I was feeling it had been a while since someone told me to do a barrel roll...
One of my favorite lesser celebrated Nintendo franchises in the company's exhaustive lineup of IP is Star Fox. While it took me, like many, to fall in love with the series with Star Fox 64, I have since grown a fond appreciation of Fox McCloud and his furry friends. Whether performing barrel rolls to deflect enemy shots or tailing Star Wolf in an intense dogfight, Star Fox has given me many memorable moments of exhilarating gameplay.
Now, after many entries that have been passed off to outside developers, Star Fox is home with Nintendo, though not without the help of Platinum Games. It's no secret that the reception of the newest entry on Wii U, Star Fox Zero, is mixed at best with the greatest point of contention being the controls. Now, after spending over a dozen hours in Arwings, Walkers, Landmasters, and Gyrowings, how does Fox McCloud and crew soar the Lylat System's dimensions in my point of view?
Star Fox Zero is essentially a reboot of the Star Fox franchise. It's a retelling of Star Fox 64's story with some different story beats here and there, such as the use of teleporters and portals as a main theme with the game. Some of the lines of dialogue are the exact same or slightly edited versions from what was said in Star Fox 64. The ending of the game is basically a rehash of the Nintendo 64 classic as well with some mild variations. Still, overall, the story and especially the content of Star Fox Zero is new enough to not feel like you're having a strong case of déjà vu.
|Oh, Slippy. Even 19 years later you're still getting yourself in to trouble.|
The main draws of Star Fox Zero after beating the 3-4 hour initial campaign have you returning to past levels to find alternate paths to new missions, gunning for high scores on each mission, and acquiring all of the game's 70 medals. What was then a 3 or 4 hour experience can easily triple and quadruple your overall time with the game. Thus, if you're just in to beat the game and then shelve it, Star Fox Zero is hard to recommend at its full price, but then I would imagine that most people who buy games pretty much want to get their money's worth. Thus, it makes sense to me that most players of Star Fox Zero would want to try to see everything the game has to offer.
|Interested? You didn't even have to ask!|
The alternate paths usually come in the form of portals that are found through different means. For instance, Corneria, the first planet and level of Star Fox Zero, has you running through it normally the first go around. Once your Arwing is given the ability to transform at will into the bipedal Walker form, you can hit a ground switch during the on-rails section of Corneria, opening a locked gate that leads to a portal, which, in turn, leads to an alternate level. This portal takes you to, and the alternate levels itself is an encounter with a sea-bearing mothership known as Aquarosa, which is a steeper challenge than just going the ordinary path in Corneria. Each alternate path that you can find usually requires you to replay a level, using a method that wasn't available to you the first go around, such as locking onto an attacking Star Wolf member ship to be transported to a level where all you do is duel them one-on-one, or in one case, one-on-two.
|Aquarosa is one example of a boss that uses the two screen setup to brilliant effect.|
For the standard stages with five medals, medals can be hidden in precarious locations, they can appear by performing a certain task like collecting three specially marked gold rings, they can be earned by completing a level with a "Mission Accomplished" message as opposed to a "Mission Complete" message, or you can claim one by beating a level's high score. A "Mission Accomplished" message is earned by completing a mission by performing a hard task that you wouldn't otherwise need to do to complete said mission. For example, Sector Gamma generally requires you to shoot down all three missiles in the level while keeping the Great Fox healthy. To get the "Mission Accomplished" message, you need to make sure no enemy drones attach themselves to the Great Fox. Not an easy task when you have to worry about impending missiles encroaching into unwanted territory.
|I know you're blowing up and all, but inside voices, please!|
There is a great variety of mission types and scenarios in Star Fox Zero. They'll have you piloting the Arwing in both on-rails and all-range mode sequences, as well as transforming into the Walker variant form of the Arwing, moving through narrow chambers and passageways, while occasionally being able to hover. Then there's the Landmaster from Star Fox 64, which this time can transform into a flying variant for a limited amount of time (i.e. as long as the boost bar has juice in it). Also, this time, the Landmaster is used in all-range mode in two instances. Finally, the Gyrowing, which is a much slower vehicle, used for more methodical levels, can move up and down with ease, and can even extend a helper robot out from its bottom that can hack specific terminals.
|The generally fast pace of Star Fox Zero slows down with these more methodical Gyrowing segments.|
However, I'm doing what I usually do, getting ahead myself. Let me focus on these different vehicles one at a time. For the most part, with my experience with motion controls and gyro aiming with various Wii U, Wii, 3DS, and even some PlayStation Vita games, I took to the control scheme of Star Fox Zero like a fox to an Arwing. The on-rails sections in Star Fox Zero take care of an issue I've had with prior Star Fox games. In those games, the targeting recticle is dependent on where your Arwing's nose is pointing. Thus, if you have to dodge an enemy or enemy attack by moving to the right side of the screen while a batch of enemies were on the left, you pretty much forfeited those points because you couldn't aim at them. You were on the wrong side of the screen to take them out. This problem is remedied in Star Fox Zero, allowing you to be on one side of the screen while using the GamePad to aim the recticle at the other side of the screen. You're not stuck aiming at where you're looking, which is a tremendous upgrade in my opinion.
|Some gameplay sections lock you onto a target, and you must use both screens to properly maneuver yourself.|
The Walker gave me some problems initially, but that was until I realized I could hold the ZL button to lock onto a direction and strafe with the left analog stick. This made dodging attacks while unleashing my own form of offense incredibly easy. It's also excellent to use the GamePad screen to aim better (thanks to the zoomed in view and bigger targeting recticle) to take out foes more quickly.
|The Walker was probably the vehicle form that took me the longest to learn, but oh, boy, once I learned how!|
|There's snow way out for this enemy bioweapon. Time to put it on ice. (Are my jokes leaving you out in the cold?)|
Star Fox Zero isn't the most visually stunning game on the Wii U. This is mostly to do with the fact that the game has two screens running at 60 FPS at the same time, the TV screen and the GamePad screen. That said, there is a highly clean look to Star Fox Zero's visuals, offering pleasant environments, detailed models of ships both friendly and enemy, and usually a lot of enemy aircraft on screen at once. The frame-rate rarely dips, but it does on occasion.
|Missile destroyed. Now there are just two more to take down.|
If the idea of motion controls or using two screens to play a Star Fox game doesn't sound appealing to you, you probably have already written off Star Fox Zero, whether justly or not. For everyone else, you will find a control scheme and setup that will take some getting accustomed to, but when you finally master it, you'll most likely enjoy yourself. For me, I struggled greatly with the final boss at first, but now I can beat him without breaking a sweat. I have found it somewhat difficult to return to Star Fox 64 and other entries because I keep wanting to aim independent of where my ship is looking. Not to say it's impossible; it's just different, though one might argue inferior.
Though you might complete the campaign in but a few hours, the replay value from getting high scores, finding all alternate paths in the game, and acquiring all medals makes for a tripled or quadrupled play time. Those who just desire an experience from the beginning to the roll of the credits will not find Star Fox Zero worth purchasing. Heck, just one run might not give you enough time to fully digest the controls depending your skill level with alternative control styles. Regardless, after many years of sequels that didn't quite live up to Star Fox 64, I feel Star Fox Zero really does live up to that game's legacy. It's not better, but it's not far from it, either.
[SPC Says: B+]