While some Nintendo franchises are trotted out numerous times a generation, others are held back for what are seemingly eternities. While the wait between Mario or Zelda games may only be one or two years, other series such as Metroid, remain without new iterations for far too long. Another such franchise is Star Fox. Miyamoto’s space opera is one of Nintendo’s most beloved properties, yet we rarely see a new entry in the series. Although we saw a remake of Star Fox 64 on the 3DS five years ago, the last new entry in the series was a decade ago, with Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS.
It’s now time to restart that clock because a new Star Fox is here in the form of Star Fox Zero. The game comes courtesy of a joint effort between Nintendo and one of my favorite developers, Platinum Games. Unfortunately, this isn’t a full fledged sequel or new chapter for the franchise as many had hoped. Instead, it is a re-imagining of it’s roots. The original game set the SNES on fire back in 1993 and was remade, or “rebooted”, with a pseudo-remake in 1997 in the form of Star Fox 64. Now, nearly 20 years after that we are getting another reboot / remake of that original game.
The story remains largely the same as it has since the beginning. Once again you are stepping into the boots of famed space-mercenary Fox McCloud. As the leader of the Star Fox Team, you will lead your team on a mission at the request of General Pepper, Commander in Chief of the Cornerian Defense Force, to defend Corneria and the Lylat System from the evil scientist Andross and his army. There’s a wide array of colorful characters involved, all of which are fully voiced and full of character (literally speaking). The voiceover work is every bit as “hoaky” as it has been in the past, which is part of the game’s charm and something fan’s will appreciate.
Just as the story will feel familiar, so will numerous portions of the game. Remember, this is an updated version of a story that many of us are experiencing for the third time. A lot of the iconic levels and scenes are back such as the opening on Corneria and the fateful duel with Star Wolf. Platinum has gone a long way to freshen up the experience though with a variety of new areas for players to experience and explore as well as the introduction of additional vehicles that help to vary the gameplay quite a bit.
You spend a majority of your time piloting the iconic Arwing, but there are many levels scattered throughout the game that pit you in other vehicles such as the Landmaster Tank, the Walker and the Gyrocopter. Each one feels completely different than the rest and it goes a long way to vary the gameplay experience. The Landmaster, in particular, feels better than ever, even with the finicky control system that we will discuss here in a bit. The Walker is also a great little piece of hardware that you can transform into at any time while piloting your Arwing.
These vehicle options allow you to approach a lot of the missions in numerous ways. It is important to approach things differently than you might normally because the game has numerous branching paths and routes through the stages. The map of the Lylat system isn’t a simple A to B path but rather a twisting and winding collection of planets and star systems, all riddled with the action just waiting for you to join.
Of course, there is still the issue of the controls, which I spoke about at length in my preview of the game a few weeks back. Sadly, that patch for the control options that I had hoped for never came. However, things did improve slightly as I spent more time with the control scheme. The controls are structured so that you can have your ship flying one direction while shooting in another. This makes use of the dual-screen setup of the console combined with the Wii U gamepad. Under the default options, your television shows you a third person view of the action while the gamepad provides a cockpit view that offers a slightly different perspective. This is extremely useful for things such as attacking ground targets while soaring through the air and focusing on specific weak points of large bosses that you’re flying around (physically).
It works a lot better in theory than it does in reality, specifically when it comes to the airborne vehicles. Even after numerous hours with the setup, and getting to a level where I consider my comfortable and semi-skilled with it, the entire setup still feels foreign. It really feels as though you are trying to manage too many things at once as you are focusing on three individual components of the control system: vehicle, camera and targeting reticule. The learning curve required for this setup, which is the only option in the game, is extremely steep. The game does offer a tutorial of sorts when you first start the game, and it can be repeated from the main menu, which is something that I highly recommend you do until you begin getting the hang of things.
The one time where the controls actually work really well is in the game’s cooperative mode. When playing with a partner. One player uses either a pro controller or a Wiimote and nunchuk while the second player uses the Wii U gamepad. It feels as if the first player is piloting the ship, with their own standard gun controls and targeting reticule, while the second player is sitting in a secondary gunner seat. The fact that this works so well explains why the control setup doesn’t work for a single player: it’s meant for two people! This mode is a lot of fun to play and works way better than trying to go at things on your own.
It’s no question that this is the most beautiful looking and sounding Star Fox title to date. Star Fox games have always been visual treats on their different platforms, but this one takes the cake. The amount of details and “personality" that goes into the world and its characters really shows through. The visuals are fantastic and they run incredibly smooth 95% of the time. There are occasional hiccups when the action gets really intense and large explosions are taking up the screen, but for the most part the game handles the high resolution and 60 fps framerate well. It’s truly a treat to come soaring into a level, skimming just above the surface of a body of water and see the vapor trails that are kicked up behind your Arwings. The soundtrack is also as fantastic as it has ever been, with an impeccable scored orchestral soundtrack. As I mentioned earlier, the voices remain as annoying and campy as they have ever been, and in the case of this franchise, that is a compliment.
Despite my frustrations with the controls, I still find myself going back to the game repeatedly to up my scores on different levels and to earn the various medals. The game is built to be played over and over and it pulls you back in time and time again. This isn’t necessarily something new to the franchise but it is something that you can see was very important in the development of this game. The various unlockable modes, secrets, Amiibo unlocks, and scoreboards will have you challenging yourself again and again. This all outweighs the difficulties created by the troublesome control system but I can’t help but wonder how much better it could be with better or alternate control options.
It is nice to see Star Fox back in the forefront of Nintendo’s lineup and Star Fox Zero is a solid entry for the franchise. Platinum Games has surely done a great job at delivering an experience that is a perfect balance of an old, familiar tale and experience with new gameplay options and content. The control setup is truly a black eye on an otherwise excellent experience, but the charm and variety in the missions and vehicles outweighs it all in the end, even if it doesn’t reach its full potential. Things could be so much better, overall, if players were simply given a choice in control schemes and perhaps that is something that the developers can consider in the future.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.