It’s not hard to admit that there’s been some slip-ups when it comes to talking about the Star Fox franchise. Games like Star Fox Adventures and Assault are ones that I try and avoid mentioning when talking about one of my favourite franchises. Now I’m a pretty big fan of the Star Fox games, the traditional ones anyway. My favourite games in the Star Fox franchise are condensed into a small list consisting of just Starwing, Lylat Wars and, if you can count it as a separate game, Star Fox 64 3D; that’s what I consider the traditional Star Fox games. Needless to say I was incredibly excited when it was revealed to the public that a new Star Fox game, now known as Star Fox Zero, existed and was in development back at E3 2014.
So 2016 rolls around and I’ve finally, after all this time, managed to get my hands on a copy of the long-awaited latest game in the Star Fox franchise – Star Fox Zero.
Star Fox Zero follows the same story as, pretty much, every Star Fox game. Your father is dead, Andross killed him and now you’ve got to get revenge at the same time as defending the Lylat System from Andross and his army. Oh yeah, and your father is dead. Did I already say that? Well, even if you end up forgetting Fox will remind you numerous times throughout the game, just because it’s some key knowledge that he needs you to know. Your father is dead.
As you might expect from a Star Fox game, the vast majority of your time is going to be spent controlling the Arwing whilst getting yourself involved in some good ol’ space battles, which is the best part of every Star Fox game, right? Well, if you responded with something along the lines of yes, you’ll be more than pleased to know that the classic Star Fox gameplay that we all know and love hasn’t really been tampered with too much in terms of the core mechanics of the game. Your goal is still to shoot as many enemies as you can, racking up a high score before nearing the end of the level to be faced with a boss fight. You can still shoot as fast as your finger will allow, you can still perform some impressive acrobatic manoeuvres to afford enemy fire and, yes, you can still do as many barrel rolls as you feel is necessary. Don’t you worry about that.
Now you know how I said that the core mechanics of the game haven’t been tampered with too much? Well, one of the things that they did change the way in which you control the Arwing. In the Star Fox games prior to Zero you’d control the location of your aiming reticle with the same stick that you moved around the screen in the Arwing with. However, in Star Fox Zero you control the movement of the Arwing by using the left control stick, using the right one to tilt the angle of your wings, accelerate and brake. To aim your reticle you use the Wii U Gamepad’s accelerometer, and my looking at the screen of the Gamepad for a first-person cockpit view of the Arwing.
As I said, in order to aim you need to use what Nintendo call ‘gyro controls’ and, to put it bluntly, it’s incredibly flawed; not awful but definitely far from perfect. Now I’m not saying gyro controls are all bad – just look at how well it worked in Splatoon – but the implementation of gyro controls in Star Fox Zero feel ridiculously unnecessary, and it almost makes Star Fox Zero feel a little bit like a launch title made to show off the features of the new controller. The controls really feel like Nintendo took note of just how well the motion controls in Splatoon worked and felt the need to attempt to make it work in Star Fox. It doesn’t work.
The controls, as well as feeling incredibly awkward and overly complex, end up being incredibly inconvenient at times. To get an accurate shot at whatever you take aim towards you’re required to move your gaze from the TV screen to the one on the Gamepad, which sounded like an interesting idea when it was first announced, and it was something that I was willing to give a fair trial. Motion controls worked perfectly in Splatoon, so it’s not a case of me hating motion controls, because that’s just not true, but my issue stands with the implementation of motion controls feeling as if they were just slapped on top of the already established Star Fox formula just for the sake of it.
Switching between looking at the TV screen and the screen on the Gamepad is extremely frustrating. What’s worse is that the idea of motion controls in Star Fox Zero sounded great on paper, but when it comes down to using them it just really underperforms, and I mean it underperforms all the time. I even had trouble controlling the Arwing when fighting my way through Corneria, the first level. When the only task is to shoot enemies, the motion controls work pretty well, but as soon as the level starts throwing buildings and a number of other obstacles your way, that’s where the controls really start to show how flawed the game is. Aiming at enemies whilst looking at the bottom screen often leads to bumping into walls, pillars and even shots from enemies that just simply can’t be seen due to the range of sight from the cockpit view being so limited. It’s a shame they chose this control scheme for Star Fox Zero because this alone really does hinder the game and prevents it from standing up as one of the great games in the series alongside Starwing and Lylat Wars.
On a slightly more positive note, and I mean slightly, Star Fox Zero looks really great, but it would’ve come off as looking even better if it was released prior to titles such as Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Whilst Star Fox Zero is undoubtedly the best looking game in the franchise, it’s in no way the best looking game on the Wii U. It doesn’t look especially bad in anyway, but it just doesn’t have that jawdropping effect that other first party Nintendo titles always seem to come bundled with and, unfortunately, they’re nothing to write home about.
Aside from piloting the Arwing, Fox is able to jump in the cockpit of a variety of different vehicles. The Landmaster tank makes a return from Lylat Wars and is just as you would remember it if you’re a veteran of the series, being just as slow and powerful as it previously was. However, this time it’s had a little bit of an upgrade, meaning that it can fly now, which doesn’t really add anything in terms of gameplay because it just ends up feeling like a budget version of the Arwing. The Gyrowing is a another slow vehicle designed for exploration style levels; you can deploy a little robot called Direct-i to go about and hack into computer system that can do various things throughout the level. Now, the Walker (that chicken thing that you’ve probably all seen in the advertisements for Star Fox Zero) is an alternative mode for the Arwing that can be transformed into at any point during most of the Arwing levels. It makes a return from the unreleased SNES game Star Fox 2 (Starwing 2?) and, to be perfectly honest, I think it should’ve stayed there. It’s really awkward to control in tight spaces, aiming with the Gamepad is somehow more challenging than it is when piloting the Arwing, and most of the times that it’s required to transform into the Walker, it just totally ruins a, what would have been, perfectly good Arwing level. I don’t like it.
What completely baffles me about Star Fox Zero is just how much they got wrong. It really saddens me to admit that I don’t completely and utterly adore everything about Star Fox Zero because I really, really wanted to. I adore Starwing, and Lylat Wars is one of my all-time favourite Nintendo 64 games, but the formula shifts seen in Star Fox Zero prevent it from standing up there with some of my favorite Wii U games and previous Star Fox games. With that being said, I like Star Fox Zero for what it is, as its own standalone game, but I just simply cannot bring myself to love it as a Star Fox game.
At this point in time, I’m really not sure what I think will happen with the Star Fox series. With this being the first conventional Star Fox game in so many years myself and many other, I’m sure, had very high hopes for this game, and for me it just doesn’t deliver what I was hoping it to.
Your father is dead.