After years of waiting, Nintendo has teamed up with Platinum Games to deliver a brand new Star Fox experience. I say new, but Star Fox Zero is actually a reimagining of Star Fox and Star Fox 64. Unfortunately, what comes with reimaginings is retread ground. On the other hand, Nintendo and Platinum bring a few new things to the table, which have the potential to bring Zero to a higher level than the fan favorite, 64. Before we go into the game proper, I want to first address one of the biggest worries in everyone’s mind: how it feels to be behind the Arwing once again.
I never got a chance to play the demo versions of Star Fox Zero at any trade shows, but the numerous reports of problematic and confusing controls were enough to shake my confidence in the title before I picked it up. I was able to get used to the controls after a few levels, and after crashing into my 30th object, I got the sense that Zero wanted me to pick the mechanics up quicker. Once I was more comfortable piloting the Arwing, one thing became clear: If players can navigate the controls in Splatoon, they will be able to grasp what Nintendo and Platinum are aiming for in Zero. Although, like Splatoon, I found myself constantly recalibrating my cursor in the midst of the action; not enough to be detrimental to the experience, but enough to warrant discussion. To get the best tactical advantage, I focused much more on the action on the GamePad, rather than my TV screen; which I reserved for when I needed to locate the main objective, and I never felt like I lost too much in the experience.
Both the Gyrowing and the Landmaster make appearances, but they are more akin to walk-on roles; with the Gyrowing only appearing in one and a half stages in the game. They are a nice addition, but difficult to justify save for the sake of having different vehicles. The level designs never seem to take advantage of their unique capabilities. At no point in the game did I feel as though the Landmaster or Gyrowing accomplished anything the Arwing could not, especially now that the Arwing has been equipped with a walker mode. Not surprisingly, its walker mode is accurate to how most giant bird-like walkers would control. For those of you who don’t have access to walkers, just grab a wheelbarrow, fill it with sand, and run around for awhile. The walker is not built for tight cornering or quick turning (or any turning really), which is unfortunate, many of its levels are corners galore, with trigger-happy enemies waiting at every turn.
Getting down to brass tax, Zero still provides those moments of fun and action fans have been wanting from Nintendo for years. Though the game starts out on a high learning curve, the difficulty has a nice, steady progression, building upon your mastery of the Arwing; at no moment in the game did I feel an at unfair advantage or disadvantage. As players fight from battle to battle, the Arwing begins to pick up speed, until Fox and co are blasting through levels at top speed. This serves as a brilliant way to increase difficulty, ramp up tension, and sends a signal to the player that they are reaching the climax of the game.
Each of the levels have their own secrets, and depending on player performance, can lead to either a “Mission Complete”, which is the standard completion, or a “Mission Accomplished”, which involves finding the secret way of completing the level, unlocking new routes and areas. Aside from completing the mission, there are medals for the player to collect, with 70 in all. Don’t fret if you miss your opportunity to nab one, as Star Fox Zero’s campaign does not function like its predecessors. In the world map (solar map?), players can pick and choose to play any level they wish, as long as that level has been unlocked. Star Fox purists may take offense at that, but for the completionist, that means more opportunity to comb through every nook and cranny.
For everything the newest Star Fox title does well, there are plenty of stumbling blocks. Graphics have never been the end-all-be-all element in my reviews, but there are certainly moments in Zero which gave me pause. When destroyed, large vehicles tend to fall apart like Jenga sets, and it is probably best not to look too closely at how the Landmaster contacts the ground. It’s difficult to feel positive about the game’s voice acting as well. Moments in the game left me wondering if some of the voice actors were not given context to their dialogue.
The majority of comparisons I can make to Star Fox 64 comes from the dialogue and story beats. More than half of the dialogue in the game is taken straight from Star Fox 64, crossing the line from call-back to repeat. Yes Peppy, I know to do a barrel roll; yes Slippy, I’ll be sure to watch out; yes Falco, I guess I am good for something, and no, I don’t know what Kat is doing here. Star Wolf makes an appearance, as is in their contract, and Titania is still a rescue operations. These familiar grounds are not the game’s weak points, but where the game shines are missions designed from the ground up, such as stealth mission on Zoness, or the mission on Fortuna.
Despite its flaws, Star Fox Zero is the kind of title fans have been looking for from Nintendo for awhile. It will likely take you awhile, but once you have a firm grasp of the controls, dogfighting against Andross’s forces feels as enjoyable as in previous titles, and in some ways better. Zero has many moments and set pieces of action that keeps your eyes glued to the screen, and many of the game’s secrets were rewarding to discover; being just subtle enough to feel like a natural part of the game. As long as you don’t go into the story expecting a grand space opera, the dialogue won’t detract too much from Zero. Taking one path, the campaign is short, as is par for the course in a Star Fox title. However, the value is not in the story, but in each level’s replay value, whether it be trying to find all of the secrets, nabbing the high score, or wanting to charge through the level as quickly as possible. Star Fox Zero is a fun, worthwhile addition to your Wii U collection, and a great return to the Star Fox series.
Review: Star Fox Zero