Alright, I know what you are thinking already. A Star Fox Zero review coming out months after the game released? Yes, your eyes are not selling lies to your brain. You are reading this correctly. It just took that much time to for this lifelong Star Fox fan to make peace with the truth:
Star Fox Zero is not a good game.
Ugh, I actually said it, a single tear rolled down my cheek as my fingers slowly pecked out that sobering sentence. Isn’t acceptance one of the first steps to recovery? With that said, I still enjoy Star Fox Zero for what it is, unfortunately that could have been so much more.
I was ten years old when the original Star Fox released on the SNES. A weird, nerdy kid, that loved science fiction. I was the target demographic and I ate it up. I never owned an SNES and yet I still managed to love this game! Star Fox 64 only multiplied my original love of the game into entirely new levels. The bar was set: action gameplay, space animals, and thwarting Andross. With each new release from here on, Star Fox will only get better! That’s what I kept telling myself at least.
In their defense, I did enjoy Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Command, but that is a story for another day. Now let’s insert Star Fox Zero into the equation. THIS was the game that was going to return the series to the glory of the N64 days. This was the Star Fox we deserved! The question remains, was this the Star Fox we got?
Star Fox Zero once again reboots the now infamous tale of the Star Fox Team. The evil Andross is threatening Corneria and the entire galaxy. Only the pilots of Star Fox can save the day. The player immediately jumps in, controlling Fox McCloud on his quest to lead the team to victory. Nintendo and Platinum cherry picked the elements of previous successful Star Fox games and mashed them up into this new release. Nostalgia is fueled by familiar sounds, themes, and sights from the days long ago. It all feels very familiar, but it is also at this point where this train starts to come off of the rails.
Star Fox Zero is hampered by the forced inclusion of its new motion control system. Nintendo has already proven that motion controls work wonderfully on the Wii U, please play Splatoon if you haven’t already to know what I am talking about. With Star Fox Zero, the player isn’t strictly using the motion gyro of the gamepad, but also forced to switch focus between the gamepad and main
display. This doesn’t work. During an all-range battle, the main display gives a “dynamic” view of the battle. Unfortunately this usually clips the view at odd angles and is mainly only useful for orienting the arwing. I’ve tried to like it…but I just can’t. I’m sitting here staring at the gamepad at my lap and awkwardly trying to glance back at my TV screen to see what is going on. It’s frustrating and borders on gimmick for this gamer. The only control scheme option merely creates an auto-calibrating function for the motion sensor. While useful, the ability to play this game with “standard” Star Fox controls is the direction I would have headed. Having been built from the ground up around this new control scheme though, that was not a direction Nintendo was going to head. Please, don’t even get me started on the gyrowing.
Overcoming the controls, there is still the typical Star Fox experience to be had: arwings, landmaster tanks, barrel rolls, and you can still use bombs wisely. A series of branching paths and different missions lend this game to be replayed multiple times. Especially when considering the total play time for a single run-through is only a couple of hours. While I enjoy this familiar approach, I feel that it’s time for Star Fox to break out of the arcade treadmill it has always been on and really show us more to the world. Did you watch the anime that Nintendo produced? That made this world feel so much bigger than the end result. Kudos to the marketing department. Between this and the puppets, they nailed it. This was really a love letter to fans of the series but I personally fear that due to its failure, we won’t see another proper attempt for quite some time, especially considering how long it took this release to come along.
Graphically, the game is just OK. Much criticism was received after E3 last year and the delay that game received did really dial up the graphics from that original point. Still, the graphics or effects are never going to blow anyone away. The Wii U was simply taxed far too much in order to keep both the gamepad and main display running at decent frame rates. Just another possible reason that the control scheme held this game back. I will say this, the simulated 3D sound that you get from the gamepad is fantastic. Hearing co-pilot chatter come across with radio static and be somewhat location specific was a great touch. It’s a very small detail, but I really enjoyed it.
So have I unlocked all the medals and played all the branching missions? No. I’ve completed one run each of the story and arcade modes. I thought I would be eager to continue, but there is just nothing there to pull me back. “What about Star Fox Guard? You haven’t even mentioned it!” You’re right. I haven’t even played it. It’s still in the shrink-wrap. I’ll get around to it some day. That’s the same feeling this game gives me, I’ll get back to it some day.
I still enjoyed my time with Star Fox Zero and most importantly, I had fun while playing it. The good that is there just couldn’t overpower the shortcomings. Unless you are a die-hard fan of the series, like myself, then I highly recommend this game as a rental. There just isn’t enough game here to justify your purchase.
Unfortunate for Wii U Owners
Star Fox Zero is a major let down for Wii U owners. Surely the low resolution textures and slow moving padded missions would be easier to swallow if Nintendo didn’t commit to this wonky control scheme. The controls aren’t even that bad when flying through the on rails missions, but the game falls on its face when operating new vehicles, open area dogfights, and boss battles.