Star Fox Zero reunites gamers with its beloved cast of characters, and although it’s not always a smooth flight, there’s a lot to love about this new take on a familiar formula.
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost ten years since the last new iteration of the series, Star Fox Command, made its debut on the Nintendo DS. While that portable title was enjoyable, fans have longed for a return to form from the franchise. Fortunately, Star Fox Zero for the Wii U has turned out to be just that, offering longtime fans of the property a familiar experience with a number of different mechanics that make it feel fresh in the wake of its longstanding absence.
The on-rails aspect that was implemented so famously in Star Fox 64 has returned with a new coat of paint this time around, and it has been brought to life thanks to the GamePad that’s so heavily attached to Nintendo’s current home console. Utilizing the gyroscopic capabilities of the tablet-like controller, gamers can shift their aiming reticle by maneuvering the peripheral around their real-world environment – all with minimal wrist movement, of course. This sounds like an ideal use of the hardware on paper, but that doesn’t mean it has been perfected in its execution.
Seeing things through the perspective of the cockpit from whatever vehicle users find themselves piloting, there are constant readjustments that need to be made to account for real-world shifting during play. Nintendo and developer Platinum Games have accounted for this by allowing users to reset their reticle by hitting the ‘Y’ button on the GamePad, but there’s still a steep learning curve for those getting their hands on Star Fox Zero for the first time. The end result feels like a first-person take on Splatoon, with success varying based on the player’s adeptness in shifting between the perspective of their television and tablet screens – as each display broadcasts different and crucial parts of the action.
Setting aside a brief adjustment period, there is plenty of familiar action awaiting fans of the classic Star Fox 64. As a reboot of sorts to the beloved Nintendo 64 title, the first level in particular (Corneria) will immediately feel familiar to longtime followers, but the game changes radically from that point on. All of the on-rails shooting is easily handled, and every segment plays just as well as the original games that kickstarted the franchise – albeit rejuvenated though the new aiming mechanics and scenarios. Not content with just that, new vehicles and three-dimensional dogfights are effectively scattered in throughout Zero to diversify the action.
Of course, trekking through and duking it out with the evil Andross is an easy enough task for anyone hoping to wrap up the brief narrative, but the meat of Star Fox has always been in its replayability. This longstanding design stays true to the series’ roots in the Wii U installment, which jam-packs the game with some of the most challenging aerial and tank-based action that the franchise has seen to-date. These more difficult encounters are unearthed through numerous winding paths that change entire levels and add a whole new aspect of difficulty to the game. The appeal then transfers over to finding these hidden routes and setting records within them, and this is where Star Fox Zero manages to come into its own and drive gamers to keep playing.
Admittedly, it’s easy to see how online guides and tutorials will likely take away the thrill that traditionally accompanies locating these routes organically, so those hoping to enjoy the game as intended will want to avoid spoiling it for themselves with those tools.
Meanwhile, those hoping to hop out of the aptly titled ‘Main Game’ mode can dive right into the ‘Training’ option in order to sharpen their ace pilot skills. Gold medals located within the campaign will unlock various challenges and vehicles for use, making ‘Training’ very well complimented by the core appeal of the game. More medals means more challenges, and more challenges means more game to play – including the exclusive use of a vehicle called the Roadmaster. It’s a nice cycle that helps to justify the existence of the feature itself, and it adds more replay value for fans.
There’s also added amiibo support for the title, which allows those that own the Fox or Falco scannable figurines to interact with the game. In the case of Fox, players will be treated to a really neat retro Arwing skin in-game that’s based off of the original Star Fox on NES – although it renders the ship unable to lock onto enemies. Falco, on the other hand, unlocks a black Arwing once scanned, allowing users to lock onto two baddies at once, but at the cost of taking three times the damage. Neither are necessary for play, but they make for fun little additions to the game for those that have already secured either amiibo figure.
While all of this sounds great, the impact of these scores and completion times are lessened by the game’s inability to share and compare them with others online. Indeed, the lack of a global leaderboard (or even one that can be compared amongst friends) is a big disappoint, which is only topped by the lack of traditional multiplayer. Nintendo has opted to include a local co-op option that has one player control the on-television vehicle with a Wii U Pro Controller while the other aims and shoots with the Wii U GamePad, and this does make for some fun moments within the main game. The lack of online or local competitive options is a shame though, especially given multiplayer’s prominence in the N64 original in which Zero is based on.
Overall, Star Fox Zero feels like a return to form for the long-dormant series. The new control scheme courtesy of the Wii U GamePad makes it standout, alternate vehicles like the Arwing’s Walker form change up gameplay from existing predecessors, and the pure challenge present throughout every new area makes this a game that players will come back and jump into at a moment’s notice. While the lack of online and traditional multiplayer modes are a blow to fans hoping for more of the couch co-op action that Nintendo is known for, the excitement of completing a challenge or locating a new pathway ensures that gamers will remain entertained long after putting the main story to bed.
For those tempted to dive into this title, I’ll end my review with the two words that accurately reflect the challenge that this game poses and the brief dialogue that greets players at the start of every mission: Good luck.
Star Fox Zero arrives exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U on April 22, 2016.