Photo from Nintendo
By Stephen Infantolino
There are many Nintendo franchises that have fallen into obscurity over the past decade. Franchises like Star Fox and F-Zero haven’t seen new releases since the GameCube era. However, Star Fox, after being dormant for almost a decade, is finally making a return on the Wii U with Star Fox Zero.
Originally announced at E3 2014, Star Fox Zero is looking to do a hard reset on the Star Fox franchise, taking the franchise back to its original roots on the Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo.
Star Fox Zero heavily relies on both Star Fox (SNES) and Star Fox 64 for story content. If you’ve played either of these games, especially Star Fox 64, then you already know the plot to Star Fox Zero. The player controls Star Fox leader, Fox McCloud, as he and his team consisting of Falco, Peppy and Slippy travel across the Lylat System in their Arwing ships to take down the evil scientist Andross who’s looking to take over the Lylat system.
The player must complete a main goal on each level in order to reach and defeat Andross. These goals vary from level to level, and consist of missions such as defending general Pepper’s tower on Corneria or defeating the evil team Star Wolf. Zero also offers 70 different medals to collect across all the levels.
Each level generally has two different ways to complete it. There is the general main task that gets you through the story the easiest, and then there is the secret task that takes you down a different path. These secret paths send you in different directions on your way through the Lylat system. Combined, all the alternative paths give the player 19 different ways to reach Andross and complete the game.
Star Fox Zero does have some new features to the franchise. The game supports amiibo functionality. If the player owns either a Fox or Falco amiibo, they can tap them into the game on the map screen, allowing the player to temporarily unlock special Arwings from that play session.
The Fox amiibo unlocks the Retro Arwing for Fox and the rest of the Star Fox team. This Arwing is based on the one from the Super Nintendo game, and features the same polygonal graphic style. The Falco amiibo unlocks the Black Arwing. This Arwing not only is colored red and black, but it also deals more damage to enemies at the cost of being able to take less hits. Both of these Arwing types can be unlocked without using amiibos, but requires clearing missions within Star Fox Zero.
Zero also features the new in-game transformation. The Walker is a transformation for the Arwing that allows to ship to walk along the ground, as opposed to flying in the air. The Walker was originally supposed to be included in Star Fox 2, but was scrapped after the game was canceled. The Walker can be used to press buttons, as well as hacking panels in later parts of the game.
Graphically, Star Fox Zero is a good-looking game. From a distance, all of the in-game structures and ships look incredible. However, that’s from a distance. Up-close, some of the graphics look muddy and just unappealing. The most notable instance was in the Corneria stage, where the player has to defend General Pepper’s Tower from spider robots. The graphics on that structure seemed like something that came out several console generations ago, and isn’t something that should be on a current-gen console.
These lower textures up-close look even worse when you are viewing them on the gamepad screen that has a much lower resolution than even the cheapest TV you can buy today. Besides those few moments, however, the graphics on Zero are good, don’t get me wrong. However, those small moments do detract from the overall immersion and atmosphere that Zero tries so hard to set up.
Gameplay-wise is where Star Fox Zero takes its biggest hit. Nintendo is still desperately trying to prove to the world that the Wii U gamepad is a viable innovation to gaming. In Zero, the gamepad is used for a cockpit view of the action, which allows players to aim effortlessly using the built in gyroscope. That’s fine and it works really well, but you have to constantly switch between looking at the TV and looking down at the Gamepad.
Once you get use to it, this control scheme works really well, and I eventually grew to love it. However, it took me almost five hours to get used to switching between the screens, and the whole time it was both frustrating, and made me just want to put the game down altogether.
This steep learning curve with the controls will cause players, especially those who are casual, to quit playing Zero before reaching the end of the game. For a game that aims to attract everyone, its controls make it hard for anyone who isn’t a seasoned Star Fox player to play. Most people don’t want to struggle with the game for hours before getting good at it, and that’s Star Fox Zero’s biggest problem. At times, I wish Zero would have stuck with a more traditional control scheme, that way the steep learning curve doesn’t scare off potential players.
Overall, Star Fox Zero is a solid entry in the Star Fox franchise. I will also say that Zero is my second favorite Star Fox game to date, right behind Star Fox 64. It’s nostalgic, yet new. It reminds me of my first trip through the Lylat System back on the N64. Its controls can be detracting, but with enough patience and persistence anyone can learn them and become an expert. What’s troubling is that persistence needed to become an expert. I would suggest at least trying Star Fox Zero before choosing to buy it.
Star Fox Zero became available on the Wii U on April 22, 2015 for the price of $59.99, and comes bundled with Star Fox Guard. New copies come with a physical copy of Guard for now, and later they will be replaced with free digital downloads. Star Fox Guard is a completely different game and thus will have its own review here on the Independent.