Over the years, since the days of Star Fox 64, I’ve always been waiting for that Star Fox game that would capture me the same way Star Fox 64 did back on N64. I loved this game, so much in fact that I played the game to completion, and by that I mean collected all the models for every stage, unlock hard mode, and proceeded to do it all over again on hard mode. I even bought a controller with turbo buttons so my Arwing could fire at an alarming rate and I could nail those high scores by taking down an absurd amount of baddies. Multiplayer was a whole other game as we sunk even more hours into this. Trying to shake off your friend on your tail with practically no health and smoke and sparks coming out of your Arwing was intense to say the least. Man, those were the days when I could endlessly splurge hours into a game.
Ever since these days, I’ve waited for Nintendo to give us another Star Fox game that matched the greatness of Star Fox 64. The game had challenge, cool boss fights, many different levels, routes, endings etc. Instead in my opinion we got very lackluster versions of the same game. It’s renditions of Star Fox Assault on the Gamecube really took me in on it’s opening stage, a beautiful space battle along with very well orchestrated music with the very sleek looking new Arwing design, but once the combat took the plunge onto the ground, the game fell apart for me. The game felt weak here, I’m not against ground missions in Star Fox, as long as they are done right. Star Fox 64 had it’s share of the Landmaster and the Blue Marine missions which were done splendidly, but when Star Fox Assault tried doing this, it didn’t feel the same, I didn’t want to save the Lylat System anymore. To make matters worse, Star Fox Command was released on the DS, this offered up much Arwing madness, but in the end, was just several all range mode missions compiled together with no real story to make the journey worth while. Again I was let down.
Rewind a bit, and Nintendo has just announced Star Fox Zero, with promises it will be something more akin to what Star Fox 64 gave us. I was sold instantly. The first footage of the game seemed a bit sub par, but the game was far from completion and didn’t look to impressive, but none the less, I was eagerly waiting the release. I got the game a few days after release, I had read and watched many in depth reviews, to confirm I wasn’t going to be duped again like I was in the previous entries in the series. Much of what I heard was the game did get back to its roots, with much criticism about the controls. Regardless, I made the purchase and saw what all the fuss was about.
I loved the game from the get go, flying over the newly designed Corneria instantly brought back the joy I had flying over the same waters back in the 64 days. Seeing the huge monstrosity of enemies appear out of the water, Slippy calling for help, it was all there. The game looks and runs beautifully and colors are vibrant as expected in this style of game, compared to the early footage of the game that had everyone worried that the graphics would look sub par. As I started to plow through more of the game, the level design was throwing some fun missions at me and some really challenging boss fights at times. Even through my subsequent replays of the game, I’m having a hard time taking down some of the bosses. I love challenge in video games, I don’t like my victories coming so easy, it’s just that much more satisfying for me.
Like Star Fox 64, this game has some very memorable stages. Flying through alternate paths and stumbling onto Fortuna was amazing. This stage is just down right beautiful, flying over the clouds with the exotic alien plant life making it’s mark throughout the stage, coming over a large valley with cloud like water falls as you chase the stages boss, I was amazed. The boss fight itself doesn’t disappoint, it takes some very precise flying to get yourself in a position to take this guy down while he’s throwing fire and tornado’s your way. Another great stage is Sector Omega. this stage starts with Star Fox commanding his team to go to max speed, and they aren’t kidding, you flying this this level FAST! Faster than any level ever in Star Fox, and it’s downright fun the level throws some really cool twists along the way. Best part about this is there’s still more levels for me to discover.
There are a few notable changes to the way the game works this time around. There are additions of new vehicles which we’ll talk into more in depth later. The main game this time around allows you to choose any of the levels you have played so far without needing to track through the previous levels and find hidden paths that are usually required in Star Fox. This is a neat addition as for those wanting to quickly pick up the game and go through their favourite levels right away. Once you complete the main game once, you unlock the Arcade mode which is more like the traditional Star Fox experience, which forces you to go through your chosen route with only 1 life. Good for those looking for the added challenge. Outside of the main game, there are some challenge/practice modes where you can set high score and earn medals using the different vehicles, but this didn’t really catch my attention. One thing that is sorely missed is some form of multiplayer that we’ve seen in previous titles. Even if it was local splitscreen multiplayer, I think fans would have embraced this game more. I have fond memories from the Star Fox 64 multiplayer. Even if it would have been a basic death match setup, it would have been a great addition, not sure why they decided to forego this feature. There is local co-op which has 1 player controlling the Arwing flight and the other player using the gamepad to aim and fire. I haven’t tried this mode so I cannot comment much about this.
One of the 2 big criticisms about this game is when stepping out of the Arwing. For me, this was a none issue. Using the Walker, the fun carries over, and it’s cool that you can transform into the Walker at any time you are flying your Arwing, which is needed for some alternate paths. It’s always fun seeing your Arwing transform into a Walker mid air and have it flaps it’s little wings on the way down, it’s a great touch. Although the controls are very sensitive and take some getting used to, with some practice you can be a pro with this vehicle. It’s surprisingly fast and agile which it needs to be, if you’re not moving, you’re going to be getting hit hard. The Gyrowing many have referred to as boring, I can see this point, I didn’t think this vehicle breaks the game at all, it’s really only 1 level you use this vehicle unless there is an alternate stage I don’t know about yet. But taking the sidestep into stealth is not so bad, the controls are good enough that it doesn’t become a hindrance, but again I can see people not liking it as it suddenly takes you away from the high flying action the game is known for. The Landmaster shines in my opinion, especially with its well designed level on Titania where you have to save Peppy. The vehicle is slow, but powerful, just like it was in Star Fox 64, but the added move where you can transform a fly for a short while is a neat touch. Basically, no matter the level or vehicle, enjoyment of Star Fox is retained unlike previous entries in the series.
The second big criticism that I’ve heard about until the ends of the Earth, is the controls. Although controlling your Arwing and other vehicles with the standard analog stick + button combos works as great as it did in the past, a lot of people have not taken kindly to the split screen motion controls found on the game pad. Many complain, including myself that it’s very tough switching between the 2 because you have to take your eyes off the action on the main screen to aim with the game pad, the transition leaves you in a brief state of disconnect and re-orienting yourself can be a challenge. Furthermore, while flying, it’s almost impossible to keep the screen completely still, so this results in your cross hair moving about unintentionally, and when the time comes to aim precisely, by the time you are on the game pad, your aim is way off the mark and re-adjusting takes a few seconds. In heated battles, this becomes a problem because you can be taking damage during this re-adjustment. Also, during some fights, the camera moves into a cinematic mode locking onto a boss or enemy and is no longer behind your Arwing. The action looks great from this mode, as ships fly by you, the game moves slow-mo for a brief moment, adding to the tension of the battle. This mode however requires you to strictly use the game pad to aim, which although it does look cool, it’s tough, because you have to look through the cockpit to aim now, you cannot do it using the main screen. So you are switching back and forth again.
Despite the challenges I had with switching between the screens, I didn’t find this a game breaking design. I acknowledge it does maybe add some unnecessary complexity to the game, but it can be worked with. Thankfully, Nintendo gave us 2 very important features in the controls. First, by a simple press of the Y button, your cross hair is calibrated to the center of your screen again, so if you happen to be moving about and your aim is off, it’s a quick way to get re-oriented. Second, by pressing the Select (-) button, you can seamlessly switch the main display to your cockpit mode and aim by looking at your TV instead of the game pad. I find this especially useful as I find myself more often switching screens instead of taking my eyes of my TV and then looking at the game pad. I think it helps fill in the gap of disconnect between switching displays. When I am in the fights where the camera is no longer behind my Arwing and instead locked onto a target, I am almost exclusively using my TV to display the cockpit view.
Lastly, another tip as brought to light by a review seen on Kotaku which they consider the missing page of the manual, is to not freely hold the gamepad and instead sit with your knees bent in front of you and rest the gamepad on your knee.
I found this little tip helps greatly. It gives you a point of reference to your original position where your crosshair is centered. Doing this, I rarely had my crosshair go off center without me knowing and I rarely had to re-calibrate my cross hair using the Y button. One added bonus of this, as silly as it may sound. The tip has you sitting in a position as if you were actually in a cockpit. By resting the gamepad on your knee and having it stationed there, it gives the feel that your gamepad is essentially your ships joystick. To add to that, you have the characters dialogue coming through the gamepad speakers, so I really felt this ended up immersing me into the game more. I felt like I was closer to flying an Arwing compared to any other Star Fox game. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it works and makes the game more fun for me.
Despite these control work arounds and tips, people can’t seem to forgive these controls, which I understand. It does take some getting used to. Whether it be switching screens or the fact that motion controls are mandatory. Most people would have preferred the classic Star Fox controls we are used to, but in the end, it’s not impossible to enjoy this game and more importantly, be good at it.
For me, it was a breeze getting used to this game, I seem to be a minority, I personally dig motion controls for aiming on console based games. I have my PC gaming setup using a Steam Controller, and for anything that requires some form of aiming, I always elect to have it setup with motion controls for aiming. I can get deadly accuracy using this, so I think given that this is my style, I’ve had much practice in this control method that it was never really an issue for me. I know people complained about using motion controls for Splatoon when it came out, but when I tried the demo, again it was not an issue for me then either.
All in all, Star Fox Zero is a great addition to the franchise. It does a great job of restoring the enjoyment we saw from previous titles in the series and add some new memorable levels and vehicles. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment whenever I beat the main game since it’s not all that easy especially some of the later boss fights. It’s not without its faults, even though the controls can be made to work, there is no real guidance from Nintendo on how to make this experience easy for most, we are left to come up ways with figuring out how to play this game best which I think is why people generally did not favour the controls. Also, the lack of multiplayer I feel hurts the game to an extent despite it having a great single player mode, I don’t think it would’ve have been a lot of effort to include it, and it has become somewhat of a mandatory feature expected in Star Fox ever since the N64 days. This game is best for those looking for re-capture the glory of Star Fox 64 with some new challenges and for those who enjoy replaying and discovering the secret routes and unlocking the medals.