Some good, some bad, some ugly.
Star Fox Zero on Wii U
Star Fox Zero is the first game in the series in a decade, since 2006’s Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS. Nintendo intended to breathe fresh life into the series while still retaining the action and excitement of older entries, and in many ways they succeeded. There are just a couple niggling issues that keep it from being a great game.
First and foremost is the severe difficulty spike. Things start off well enough. You begin the game soaring through Corneria in your trusty Arwing with faithful companions Falco, Slippy, and Peppy, downing baddies along the way in your search for the evil Andross. The non-stop shooter maintained so much of the Star Fox 64 aesthetic that my wife commented on it looking just like the Nintendo 64 game, only prettier.
Trouble soon brews as you reach the end of the first stage and are thrust into All-Range mode. The mode itself is nothing new, as it is present in nearly all past games in the series. The problem is that unlike those past games, where you still have a third-person view of your vehicle while maintaining freedom of flight in an enclosed area, in Star Fox Zero your main-screen view is of the greater area surrounding your ship. You see directly ahead of you in a first-person view via the Wii U Game Pad, which means frequent glancing back and forth between the two screens. Look at the television to see your locked on targets and surrounding terrain, then to the Game Pad for precision aiming, them back to the TV to find another target, and so on and so forth.
It is important to stress that this is not a bad system; it just has a frustratingly steep learning curve. Once you’ve played through a few levels you’ll get the general hang of the controls, and utilizing both screens efficiently becomes much more easy and fluid. You might have to suffer a few deaths and replay a couple stages before it really clicks, but as with any difficult game, you’ve just got to stick with it.
The problem is that it can be so irritating at the beginning that many gamers may get fed up and return the game within an hour of popping the disc in. Determination and persistence are the key here, and once you reach that sweet threshold there’s nothing to get in your way of victory.
The controls are supremely tight, and the game does exactly what you tell it to do. Utilizing both screens for different mechanics doesn’t effect the framerate or resolution in the slightest, meaning your precision aiming on the Game Pad will be as precise as you’d expect it to be. Again, once you’re comfortable with how everything handles, you’re off running, and it’s just wonderful. A proper return to form for the series.
Zero falters when it comes to the story, as it’s nothing fans haven’t heard before time and time again. Fox is searching to uphold his father’s legacy while striving to take down renegade monkey Andross. Along the way he butts heads with the members of Star Wolf, in league with Andross. Perhaps the reboot of sorts is a way to introduce an entirely new generation to the series, and from here Nintendo has plans to take things further with the next entry. For old-time fans who have been playing Star Fox games since the NES days, however, the retread is a definite letdown.
The main story can easily be beat in less than ten hours, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are alternate paths that can be opened up following the game’s completion by replaying past levels, giving incentive to keep playing even past the endgame. You are given new vehicle upgrades that allow you to engage in new battles and create shortcuts between planets that weren’t available to you the first time around, even opening up entirely new stages. Throw in the numerous collectibles to be found in each stage as well as the gold-medal score goals to reach for, and you’ll find yourself replaying each level multiple times with something new in mind every time.
Star Fox Zero is probably best described as being the Final Fantasy XIII of the Star Fox franchise. There are plenty of nostalgic aspects present in this crisp and beautiful high-definition title, reminiscent of games gone by. At the same time it shakes things up with some drastic changes to the game play that can be too jarring for some to want to put up with, making it a bit of a black sheep to many. For those who take the time to master the play style, however, it is incredibly rewarding and satisfying.