I’m Simultaneously Happy and Frustrated with Star Fox Zero
Created as a weird sequel/prequel/remake for the Nintendo 64 classic Star Fox 64, this new adventure with the Star Fox team is familiar is a lot of ways. It’s the same crew, same premise, and largely the same type of gameplay. But then again it’s none of those things, with different characters, an altered plot, and such a variety of gameplay resembling anything but a Star Fox game. While I still had fun with the game, it certainly wasn’t the next space dogfight simulator I was expecting from Nintendo.
The biggest complaint going into the game from many, not just the gaming press, were the controls. In a weird attempt to utilize the Wii U GamePad’s second screen and gyrosensor controls, you have to aim your lasers using the GamePad while still steering your aircraft (or non-aircraft … we’ll get to that) with the analog sticks. Gimmicky at first but graspable at the end of the day, it’s not a horrible design choice, just one that is very different than Star Fox fans are used too. This isn’t a wholly bad thing however, as some sections of the game are improved by looking at the GamePad’s screen and seeing a cockpit point of view in real-time to the action on the screen. It is, however, holding the game back from being, well, a good Star Fox game!
Because the controls are out of character for a game such as this, the fighting as a whole takes a hit. I noticed a real lack of challenge while playing through the game. When there’s dozens of enemy ships on screen you don’t have to do all that much to avoid them. You’ll kind of just fly around them and dodge most of their attacks automatically. But the reason this happens, as far as I can guess, is because the game has to make up for the extra time you’ll spend having to switch your view to the GamePad just to accurately shoot down the enemy! In this sense it’s a flawed system: it took what made Star Fox 64, the core mechanic of shooting down enemy spacecrafts, and simplified it to a dull action game.
Growing up (and really to this day) I thought Star Fox 64 was one of the greatest games ever made because of it’s replayability and storyline. This being a retelling of sorts of that awesome game, I’m happy to see the story is largely the same. You get to fly through many of the same planets as the Nintendo 64 classic, with some of them like the opening world of Corneria, having an almost 1-to-1 version of the N64 level recreated on the Wii U. Other worlds, like the polluted planet Zoness are still around but as a vastly different version. For the most part I liked these additions to the plot and thought they added to the otherwise “go here and kill everything because Andross is bad” simplified storyline of the original.
What I didn’t feel necessary to add were the additional vehicles to pilot. Star Fox 64 had a trio of vehicles to use, so don’t get me wrong, this is nothing new for the series. But now the standard Arwing can transform into a land-traversing walker variant, which is something the game forces you to work with time and time again. Unfortunately these sections are plagued by the awkward controls as well, forcing you to maneuver much more slowly (yet recklessly) through each area. And in a “I see where you were going with this, but it doesn’t fit this type of game” moment, any sections with the GyroWing helicopter vehicle are too slow and not-Star Fox enough to make you wish they were just left out completely. Taking what makes a Star Fox game good, i.e. shooting stuff, and removing it only to be replaced by the exact opposite isn’t a good idea.
My entire time playing Star Fox Zero I was caught between thinking it was a good game and it was a bad game. On the one hand it has excellent storytelling and a great throwback approach to character design, but on the other it’s just not as fun to play. This is a divisive game: if you played Star Fox 64 you probably aren’t going to like this one for what it does to the series. If you haven’t played the N64 game then you’ll applaud the game for it’s inclusion of lots of aircrafts and a variety of gameplay methods. I do think the controls can be handled with some practice, but seeing as the general toughness and intensity of the game suffers regardless of this it’s really a moot point. There are plenty of medals and alternate routes to find, expanding the game’s difficulty and replay value somewhat, but I didn’t find any reason why I wanted to go for them in the first place.
The only real standout here are the visuals. Star Fox Zero looks great and sounds good to boot. While I’m definitely missing some of my all-time favorite video game music tracks from the Nintendo 64 game that aren’t present in this one, I’ll not hold it against the title for still offering up some quality tunes to keep my ears peppy (ha!).
Perhaps I just need to spend more time with this game than the couple of hours it takes to complete the main campaign. There are plenty of alternate paths to take, challenges to complete, and special unlockables to discover. For me though, my hopes were really high with this one and they were sadly let down.
What have you thought of Star Fox Zero so far? Just another average Wii U game, or one of the best you’ve played yet?