Fox McCloud has been around the block. I grew up with the series, and my fondness for the franchise dates back to the extremely impressive Super Nintendo title, and the revolutionary Super FX chip. Over the years Nintendo has tried to branch Fox and his team out into other genres, but the Star Fox I know and love will always be the arcade shooting action made popular in his earliest entries. Star Fox for the Wii U brings back that classic action, but expands on it by taking advantage of the gamepad, as well as some cumbersome motion controls. It took me a while to acclimate, but after learning the ropes, everything felt like the game I grew up loving.
Star Fox Zero is unapologetic in what it is. This is an arcade shooter, no more, no less. The campaign takes around five hours to blast through the first time, but that is of course without hitting all the various paths. Everything it has to offer is seen in the first handful of levels. There is no progression system, just Fox and his band of colorful characters in a whimsical adventure with a paper-thin plot.
I like the idea of multiple playthroughs, and Star Fox Zero does an excellent job of coercing players into returning to missions to unlock all of the paths. It really branches out, much like the older titles in the series, giving players a reason to return to previously finished missions. Some of the new areas are just that, sporting completely different visuals and enemies. It really is worth digging through the game multiple times just to see everything.
Taking control of the Arwing feels natural at first. Moving left, right, up, and down brings back the memories of previous entries. Then the motion controls are introduced, and things ramp up. The Wii U gamepad is used as a cockpit view of the action, and is where all the precision aiming is performed. I found that most encounters could be tackled on the big screen with the standard controls, but there are times when looking down at the gamepad was necessary to land a more precise hit.
Thankfully, the motion controls feel great. While I am not a fan of taking my eyes off the main screen to look down at the gamepad during important battles, it doesn’t feel cumbersome. I was able to look down, make my shots, and readjust back up at the TV without much issue. This is aided by the quick re-center button, which I was pressing almost constantly. This is strictly for the flying missions; once they introduced the walker missions, things became much more complicated.
One of the unique ways I found to play was with someone else. While I manned the flying, they took over the shooting. It is an interesting hybrid, and takes just as much getting used to as flying solo. It is especially complicated during sequences where the camera becomes fixed, meaning as the pilot I was not able to see directly in front of where I was flying. Nintendo has made some odd choices in how Zero controls, but the core game behind it is classic Star Fox.
The big problem is that the formula for Star Fox is a product of an era gone by. Lots of people have nostalgia for the simplistic aerial combat, while others have grown past it. Sadly, when Nintendo has branched out from the traditional game play, fans have rejected it. So it is a case of not being able to win. I enjoy the simplistic game play, and it feels fresh in an age where we seem to have lost love of the simpler mechanics that made games fun to play.
For those that purchased Star Fox Zero at launch, the game also comes with a second title called Star Fox Guard. This mini-game feels like a tacked-on experience that certainly wouldn’t fly as a solo game. Guard is a tower defense game where players use the gamepad screen to switch between cameras and mow down robots invading Slippy’s uncle’s junkyard. It is shallow, but still a nice add-on for those that jumped in early.
Star Fox Zero is exactly what I expected it would be, and I love it for that. The motion controls are not the most ideal way to play the game, but they do offer up some unique ideas on a classic formula. Players that have graduated past the simplistic design of the original Star Fox games won’t find much to bring them back in, but those that still enjoy doing barrel rolls will feel right at home with Fox’s latest adventure.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.