Since the Wii U’s release back in November 2012, people have clamoured for it and its sister console, the 3DS to receive new instalments of their favourite franchises like F-Zero (*sigh*), Metroid (I’m not even going to bring up Federation Force for fear of being hunted with pitchforks) and Zelda (too soon?), and many of the more niche fanbases tend to feel forgotten in favour of yet another Mario release. Star Fox fans have felt no different having not received a console game since the GameCubes’ Starfox Armada back in 2005, and haven’t seen a release with any kind of fanfare since Lylat Wars on the N64 almost two decades ago. So it stands to reason that with the release of Star Fox Zero, anyone who’s ever loved shooting up Andross’ minions in an Arwing will be waiting with eyes wide open.
Star Fox Zero looks very similar to Lylat Wars and could even be considered a remake of sorts, but there are some massive differences in the way the game plays. On the surface, it’s practically identical, and watching videos of gameplay footage would lead you to believe that you were straight up playing a (very pretty) relaunch of Lylat Wars. The story is practically identical, sharing a large portion of the heroes, villains, and locations as it’s N64 counterpart. I understand that many fans would probably enjoy feeling reunited with the Star Fox squadron in such an intimate fashion, but I can’t help but feel that it would have been nice to have seen some more new locales and characters to fall in love with. That isn’t to say that’s what is present is done so badly, however, as the cheesy one-liners and silly arguments between the characters feels like home, and there’s definately that Nintendo-magic infused into the characters that almost nobody can replicate. There’s a campy tone to Star Fox Zero that would feel alien if it weren’t present. It’s funny in that roll-your-eyes kind of way, and I love it.
The first major drawback to Star Fox Zero is that it has a bizarre control scheme. In previous entries, you moved your aiming reticule in sync with moving the Arwing, and it made sense. In Zero, however, you move and shoot independently from one another by way of the Wii U’s gamepad. Your Arwing view that you’ve always been used to is displayed on the TV, while the Wii U Gamepad displays a first person view with a limited field of vision to give you more precise aiming for your shots. You can move the Gamepad around to expand this field of view, encouraging you to move around and look silly flailing around with your arms extended with a pad in your hands. This, in theory, sounds like it would be an immersive experience being gunner and pilot, however, what actually comes to pass is that you find yourself either shooting in the wrong direction, or flying into random objects due to the simple fact that it’s very difficult to look at both the TV and the Gamepad at the same time. I often find with Wii and Wii U games that the odd control schemes are forced into games that don’t want them, but I rarely find that they actually detract from the gameplay experience like this does. Eventually you’ll find that you get used to the control scheme, but the time investment needed to do so is a little bit longer than is comfortable, in my opinion.
Star Fox Zero offers multiple vehicles besides the Arwing for players to control, bringing back the Landmaster tank from older titles as well as adding the brand new Walker and Gyrocopter vehicles for certain stages. The interesting thing with these vehicles is that a lot of the time playing in them, I wish I was just in an Arwing. Taking them individually, playing in an Arwing controls beautifully (from a pilots perspective, anyway!) with a real speed rush that leaves a delightful taste. The thrusters feel powerful, the U-Turns are fluid, and doing a barrel roll never felt so good. The Landmaster is fine, but it’s just fine. It’s a bit clunkier than the Arwing is by nature, and it does feel about right for what it is, but I found myself missing the speed of the aircraft. The new Walker feels a bit odd to start with, I found myself walking into walls more often than I would care to admit to begin with, but the game slowly introduces Arwing/Walker levels that flow very nicely together with a transform mechanic that adds a little extra to the high-flying stages. The Gyrocopter however, is a different story. Given that most people who play the Star Fox games enjoy the rush of speed and fast combat that they’ve always employed, the Gyrocopter does exactly the opposite of it. It’s slow, sluggish, at one point asks for stealth *rolls eyes* and is generally unpleasant to handle. Thankfully there aren’t very many missions that use the Gyrocopter, but I definately could have done without that addition. The Arwing still stands high above the rest of the vehicles without a shadow of a doubt, and some of the set pieces involving arena-based dogfighting are real highlights of the game. Any encounter with Star Wolf is well worth a mention here!
Many of Star Fox Zero’s problems are very quickly mitigated through the use of co-operative multiplayer. One player assumed the role of the pilot, using a Pro Controller, while the other assumes the role of the gunner, using the Wii U Gamepad. Having spent more time with the game in co-op play than single play, I can quite confidently say that this game is miles better when played co-operatively. Communication comes naturally as the wider field of view of the pilot leads the gunner to shoot in the correct manner, and proves to be very satisfying when a mission is accomplished together. Annoyingly, it’s clear that co-op is an afterthought in Zero, as you have to play a mission first in order to play it in co-operative play, though all that needs to be done to override this is to start the mission, quit it, and then start it again. It would have been nice not to have to do this each mission, but it stands to reason that co-op play being possible in the game at all is most certainly a blessing.
If you’re looking for a blast from the past, Star Fox Zero will certainly leave an impression with its kooky characters, memorable one-liners and speedy progression. It is impossible to see everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough, so there’s certainly room for replayability. Bear in mind, however, unless you have a friend to play with, that you’re in for a rough ride getting used to the peculiar control scheme, and might barrel roll your eyes at the slow pace of certain missions. It bears more than a passing resemblance to it, there are definitely more high points than low to Star Fox Zero, however, and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who wants something a little fresh and a little nostalgic to crack out on their Wii U!