Star Fox is one of Nintendo’s beloved franchises, which hasn’t been seen in a while apart from a remake of Star Fox 64 on the 3DS. I remember playing the original game on N64 back when it first came out and was instantly drawn into that world.
We also saw Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault, which didn’t receive the best reviews and the franchise now returns with Star Fox Zero for the Wii U, co-developed by Platinum Studios. I was intrigued to see how the game stands up and if it stands a chance of rejuvenating the lapsed franchise.
The plot of Star Fox is simple and sees Andross the long-exiled gorilla scientist returning to take over the Lylat system and rule the galaxy. Star Fox and the team must join up once again to pilot their ships and stop him from doing so. You play as Fox McCloud who is joined by Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad as you fight through the system towards Venom, Andross’ base. I love the quirky characters and still remember them well from the N64 era. Fox is still angry towards Andross as his father was lost when Andross was first fought off many years back. When starting the game, I was instantly hit with that nostalgic kick and reminded me of gaming in my childhood. Other franchises like Star Wars and Ratchet and Clank returning recently show that iconic and beloved franchises are able to make successful returns to current generations.
Star Fox Zero is very similar to the original game on the N64, but now has slightly improved visuals and a new control scheme that some players may find off-putting. I had heard a lot about the game and how bad the controls are, but I have to say that I didn’t actually mind the new mechanics. The GamePad has had its limited uses over the years in various games with little reason for it to exist quite frankly. In Star Fox Zero you can use the GamePad for a first-person view of the action, just aposed to a traditional third-person view of your vehicle on the TV screen. The game however plays very much like the series always has done, with a few minor differences.
You need to use the GamePad to control the Walker elements of the game and the GamePad can be used to perform precise aiming. I don’t like using the gyroscope mechanics to aim but once you start playing it becomes part of your muscle memory. The core gameplay is very much the same as it always has been, with plenty of on rail style shooting through various stages. You face multiple enemies and environmental hazards that come in all shapes and sizes. The game also has some larger battle arenas where you can move about freely to fight against larger bosses.
The game has sees you pilot your trusted Arwing mostly but this time around you also get to control it in a bipedal walker form and a new Gyrocopter. These vehicles are designed to give the gameplay some variation and I actually thought it worked well. The Gyrocopter is used to hack terminals and explore tighter locations. The game has plenty of collectables, hidden areas and each stage has a score system that gives a reason to go back and replay them.
After hearing a lot about the new controls I was surprised that the game feels so similar to the N64C version. You use the left analogue stick to control the crosshairs and direction of your ship and the right stick allows you to slow down, boost and performing barrel rolls. You can also do U-turns and somersaults which are easier to do by pressing the X and B buttons. Sometimes I found myself having to re-center the ships crosshairs by pressing the Y button.
The R shoulder button deploys your bomb and the A button triggers the Arwing’s Walker transformation. ZR controls your main weapon, while ZL locks your view onto the nearest target, or your main objective.
The GamePad shows you your cockpit view in first person and you can switch between that view and the classic third person view on the TV. I tended to stick to the classic third person view, but the games at times tries to encourage you to use the GamePad for more precise aiming, which I didn’t actually find as off-putting as I thought I would have.
The first time you start playing the game you may find the new controls a bit off-putting but after some practice they work fine. I found that the controls actually fall into place and as IU said become part of your muscle memory, allowing you to enjoy the gameplay. The main thing I found mildly frustrating were the awkward camera angles in boss battles and having to occasionally look down at the GamePad. I found it easier to simply switch to first person view on the TV, but I appreciated that Nintendo have tried to utilize the GamePad in some way. I haven’t really used the GamePad in many Wii U games apart from this and the short time I played Splatoon.
Star Fox Zero has had a rocky introduction to the market with visuals that have been criticized and the control mechanics have been largely met with negative reactions. I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect going in considering I’m a massive fan of the franchise and the N64 version. I pleasantly surprised at just how much I like the game, despite some of the games shortcomings. The game feels very much like the classic title I used to play and that’s not a bad thing. The Arwing is fun to fly, levels feel varied and enemies keep you on your toes. The levels can feel a little sparse at times but overall it didn’t impact my experience. Certainly when comparing it to other polished Wii U titles you can clearly see the difference in graphical fidelity but the gameplay makes up for it.
Overall Star Fox Zero is a game that I enjoyed a lot and provided a nice change of pace to some other intense games I have been playing recently, like Dark Souls 3. Once you have mastered the new controls, which are only slightly tweaked, it’s a fun experience that new players and fans of the original will enjoy. It’s a shame that the game didn’t make its return earlier in the Wii U’s life cycle as I see it as a pretty decent exclusive title. Star Fox Zero is surely one of the last major releases for the underused system and it will be interesting to see how the new Zelda game does as we approach the inevitable transition to the unannounced NX.
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