Star Fox Zero Review

By Blair Nokes on April 24, 2016

Star Fox is a fairly well known exclusive series Nintendo has had for 23 years now. Beginning on the Super Nintendo, Star Fox was quite revolutionary for its 3D polygonal visuals, and in fact was Nintendo's first game to use polygonal graphics. On top of that, it was the first game to use the Super FX graphics acceleration coprocessor. Keeping in mind that this was back in 1993, the complex design at the time was still new and uncommon for home consoles, so Star Fox will always retain a piece of Nintendo's video gaming history for that aspect. It was a rails shooter, that had you pilot your polygonal ship, called the Arwing, with your co-pilots through various planetary levels. One of the more interesting design aspects was that Star Fox had a beginning level on Corneria, and an end level on planet Venom, but had branching routes for each level in between, so that you could increase the replay value, and also go about the story in completely different ways.

There were only 5 main entries to the franchise these last 23 years, one of which being a Nintendo 3DS remake of the Nintendo 64 game, Star Fox 64. Another interesting tidbit is that Star Fox 64 also served as a reimagining of the original Star Fox, beginning with series protagonist Fox McCloud fighting to save the Lylat star system from Andross. The series skipped an entire generation with the Wii, but pleased fans around the globe with the announcement of Star Fox Zero for the Nintendo Wii U. To help co-develop the game, Nintendo reached out to Platinum games, who have already established a fantastic rapport with Nintendo with the release of the exclusives Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101. Sticking true the traditional formula fans cherished with Star Fox and Star Fox 64 was the central focus behind Star Fox Zero; a conscious decision as the Gamecube release of Star Fox Adventure was met with polarizing views.

Star Fox Zero is once again a reimagining of the Star Fox 64. James McCloud was sent out alongside Peppy Hare and Pigma Dengar to investigate unknown activity happening on planet Venom "“ a planet that served as the exiled land for a mad scientist known as Andross. Pigma ends up betraying the team, and James goes missing. General Pepper designs a new Star Fox team, led by James' son, Fox. Peppy continues to be a member of the squadron, along with Falco Lombardi, and Slippy Toad. It's all retro-science fiction, and isn't necessarily meant to be a narrative taken seriously but rather serves as a device that carries out the purpose. Nostalgia fans will take a sense of joy in the fact that its retelling the classic games, however it's also fair to say that Nintendo and Platinum were playing it a little too safe. The game's levels are laid out like a star map, much like the past games. Each level has different branching paths that ultimately lead to the same end goal, essentially meaning the game is meant to be played multiple times to really get the holistic sense of what's in store. That being said, the main story is about as long as the original, taking anywhere from 3-6 hours, depending on how swift you are. This is pretty short for a full priced game, but, like other rails shooters, the replay value is considerably high. Not only do you get different paths to take, but there are scores generated at the end of each level, to entice you to compete with your previous high score.

Like past games, the levels have altering routes; where it slightly differs is that while the original Star Fox's alternate paths had scaled difficulties associated, these are discoverable via different vehicles, or transformations of the Arwing. There are sections dedicated for the Arwing's bipedal transformation, which was actually a nod to a gameplay feature of the cancelled Star Fox 2. There's a section reserved to the Landmaster tank, that can also transform into the Gravmaster, allowing for extended aerial maneuvers. Finally, there is the Gyrowing "“ a new introduction to the series. This is a drone-like helicopter that carries a small robot used for small spaces and computer hacking in specific scenarios. Star Fox Zero is loaded with variety while still aiming for a classic feel. The levels themselves are also incredibly varied in design and aesthetic.

The controls for Star Fox Zero are a mixture of the classic rails shooting that the previous games are known for. As an added twist, the game makes full use of the second screen, allowing players to peek inside the cockpit view for fine-tuned precision shooting. Some may feel daunted by focusing on the idea of focusing on two screens at once, but the reality of the situation is that you almost never are. It's effortless to stay focused on one screen, and glimpsing at another to get your bearings. And should you want to focus on shooting as many things as you can, you can easily switch screens so that the cockpit view is displayed on the TV. It also incorporates the Wii U's gyroscope to really add more to where you aim. It all works together very well. Controlling the Walker can be cumbersome, as it moves like a tank, which is problematic in the confined spaces its used in. Once a target is locked onto, it becomes much easier to maneuver. One really cool feature is that the game supports two player offline coop, where one player controls the Arwing or other ships, while the other player with the Wii U Gamepad fires the weapons through the second screen.

Nintendo also managed to incorporate Amiibo functionality with the game. Tapping Falco merely unlocks a black and red Arwing aesthetic along with a higher difficulty "“ Expert Mode. Tapping Fox actually has Fox and the rest of the Star Fox team fly in the original Arwing polygonal models from the Super Nintendo. They also add flavourful music and weapon effects which really hit me in the nostalgia.

As another added bonus for players that bought the game in its launch window, the physical copy of Star Fox Zero comes bundled with an entirely separate game! Miyamoto originally announced a uniquely designed tower defence styled game known as Project Guard. It wasn't heard from since its original announcement, until close to Star Fox's release where it was rebranded as Star Fox Guard. Slippy and his uncle Grippy guard the tower at the center of each Corneria Precious Metal Ltd base, and protect it from enemy robots. The unique aspect is that you conduct this tower defence by monitoring 12 live feed camera angles surrounding the base. You need to be able to scan each vantage point for different possible enemy routes and handle them accordingly. There are about 100 missions out of the box, and on top of that there's a level editor that you can use. Keeping in mind that this is a added gift for players who purchased Star Fox Zero, Star Fox Guard is great tower defence spin-off that's crammed with more content than it really ought to!

While it's far from a benchmark title, Star Fox Zero is about as clean ad polished as I could possibly hope for. Being on-rails by design has the game virtually throwing everything at you on the screen at once, and the framerate remains rock solid throughout. Everything about the game is essentially one gigantic hat-tip to the older games. The menus are designed similarly, the way the character icons move and speak is very reminiscent of the original games, and seeing the original design of the Arwing in contrast with everything else gives you a sense of appreciation for how far things have come. Another nifty tech-moment is that all of the communications between characters are done using the Wii U gamepad's speakers as opposed to the TV, to emulate the feeling of speaking with a handheld comms device. A common gripe I hear is that they've just played it too safe, which is true that it is an easier approach than trying something new and failing. While something new is always appreciated, I'm more inclined to support the notion that we've been starved of a console Star Fox game for over a decade now, and Nintendo's main thought was to rekindle that original on-rails love that fans had with Star Fox and Star Fox 64.

Final Thoughts

While it doesn't serve to reinvent the wheel, Star Fox Zero really has no reason to. It's a time capsule of the past classic Star Fox games, reimagined for a new generation. Stuffed to the brim with content and slight innovations and tweaks to the traditional gameplay formula, Star Fox Zero is welcomed return to form. It begs to be replayed over and over again to get every possible outcome, and all the highest scores, has some laidback fun cooperative, and even if that wasn't already more than enough, there's an entirely separate game included with over 100 missions and a level editor mode. Taking all of that into context, Star Fox Zero is well worth the full retail price.

Classic Star Fox gameplay and design taken from the original Star Fox and Star Fox 64.
The controls may have a slight learning curve, but mastering the dual screens and controlling your Arwing felt extremely easy and fluid.
You get a completely separate game that’s also a considerable amount of fun.
Nintendo and Platinum games may have played it a little too safe in trying to do another reimaging of the original Star Fox/Star Fox 64.
The Walker controls can be a little cumbersome in tight spaces.
While it almost demands replay value, the main playthrough is still quite short.
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