Nintendo has been working on the latest title in the Star Fox franchise for a long time. After over a decade without a console installment, a few delays, and some help from Platinum Games, Star Fox Zero is finally here. Taking advantage of Wii U’s unique GamePad, this aerial shooter brings more depth to the gameplay and combat in the Star Fox franchise, but is that what this franchise needed?
While there are a lot of new features added to Star Fox Zero, it also does a great job at keeping many aspects of the original classic and it’s successor, Star Fox 64. In fact, it is these aspects that really hold the game together. The beginning level of the attack on Corneria encompasses everything players loved about the last few times they saved the home planet of our heroes. This stage is not the only one that players will seem to remember, as Star Fox Zero is essentially a retelling of the classic story seen in both the original and remake for the N64(which Star Fox Zero relates to the most). This, however, is not a flaw of Star Fox Zero thanks to enhanced controls and more.
Before we even get to the cockpit view on the GamePad, let’s first discuss the Arwing maneuverability. Finer tuned and more elegantly designed then the controls of the previous titles, the Arwing boasts stronger boosters, faster breaks, quick movement, and a locking system. This is a first for the franchise where you feel like you are controlling a powerful aerial vehicle and not just an avatar that is floating on the screen in front of you. This detail does make the learning curve a bit more steep, however.
With this in mind, there are a number tutorials to help the player get used to the controls of the many vehicles the Star Fox team take control of, before going through the main story mode. While a walkthrough of using the Arwing is mandatory before the game beings, the rest are optional on the main menu. That isn’t to say there aren’t helpful tutorial like scenarios in the main game. In fact, they can be a tad annoying. Each new vehicle has an explanation from ROB and a some tidbits from Peppy. Once you get past that, having a wider variety of vehicles can be a great change of pace from flying straight and blasting everything in site. That being said, not all of them are worth it. (I’m looking at you Gyrowing.)
While a helicopter like device was a nice idea, using it to stealthily move inside bases, drop bombs, and use a little robot to hack computers does not play off well. Especially when you don’t have much in the weapons category to defend yourself and you are forced to move at a snail’s pace. A flying snail that is, which is even slower. The Landmaster makes a strong return as the heavily offensive tank. This vehicle and the Arwing are greatly enhanced by one amazing feature: Transforming.
With one button, the Arwing turns into a speedy walker that can get around more compact areas, such as the inside of an enemy ship. The Landmaster can also transform into an aerial mode where it can fly at decent speeds, rather than simply hovering as it normally does. These transformations bring about the best gameplay Star Fox Zero offers. Bosses force you to switch in between at certain moments for intense battle scenes. Other dog fights, specifically against Star Wolf, leave it open for the players to choose between the two forms and switch between them as they please. These matches can become as satisfying as a fight with Megatron, not just from the transforming, but also because the last few bosses really are challenging. Finally winning out in a challenging fight is always satisfying.
Now, we get to the cockpit view on the GamePad. It is not easy to look back and forth between the television screen and the GamePad. No matter how well designed it is, it’s just not natural and it’s difficult. Moving the pad to aim, however, feels surprisingly good. There is still a crosshair on the television screen, so moving your vehicle with the controls and aiming with the motion feels great. Your aim will not be as accurate unless you’re looking at the GamePad, but it still gets the job done. There are times when you really do have to use the GamePad, and they can be frustrating. For example, there are certain bosses that you can’t really attack unless you are locked on and aim through the cockpit view. It seems forced and unnecessary, considering the amount of times you have taken down baddies without it.
Other components from Star Fox Zero are basically what you would expect them to be. There are about ten stages with different vehicles to take advantage of until you get to Venom and have to face off against Andross. If certain actions are taken, then your path can change to the final battle. This is the great arcade style that kept fans coming back for the original and Star Fox 64. Oddly enough, you unlock an Arcade Mode once you’ve beaten the main game, but it has the same stages. A bit redundant for trying to add more play time. That being said, playing the first stage a second time felt great. With a steep learning curve, the sense of mastering the controls and going for round two is marvelous.
There are some spoilers ahead, so read on with caution if you have not completed the main game for yourself.
A few of the story aspects feel forced in Star Fox Zero. They basically follow the idea of James McCloud never returning after hunting Andross and being betrayed by Pigma. Five years later his son Fox reforms Star Fox and fights the good fight, with all of this being explained in the prologue. Dialogue that doesn’t seem to fit are the many references to their animal types, with The Star Fox team constantly referring to the enemies as monkeys. Yes, most of Andross’ army is made of monkeys, but it is a bit more disturbing, or maybe just cheesy to point it out so much in a universe of anthropomorphic creatures. The Cornerian army, mostly made of canine creatures, even refers to a bulldog squad, as if their fleets were divided by species.
Another aspect to the story that can take players away is Fox saving a female fox in a bright red ship who calls him “Foxy Baby.” There is never any more development on this character, other than she is friends with Falco. Perhaps if a different path is found, more is revealed, but her character still seems to talk too much like a 1950’s Hollywood sex symbol.
As someone who was a fan of the multiplayer in Star Fox Assault, I would have liked to have seen something like that in this game. Perhaps a dog-fight mode with friends or online, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Star Fox Zero is a nice call back to the classics with enhanced gameplay and different features. It will make you want to go through the story over and over again, mastering your abilities, and finding every course along the way. The use of the GamePad and cockpit view can be a little unnatural, but overall, there is a lot of fan to be had, especially if you are a fan of the franchise.