- Format: Wii U
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
- Players: 1-2 (offline only)
- Site: http://starfoxzero.nintendo.com/
- Game code provided by the publisher
“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it” is an oft-used phrase (in certain areas of Blighty, at least). It might not be the best attitude to take towards things such as injecting yourself with heroin, tickling a tiger, or watching Take Me Out; but generally speaking, it’s a sound life philosophy. It certainly applies to Star Fox Zero. To be honest, the thought of a compulsory mish-mash of motion controls and “proper” controls filled us with dread. Not only does the control system work extremely well, however, it helps make this the best Star Fox game yet.
So is this a prequel, a sequel, or a remake? The answer is… well, it’s largely a remake if you want to get all pigeonholey. There’s no denying that this is, depending on where in the world you are, Lylat Wars or Star Fox 64. What’s basically happened here though is that Nintendo have handed the game to Platinum, who have then thrown a load of new elements in and given the whole thing a remix.
It’s still largely an on-rails shooter, with more freedom afforded in the arenas where you switch to “all range mode”. Most standard enemies will burst into flames with just one or two shots, because there are so many of them. Bosses are either huge or extremely agile, and take a lot of punishment before finally going down. The large ones have coloured or otherwise easily identifiable weak points. The story is gloriously vague and daft, concerning as it does a crack squadron of space pilots consisting of a fox, a toad, a hare, and some kind of bird thing. The military general is a dog. Their arch-enemies include a wolf and a pig. It has both feet in arcade land, refusing to take itself particularly seriously and being a better game for it.
Although it’s a game painted with broad strokes of simplicity for gloss, it’s always had several layers of complexity. There are more overt signs of this now, although this doesn’t go much further than new vehicles and transformation abilities. As well as the jet-flavoured spaceship, the Arwing, there are a few newcomers too. The tank-like Landmaster returns, but now it can transform into a jet with (admittedly limited) flying powers. Conversely, you can unlock the ability to transform the Arwing into the amusingly chickenesque Walker, which was rescued from the canned Star Fox 2.
With this unlocked, you can return to the very first stage for an example of the familiar-yet-different nature of this game. There’s an alternate route here that leads to a different (and much more difficult) boss fight. Whereas before you had to follow Falco through a specific route by flying your Arwing, you now open up the new route by transforming at a certain point to trigger a ground-based switch which opens up a nearby tunnel.
An all-new playable vehicle is the Gyrowing, a slow and slightly awkward flying craft that can lower a little robot to grab hidden collectibles, hack into panels, and speak in an annoying voice. The level where this takes centre stage is easily the game’s low point because, although it’s not a bad experience as such, the slow pace and different gameplay style mean it fits uncomfortably into a game that’s mostly about reactions and adrenaline.
Now, those controls.
Movement of your craft is via the left stick, with the right stick’s function varying slightly according to vehicle (usually boost, brake, and dodge). Somersaults and changing direction can be performed with a tap of a button should you so wish, and we did so wish. Where the motion controls come in is with aiming. The ever-present reticule is moved about the screen by moving the GamePad itself, and we were relieved to find that the sensitivity has been judged just about perfectly. Is it as precise as an analogue stick? No. Is it an alternative that works? Absolutely.
You’ve essentially had 360 degree hinges added to your lasers, as you’re now able to quickly and easily shoot things at all angles rather than being limited to things directly in front of you. The TV displays the traditional third person view, the GamePad the cockpit view (though you can swap these round at will). You can disable motion controls, but only for when you’re not actually shooting. This dampens them rather than shuts them off altogether, but comes fairly close to the old way of doing things if that’s what you prefer. We muffled the controls in this way after our first run through the story, but quickly found that we much preferred the game with motion controls on. Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that sentence would ever get typed.
It’s all about immersion, which these controls go a long way to creating. We tend to mute the GamePad but, after the tutorial impatiently ordered us to turn the volume up, we found this was the only way to play Star Fox Zero. The way it mimics radio chatter is simplistic but very, very endearing. Shame the Wii U controller has a rubbish battery life, shortened still further by a combination of motion controls and sound.
It’s more of a challenge than you might expect, too. Acing all the unlockable tutorial/challenge stages alone is surprisingly difficult and, although your first run through the main game will likely be about four hours, there are medals to be earned and whole new stages to discover. This first run through will also unlock Arcade Mode, basically a single run-through of whichever path you choose to take with no continues. What’s sadly missing is any kind of competitive multiplayer, a friend only able to join in as gunner.
It’s big, it’s bold, it plays to fan nostalgia, and most importantly of all it’s fun. It’s the ultimate version of a Nintendo fan favourite that wouldn’t be possible on any other console. The bittersweet truth is, it’s exactly what the Wii U needed about three years ago.