Join team Star Fox in a new space adventure and experience the beauty of fast-paced levels through the eyes of Fox McCloud’s cockpit on the Wii U GamePad. Between barrel rolls, somersaults and u-turns, it’s easy to get trigger happy. But don’t let the awkward controls feed your frustration, just ditch the motion control and fuel your satisfaction the way Star Fox should be played.
From the makers of Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101, Platinum Games are one half of the technical brains behind Star Fox Zero after joining forces with Nintendo’s EPD division. As the sixth instalment in the series, the 3D action scrolling shooter is neither a prequel, a direct sequel or a remake of the first Star Fox game, but is somewhere in between, perhaps seen as a homage. Fans of the franchise will be pleased to see Falco, Peppy and Slippy join up with Fox McCloud once again, alongside familiar enemies such as Pigma and Wolfen. Plus, there’s even cameo appearances from characters, with Katt Monroe sparking some interest in one of the levels from her cool and sassy personality.
As with many Star Fox games in the past, Zero’s main story campaign is rather short and can be completed anywhere between six and eight hours. Each level, though, is distinctly different from the last with different missions on offer, bosses and glorious action to get those fingers twitching. From the memorable Corneria stage to the Zoness and Fichina planets, there are ten separate areas to experience and enjoy. For the game completionists there are, of course, 70 medals – with five to each mission – dotted around the levels, which open up some unlockable goodies when found. But don’t be alarmed, there are still new modes to be unlocked after beating the main campaign, giving fans a lengthier and deeper challenge.
With that said though, Star Fox Zero is no pushover. In true Platinum style, levels require strategy and forward-thinking to hit the highest marks. While some areas require you to shoot first and ask questions later in the space adventure, there are other moments that scream for precision with alternative pathways available. In particular, a boss fight with an extremely hefty metallic foe named Giggarilla will have players transforming seamlessly from Arwing to Walker to shoot its easy-to-spot weak points then, in its final stages, hacking with a cute little robot. It’s extremely tricky to master with maddeningly tight spaces to manoeuvre within but, once you do, the satisfaction is worth its weight in gold medals.
A sticky situation for many, the game’s unique dual screen controls can be a real frustration with motion control enabled. While the TV screen will show the general game screen in all-range mode, the GamePad offers up cockpit vision. Each level is designed to be played in either cockpit view or all-range, and some use a blend of both. You’ll have to determine which view is best utilised in each level, while keeping track of the GamePad’s gyroscopic cursor in comparison to what’s on the TV screen.
After meeting my doom within the first couple of hours in Sector Y (aka Gamma) from using motion controls, I was ready to throw in the towel and my team patch. What works for Nintendo’s colourful shooter Splatoon, is just absolutely diabolical for Star Fox Zero. From recalibration cursor problems to dizzying perspectives with laser near misses, I was blinking back my tears of frustration Skyward Sword-style as I catapulted time and time again into missiles, spaceships, and debris. I probably hit Slippy, too. Perhaps it’s just as well no one can hear you scream in space; though I’m not quite sure my neighbours felt the same.
Sensibly ditching the motion controls after a couple of hours, which you can do so on the GamePad’s screen, Star Fox Zero then becomes playable and, most importantly, enjoyable. Although the dual screen is still difficult to get to grips with, practice does make perfect, and soon enough gliding, boosting and barrel-rolling in the Arwing becomes beautifully fluid. There are still moments of dread when controlling three of the five vehicles in the game – namely the Walker, Landmaster and particularly the Gyrowing – which never quite feel as naturally malleable as the Arwing. Ironically, one of the best land vehicles in the game is the Roadmaster, sadly not available until later in the game.
Without a doubt, Star Fox Zero’s crisp visuals are not only aesthetically pleasing, they are also a joy to blast through at great speeds. It’s a shame much of the action is confined to cockpit view, since some of the finer details can only be seen on the larger screen in all-range mode. Yet despite the motion controls, the GamePad is utilised exceedingly well, especially with the title’s voice acting delivered through the control. It drives authenticity, giving players that feeling of being in complete control within the aircraft or vehicle.
As the main draw is Star Fox Zero’s story campaign, fans will also be able to experience it in co-operative play as well. While one player pilots the vehicle and shoots lasers by using the Wii U Pro Controller or a Wii remote and Nunchuk, the other uses motion controls on the GamePad and can easily get trigger happy with lasers and missiles as their arsenal. By working together as a team, players can take on each of the levels and, at times, can alleviate some of the pressure of the more difficult missions. A great tool for newcomers to get accustomed to the controls, co-op mode is intuitively designed. However, it is a real shame that you cannot use the Wii U Pro Controller anywhere else within the game; a missed opportunity for sure, especially when it feels so innate.
Of course, the game also includes training modes and challenge missions for those who crave a much deeper experience. Players can also use the Fox McCloud and Falco amiibo to unlock two different Arwing aircrafts, so there’s enough to variation to keep interest. New to Star Fox Zero is both the hacking robot and Gyrowing. Featured in two levels, they are a nice change of pace, albeit a little slow after the zany action of the previous stages. Nevertheless the hacking element still feels much more of an afterthought by the developers, essentially shoe-horned in with clear ties to Star Fox Guard.
Although not without its flaws, some of which are more painstaking than others, Star Fox Zero may not set your goose bumps tingling, but it’s still a solid space shooter for the Wii U. In the words of Falco, that was a close call, Fox.
Star Fox Guard, which is packaged alongside Star Fox Zero, will be reviewed separately at a later date.