Developer: Platinum Games/Nintendo
Star Fox Zero is a re-imagining of one of my all time favorite games, Star Fox 64. With new transformations for the Arwing, an entirely new vehicle and the return of the LandMaster Tank, Star Fox Zero is a nostalgia-fueled adrenaline rush for fans of all ages. With new gamepad controls that allow for more precise aiming, Nintendo and Platinum Games have crafted a more cinematic experience for an often forgotten yet treasured Nintendo franchise. Star Fox Zero is also packed in with the never-before-seen Star Fox Guard, a separate tower defense style game that has you defending the mining company owned by Grippy Toad—Slippy’s uncle—from invading robots.
This is Star Fox. Much like Star Wars, it is a series designed for kids, and the most violent thing that can be witnessed is the ships crashing into balls of flames and debris after a defeat. There is not foul language and no drug use or sexuality of any kind.
Where to even begin? My bio on Geeks Under Grace states that Starfox 64 is one of my favorite games of all time. This is due to gameplay that never gets old even through multiple repeated playthroughs as there is always a new level or reward to unlock as your skills progress. Thankfully, the same can be said for Nintendo’s newest entry in the franchise, Star Fox Zero. While I was at first put off by the new control scheme, as time went on I started to get the hang of looking between the TV and GamePad to aim more precisely at pesky enemies that were constantly on the move, or to nail that hard to reach weak spot of an imposing boss.
Fan favorites Fox McCloud, Slippy Toad, Peppy Hare, and Falco Lombardi all return in what is basically a retelling of the story from Star Fox 64. However, this is more than just a simple retread as the Arwing and Landmaster tank now have new transformations that offer the means to access branching paths to different levels or bosses. There is also the inclusion of the new gyrocopter for more stealth focused levels.
The story is the same as the N64 version. As Corneria is attacked by Andross’ forces, Star Fox is called in to save the day and thus begins an intergalactic adventure to thwart Andross and his own team of ace pilots, Star Wolf. Naturally, progression through the game occurs in much the same way that it did in Star Fox 64. Players initially only have access to the easiest path through a level. However, once newer vehicles and Arwing transformations are unlocked, going back to replay earlier levels can open the portal to a new, previously unexplored level. These secret levels are one of the things that kept players coming back in the original Star Fox games as there are often very daunting requirements to unlock these paths. For example, one level requires landing no less than 150 hits on enemies in order to open a new path through the level. However, this also requires players to defeat a new, and often tougher boss. While I enjoyed this retelling of the classic story, I also wish that Nintendo would do more with the franchise like they did with this hybrid CGI/Anime short that explores the backstory behind the opening level of the game.
While I went into Star Fox Zero with my nostalgia goggles securely in place, cracks started to show through Nintendo’s usual polish in gameplay. Simply put, Star Fox Zero is incredibly difficult, even on the first level thanks to the new motion controls with the gamepad. While the controls are pretty much identical to those of Star Fox 64 or the recent 3DS re-release while piloting the Arwing, it is next to impossible to hit anything with precision while in the LandMaster Tank and the new Arwing Walker mode. Having to use the gamepad to aim makes these already clunky vehicles all the more difficult to navigate. The new gryocopter is very awkward to control as it contains a robot on a wire that can be used to activate switches and to pick up bombs which can then be dropped on enemies. The piddly little lasers on the gyrocopter however, are about as effective as a pea shooter.
All of this could be forgiven if the entire game couldn’t be completed in about 3 hours. While this would not have been an issue in older Star Fox games thanks to fun gameplay and air tight controls, this only adds to the frustration with Star Fox Zero as you are forced to repeat the same annoyingly difficult levels over and over while locked in a constant battle with shoddy, inept controls. I found myself wondering many times why Nintendo couldn’t have just made the gamepad controls optional and let nostalgic players complete the game with classic controls via the Classic Controller Pro.
As this is the first game fans of the franchise have gotten in almost a decade, Star Fox Zero is highly recommended. However, for players who are new to the franchise I recommend picking up Star Fox 64 3D for 3DS instead. With its improved graphics and portability it is truly the definitive edition of the all time classic Star Fox 64. While I loved Star Fox Zero for the fanfare and the simple fact that it finally exists, I can’t help but feel disappointed by what Nintendo has done to one of its most criminally overlooked franchises.
Side Note: All new copies of Star Fox Zero come with a physical copy of Star Fox Guard. Star Fox Guard is a spin-off tower defense title that can be purchased digitally via the Wii U eShop. The game plays like a cross between typical tower defense and Five Nights At Freddy’s as the gamepad is used to alternate between camera feeds to shoot at incoming robots that are trying to invade your base. While this is a fun diversion from the main game, and it does allow for users to create and upload their own maps, it offers little in the way of real substance from the main Star Fox experience.
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The Bottom Line
Star Fox Zero is a game for Star Fox fans. After nearly a decade of waiting for a true sequel to Star Fox 64, it has finally arrived in the form of this Wii U exclusive. While there are plenty of new features to draw in newcomers to the franchise, Nintendo and Platinum's puzzling decision to force gamepad controls on all players makes the game needlessly difficult in certain areas and may turn off some player from trying out Star Fox Zero for the first time.