’s graphics have been cleaned up quite a bit since the internet bashed the living hell out of this game. It’s not gorgeous, but it’s good enough, and as long as the camera never gets too close (which it normally doesn’t) things remain pretty clean. So while you’re enjoying the sights and getting acclimated to your Arwing, here come the enemies, and it seems as though your lasers are going everywhere except where you want them to.
There are four vehicles for use in Star Fox Zero; the Arwing, the Walker, the Landmaster and the Gyrocopter. The first three are each maneuvered on the X and Y axes using the left thumb stick. The right stick allows you to angle your Arwing and is also used for your more advanced techniques like barrel rolls, 180 degree and 360 degree flips. Outside of combat – which we’ll get to – the Arwing feels as good as ever. It has the ability to convert into Walker mode at any time which is a nice touch, and add some depth we’ve yet to see from Fox’s ship. The Walker feels great to control too, and brings it’s own benefits to the action when the Arwing isn’t capable of getting up close and personal. The Landmaster is exactly as you remember it, a powerful tank counterpart on land to the Arwings more finesse offering in air. It plows through levels with umph yet maintains the dexterity to maneuver itself safely through environments. Finally, the Gyrocopter is a drone that Fox utilizes for a couple of levels. With it comes a droid named Direct-I you can drop from its hull which has the ability to collect hidden items and hack panels or enemies. There’s a stealth level that slows things down and incorporates this nicely. It’s a welcome change of pace to the speed the game normally brings forth and Nintendo was smart not to overuse it.
While all the action from your vehicles is being displayed on your television, your Wii U Gamepad is displaying its own view of the game’s events from your cockpit. It’s here that you can precisely aim using the Wii U Gamepad’s gyroscope sensor, and despite having to recalibrate it here and there, it works well. But just because it works doesn’t mean it’s welcomed, as that’s the toughest part of Star Fox Zero – somehow learning to watch two screens at once. Theoretically, you could ignore the Gamepad most of the time as your aiming reticule is still represented on the television. But once you go into All Range mode, where you’re no longer “on rails” and can freely move about a 360 degree field of combat, the Gamepad becomes almost essential. This is true even more so for a few boss battles, including the final one, where the game locks in on a camera mode similar to Grand Theft Auto V‘s Cinematic view. It’s impossible to aim, or even to accurately fly really, without staring at your Gamepad during these moments. It feels absolutely forced during these times, just so Nintendo can say they have inventive uses for the Gamepad I suppose, and it made me yearn for the way dogfights used to feel in Star Fox 64.
There are dogfights in Star Fox Zero, of course. And they’re fun, even if they seem to be easier than in past outings. I would have loved a couple of epic fights with the Star Wolf team. But each time I came across Wolf, Leon, Pigma and Andrew, I dispatched them with ease. That’s true for the game as a whole I suppose, it’s pretty easy with no option to raise the stakes. Which then made me wish Nintendo had some sort of online multiplayer offering for the game. I have fond memories dogfighting with friends on the Nintendo 64, so it’s baffling to me that Nintendo has yet to revisit that concept (and outright omitted it from Star Fox 64 3D). This needs to be brought back for future Star Fox adventures. And that will be the only time I say Star Fox Adventures – I swear.
I flew through my first campaign of Star Fox Zero from beginning to end in about 3 ½ hours. That was with Fox flying whatever random route I was entitled to with my playing ability the first go around. If you’ve played the core Star Fox series before, you know that the game’s progression is far from linear. You can travel from Corneria to Venom via many different planets and many different routes. It’s all based upon certain criteria you either meet or do not meet that will send you in certain directions. That’s a big bonus for a game that makes you say “that’s it?” when finishing the final fight. There is a ton of replayability. Each level has hidden medals to find and top scores to beat, which reward you should you be a proficient enough motion control utilizing pilot to do so.
I can’t say I’m in love with Star Fox Zero, but it is a quality outing. I was hoping for an epic reboot to the series, a game that would take me hours and hours to fly across the galaxy and struggle to take down my greatest adversaries. Instead, it was a quick jaunt from A to Z with only an occasional downed Arwing. If you were like me hoping for something epic, you can probably pass on one of the Wii U’s final swan songs. If you’re happy with a prettier rehash of the Nintendo 64 game with a unique control scheme, have at it. Me personally, I think I finally know what the Star Fox series represents. Hopefully Nintendo fools me again down the line in a good way.
+ Although the linear path to the end is short, the game's replayability will keep you coming back for hours more.
+ Once used to them, the motion controls aren't bad. But being forced to play through the Wii U Gamepad is.
- The forced use of the Wii U Gamepad's second screen is cumbersome to say the least.