Developed by: Nintendo EPD, PlatinumGames Published by: Nintendo of America Reviewed on: Wii U
Star Fox Zero is a loose remake of Star Fox 64, the most beloved game in a series that has seen better days. It began as a pet project for Shigeru Miyamoto, who wanted to create a game that fully utilized the Wii U’s defining feature: the game pad. With the aid of Platinum Games, best known for their over the top action titles like Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101, Star Fox Zero was released, ending a 10 year hiatus for the franchise.
The premise will be instantly familiar to franchise fans: intergalactic mastermind Andross has invaded Corneria, leaving General Pepper no choice but to request the aid of the mercenary group, Star Fox. The group is comprised of Fox McCloud, the son of the legendary and missing pilot James McCloud, Falco Lombardi, a hot shot ace with a fiery temper, Peppy Hare, James McCloud’s friend and Fox’s mentor, and Slippy Toad, the group’s technician and comic relief. There isn’t much plot to speak of in Star Fox Zero, but the colorful cast, including their rivals Star Wolf, adds a splash of personality to the game. It adopts most of the major story beats from Star Fox 64, so there’s little surprise in store for long time fans.
The most controversial aspect of the game is its unique control scheme. There’s a steep learning curve when it comes to mastering the controls. Star Fox Zero requires you to constantly look at both TV and game pad screens. The TV provides a view of Fox’s Arwing ship while the gamepad displays the cockpit view. It’s challenging alternating between navigating on your TV screen and aiming using the gamepad’s screen. Aiming on the game pad does offer greater precision as well being able to spot and shoot enemies not visible on the TV screen. The right analog stick is used in conjunction with the left stick to pull off U-turns and loops. Since the right stick is also used to perform barrel rolls, I found myself accidentally performing those aforementioned maneuvers when I intended to move up or down during a barrel roll. It’s unfortunate there isn’t an option to remap the controls. Another issue is the awful third person camera perspective when you’re locked onto a boss; the perspective shifts from behind your Arwing to a wide angle side view. This makes it hard to see what’s ahead as well as navigate because the controls do not change to compensate for the perspective change. This forces you to rely on the gamepad view to attack as you awkwardly avoid attacks on the TV.
Given the series’ and Platinum Games’ pedigree, Star Fox Zero is a slight disappointment as it lacks spectacular, over the top set pieces. Your AI teammates and allies are mostly useless, making it feel that you’re the only one doing anything of consequence. The addition of the Gyrowing areas with their slight stealth elements drag down the game’s pacing. These segments also force you to use a small drone to navigate and hack into computers via the game pad. to The best aspects of the game are its forward scrolling stages, which makes it unfortunate that there are quite a few all range and interior segments. Also frequent are moments when you’re forced to use the land based walker mode, which is especially irritating in narrow stages due to the awkward controls; having to use both analog sticks to maneuver through confined areas and dodge attacks is cumbersome. The Landmaster tank makes a welcome return, although it’s not frequently used, sadly.
Star Fox Zero does have solid replay value with alternate stages and numerous medals to discover in each stage. Each alternate stage has unique unlock conditions that range from stepping over a button in walker mode or saving a teammate under attack. Stashed away in each stage are numerous medals are used to unlock extras such as the powerful black Arwing and the retro Arwing from the original Star Fox. For those struggling with the controls, co-op mode is a fun experience: one player pilots the Arwing on the TV while another player handles the precision shooting, hacking, and other cockpit duties. Sadly there’s no competitive multiplayer mode, which is a let down considering previous games offered it.
While clean and colorful, the visuals aren’t particularly impressive and there are frame rate dips. While the forward scrolling areas, both land and space, are impressive in scope, the frequent interior areas are sterile and forgettable. The enemy designs hearken back to the angular, polygonal look of the older games. The soundtrack is a blend of old and new, featuring rearrangements from Star Fox 64; the Star Wolf theme is one particular stand out track. The voice acting is enjoyable in a campy fashion and reuses some of the voice actors from the prior games.
Star Fox Zero is a hard sell at full price. Nintendo’s attempt to force an innovative control scheme comes at a cost, needlessly complicating what should have been a straight forward on rails shooter. The highs (the forward scrolling stages and the Star Wolf duels) are outweighed by the controls, the awful pacing in the walker/gyrowing sections, and a lack of intensity in the battles. Much like the Wii U itself, Star Fox Zero is a grand experiment that that has flashes of brilliant innovation, but ultimately falls short in terms of execution and justifying its experimentation.