Review: Star Fox Zero (Nintendo Wii U)

Star Fox Zero: Official GBAtemp Review

Nintendo Wii U 3,654 views 5 likes 15 comments
Reviewed by Alex McAuliffe, posted Apr 26, 2016, last updated Apr 26, 2016
Apr 26, 2016
  • Release Date (NA): April 22, 2016
  • Release Date (EU): April 22, 2016
  • Release Date (JP): April 21, 2016
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Developer: PlatinumGames, Nintendo EPD
  • Genres: Scrolling shooter
  • ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
  • PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
It's the successor to Star Fox 64 that everyone's been waiting for, and one of the final Wii U-exclusive titles; how does it hold up against such high expectations?
Alex McAuliffe
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The center of speculation since its reveal at E3 last year, Star Fox Zero has been delayed many times and criticized for its lackluster graphics in trailers. Yet neither of these are the game's biggest hurdle.

A nostalgic adventure

Star Fox Zero is one massive tribute to Star Fox 64; everything from the map, the audio clips, and the missions to the story itself is sure to please Star Fox 64 fans who still feel nostalgia. Anyone who's even looked at SF64 will recognize the little references and mementos the game presents, from Peppy enthusiastically shouting "Do a barrel roll!" to the awkward-sounding "Good luck!" sound clip that plays before a mission.

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Through the game's escapades with the gamepad (more on those later), the graphics suffer a little. They're not noticeably bad-- they're smooth, jaggie-free, and the framerate is consistently 60 FPS, but the models aren't very detailed. Fortunately, this works as a simplistic design choice, depending on how you interpret it. Either way, the graphics could definitely be improved upon as the game looks a little too much like a Wii U launch title.

There are some interesting experiments with 3D sound going on in the game. The main music comes through the TV speakers, while the radio messages from your teammates come through the gamepad speakers. This creates an increased sense of immersion, and certainly puts the gamepad to good use.

Short but sweet

Although the main campaign is very short, taking only a few hours to complete, it does a fantastic job of shaking up the gameplay as you progress. Never are two missions of the same type next to each other. The variety of vehicles help to ensure a lack a boredom during the campaign. Of course, the most fun levels are the on-rails sections in the standard Arwing. The game works best when it sticks to its roots, but that doesn't mean the Gyrocopter or Landmaster missions aren't a nice break from the fast-paced Arwing levels. Missions in All-Range mode allow the player to roam around 360 degrees of space, usually to fight a boss or team of enemies. This creates a nice contrast between the meat of a level and its final boss fight.

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There are boss fights after most levels, which are mostly very formulaic. They follow a distinct pattern of "hit the glowing red weak spot to cripple the boss, then hit the other, bigger glowing red weak spot". Some fights are fun, yet many are long slogs that get annoying after a while.

There are alternate exits in some levels just like Star Fox 64, encouraging playing through the campaign multiple times. There are also collectibles on each level, adding some replayability. However, even after collecting all that, the game doesn't last much more than 8 or so hours. The arcade mode provides more fun as well, though the game feels a bit short for a $60 price tag. The addition of Star Fox Guard helps as well.

The crucial stigma

Star Fox Zero tries very hard to be innovative while also preserving the Star Fox experience. Unfortunately, the game's unconventional controls have some great potential but end up hampering the experience and causing one too many accidental deaths.

The basic structure of the controls seems simple. On the TV, the player's vehicle is shown in a third person view with a reticle used for aiming, just like any other Star Fox game. On the gamepad is the cockpit view, which is supposed to be from the perspective of Fox. It has some basic lines indicating the windshield of the vehicle, used to estimate orientation. The reticle is visible on the gamepad as well, and the game advises that the gamepad be used for "precision aiming". This makes sense considering that the main method of aiming is with the gamepad's gyro sensor, which is typically very sensitive. (The gyro aiming can be turned off in some parts of the game, but is mandatory in others.)

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This control scheme poses two main problems:

1.) The aiming reticle very frequently gets off-center because of the gyro aiming, and though all it takes is a button press to recenter it, this gets frustrating quickly during, for example, a heated boss battle where you have limited windows to deal damage.

2.) Switching between the two screens to look at is *not* a natural process. I always end up staring at one screen or the other, and the moment I try to switch I've already lost the very enemy I was trying to aim at. You can lock on to an enemy with zL, which has the camera follow them on the TV incentivizing you to aim at them with the gamepad. However, this is not easy to do either as you quickly lose track of the position of your own vehicle.

Sometimes, I will lose half of my health due to me losing track of my own plane, or even losing track of my reticle. Keeping the gamepad in a neutral position to center the reticle is sometimes tough. The game forces you to play with what are essentially three axes to manage, from the left stick which controls the plane, the gyro to aim, and the right stick to control the throttle. This causes confusion; it's embarrassing how many times I accidentally launched a bomb instead of calibrating the reticle.

What's crazy is that these controls actually work when you get used to them. They actually make you feel like you're flying a plane once you figure them out. But the amount of time it takes to figure them out is about the length of the whole campaign, and there's still the chance to get confused and hit the wrong button. Innovative controls? I'm a fan! But innovative controls that too often hamper gameplay? Not so much.
Verdict
Pros
+ Great pacing in the main game
+ Fantastic on-rails sections
+ Satisfies nostalgia and rebirths the Star Fox legacy
Cons
- Controls interfere with gameplay
- A small lack of content
- Monotonous and frustrating boss battles
7 Presentation
The graphics aren't glaringly bad, but the models lack detail. The framerate is consistent, yet this game looks like a Wii U launch title, and the Wii U has been out for almost four years now.
7 Gameplay
The levels are well-designed, the campaign's pacing is fantastic, and missions are varied. These are all things that point to perfect gameplay, but the awkward controls sadly bring the gameplay down.
6 Lasting Appeal
The replayability falls a little short of standard for a $60 game, but it does alright with collectibles, challenge missions, and arcade mode. Still, I would have preferred a longer or even another main campaign.
7
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
For a title that people have been awaiting for years, Star Fox Zero falls a bit short. It continues the Star Fox legacy in a nostalgic and venerable way, but its controls and length hamper its greatness. It is a good game, yet somewhere underneath its major problems is a fantastic one.
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