An Engaging Classic with Modern Controls
By Frank Costagliola
Nearly two decades after the release of “Star Fox 64”, fans are finally treated to the next installment of the series on the Wii U, but it comes with a catch.
The catch being the somewhat newfangled and divisive controls designed with the Wii U’s gamepad in mind, making for an experience that takes some time to get use to.
On paper, “Star Fox Zero” appears to be a visually upgraded version of the beloved game on the Nintendo 64. While it does have a striking resemblance to “Star Fox 64” visually, you will soon find out that it’s so much more than meets the eye.
First off, fans of the series during its heyday in the 90’s, will initially feel at home, until you take control of the Arwing. “Star Fox Zero” plays by its own rules and if you are expecting something that handled like it did on your Nintendo 64 controller, you are going to be disappointed.
The game takes the traditional controls and instead opts for what Nintendo calls the “cockpit view”. Players are then forced to use the Wii U’s screen and gyro controls to aim and shoot enemies, while using the left analog stick to control the Arwing. This creates a unique experience that will take some time to get use to, if you are willing adjust to these controls, “Star Fox Zero” will feel more like a chore than a game.
The radically different game and its controls, however, pays homage to the fan faithful of the series. “Star Fox Zero” is at its best when the crew of Fox, Slippy, Falco, and Peppy are taking part in their cheesy banter during the game’s five hour campaign.
Star Fox Zero’s voice acting is on par with any of its predecessors and will have you feeling like a kid watching cartoons on a Saturday morning.
While some of the lines are recycled from “Star Fox 64”, I didn’t feel like it took away from the experience. I found myself constantly smiling throughout the game and that is in thanks to its charming dialogue.
Star Fox games have never been known for their stories and the same can be said about Zero’s. The story will feel very familiar to fans who played Star Fox on their Nintendo 64.
The story just provides context as to why you are zooming through the Lylat system with Fox and friends.
As previously mentioned, the game is roughly five hours long, but you won’t be able to see everything during your first playthrough. All the levels are impressive in scale and were a fun to pilot the Arwing through, but the highlight of each level were the boss battles.
The Boss battles were something that “Star Fox Zero” got right. Some are more challenging than others, but all of them felt unique enough from one another. I especially enjoyed the air-to-air dogfights with Andross’s rival pilots like Wolf and Pigma. The dogfights required headsup thinking and perfectly executed barrell rolls to take down your enemies.
Additionally, the game offers many hidden, alternative routes to explore to find additional collectible items. Some routes will even have you navigating through more challenging sections of levels. These sections can include stronger enemies, timed sequences, and challenging alternative boss battles. The game doesn’t offer too much in replayability, but does a good enough job to squeeze out an extra few hours out of the game.
“Star Fox Zero” also adds a few new vehicles in the mix, such as the Gyrowing and the Walker. The Walker can easily be toggled on and off with the press of a button and is used to navigate through areas that are too tight for the Arwing.
I found the Walker to be fun idea, but didn’t think it added enough value to my playing experience to make the game better.
The Gyrowing on the other hand was an unwelcome additional to the pool of vehicles and really killed the pace of a game. Gyrowing sequences felt like they were unnecessarily forced into the game and took away from what makes Star Fox so much fun. Star Fox is about speed and action and the Gyrowings sequences did the complete opposite.
Finally, the Landmaster from “Star Fox 64” made its grand return and I really enjoyed the levels that utilized it. The Landmaster feels significantly more powerful than any other vehicle in the game and also gets an upgrade which turns it into a flying tank. Transforming from ground to air was a satisfying experience and I found myself feeling like I was controlling a Transformer.
The Landmaster was one of the most enjoyable ways to mow down enemies in the game.
Nintendo and Platinum games got a lot things right. Boss battles were fun, dialogue was engaging, and piloting my Arwing through the skies was so fun, but the experimental and at times, cumbersome controls took away a lot from the experience.
The barrier to entry for this game can be difficult, but if you can keep an open mind, play by its terms, and try not to compare its predecessors, “Star Fox Zero” is a good game.
It is far from perfect, but was still an enjoyable experience.