Star Fox Zero Review (Wii U)

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Developer: Nintendo EPD/Platinum Games
Publisher: Nintendo

Main Review

Review Context: There was a point in my childhood where Star Fox and Swat Kats (TV series) made me want to become a pilot as my career goal. While Star Fox (SNES) is awesome, it was Star Fox 64 that most people remember playing and giving birth to a quote to be used forever in this meme centric society. I have played all the Star Fox games, including Star Fox Adventures, but this was the first game in the franchise where I wasn’t sure if I would like it.
Date of Playthrough: April 25, 2016

Like F-Zero, Star Fox is another Nintendo franchise where the company has no idea where to go with it. After mixed reviews of Star Fox: Assault and Star FoxCommand, the series laid dormant (besides Star Fox 64 being released for the Virtual Console). There was hope for fans when Star Fox 64 3D was released, as some saw it as Nintendo seeing if there is still interest in the Fox team (maybe Krystal).

E3 2014 ended with Shigeru Miyamoto playing a blurred Star Fox game. He stated that he had new ideas for the game, but would need help from an outside source. Fans were hoping the help would be Platinum Games after the praise they got for the Star Fox easter egg in Bayonetta 2. Our wish was granted during the Nintendo E3 2015 Treehouse; it was confirmed that Platinum Games is working with Nintendo to make Star Fox Zero, but fans were worried after hearing how the controls rely heavily on the Gamepad. Will Star Fox Zero help bring back the adventures of Team Star Fox or should they’ve stay retired?

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Graphics

I found it hard to believe that most weren’t too fond with the visuals when the game was shown at E3 2015, causing Nintendo to delay the game. Personally, I didn’t notice any changes made to the game. The characters looked great while using the fur shading feature, that for some reason the Xbox One and Playstation 4 can’t do. Different planet environments look great and colorful with the game running 60 fps most of the time. Whenever there is a huge explosion or lots of enemies on screen, the framerate drops, but to me, I see these framerate drops as help like in the older games where the flicker effect helped out players. During the dialogue between your teammates the animation is stiff on purpose as homage to Star Fox 64.

Controls

Hold on to your butts, because I am going to discuss the feature of the game that many have mixed feelings for. It should be noted that Miyamoto stated that he wanted to use the Wii U Gamepad to give Star Fox a different experience. While I still believe there should’ve been an option for classic controls, the Gamepad controls work great….once you adjust to them.

The game starts off with a training simulation guiding you on how to use the Gamepad. The TV displays the third-person view, while the Gamepad shows the cockpit view. With the cockpit view, you are able to have more accurate aiming and see details that can be missed on the TV. There is also aiming with motion controls, which Splatoon has proven that it can work well. There is an option to turn it off…sort of. You can turn motion off, but it’ll be on when you lock on to an enemy. I found no issue using the motion to lock on to enemies and provide quick accuracy versus the analog sticks.

Now here’s a doozy: The analog sticks works differently; the left stick is for flying, while the right stick does you moves. Thankfully, the moves are also mapped to the face buttons, because pressing X to do a somersault is quicker than holding up on the left stick and down on the right stick. To do a “barrel roll” you double tap left or right on the right stick. There are times when I’m in a heavy dogfight and don’t feel like doing the move so I get hit. What happened to double tapping the R button, you say? That button is used to dispense your Smart Bomb.

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During boss battles you are asked to use Lock target, which is different from locking on an enemy. By holding ZL, you are locked onto the enemy. On the TV, it shows the enemy in a cinematic view, while you still control Fox McCloud on the Gamepad. At first, this gets confusing as you are looking at the TV and hitting walls, but over time you learn to use the TV to dodge enemy attacks while using the Gamepad to target the weakpoint.

The controls also play differently for each vehicle, but the hardest is the Walker (Arwing transformed), as it goes back to the N64 days of using the one stick control scheme. This became frustrating, as I had to remind myself that the right stick is not for aiming like today’s standard two stick scheme for shooters. What it boils down to is while using the Gamepad does give the game a fresh take on the franchise, the steep learning curve will be a turn off for some. Then again, I remember old games I played where I had to learn the controls on my own (or read the manual) since in game tutorials were unheard of back then. Remember the outcry of Kid Icarus Uprising’s controls? It took me an hour in Training mode to get the controls down and once I did, the game was fun.

Design

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’m sure that’s what Nintendo thought about when deciding whether to give Team Star Fox a chance to battle in new locations. Instead, we get a retelling of the Lylat System from Star Fox 64. Not that it’s a bad thing, since new features are added to make the game feel new with added locations as your team is set to take out Andross. Though the length to some is short, more time can be added since most levels have an alternate path that leads you to other parts of the level or even skip over some like a warp zone.

During my playthough, as you beat a level, you are granted an upgrade to your ship. With these upgrades, I replayed levels to gain access to those secret routes that lead you to a portal that takes you to a timed boss battle. You have five minutes to defeat the boss or you lose a life. If you get a Game Over, you’ll have to start back at the beginning of the level and find that route again. By doing this, I got a lot more time out of the story mode, in which after you beat, you unlock Arcade mode. When you go back to level map, you see Star Wolf’s team scattered across the map. You go to those levels and fight them to have your final showdown with Wolf O’ Donnell. By finding all the paths and defeating Star Wolf’s team, I’ve spent a good amount of time with the game. The boss battles are intense and fun, considering the final two had me winning by the skin of my teeth. I haven’t had that experience in a game for awhile.

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There are also badges that are hidden in each level for you collectors out there. I highly recommend going into Training mode, as that gives you a good idea of how the controls work for each vehicle you handle. They all handle differently. I already stated my dislike for the handling of the Walker, but other vehicles work well, though the Gyowing does slow the pace down by being stealthy. The slow gameplay helped me take in the visuals of the level.

As stated earlier, after you beat the Story Mode the game unlocks Arcade mode, which is really survival mode, as you attempt to beat the game in one sitting with one life. Thankfully, you can take a break after a level so you can come back to the mode later. If you manage to beat Arcade Mode you are treated to another unlockable that I will not spoil, but old school players should know what it is.
This game does support Amiibos with Fox and Falco, as Fox unlocks the Arwing from the SNES game, while Falco unlocks a red and black Arwing that is powerful but takes more damage. I recently discovered that you can unlock these features without Amiibos, but takes time.

Although there is no multiplayer, there is co-op after you beat a level. One player flys the Arwing with the Gamepad, while the other player shoots with the Wii U Pro Controller. It’s an interesting experience, since one does the flying while the other shoots. I always give the Wii U credit for interesting concepts to make local multiplayer stand out as that feature is becoming obsolete.

Sound

The game’s soundtrack uses familiar tunes new and old. While some are orchestrated, others use standard music that gets by, but what makes the audio stand out in this game is the 3D audio. During dialogue, the conversation comes from the Gamepad, as well as sound effects while in battle. This is a smart move and I wish more games on Wii U did this. The sound of the Landmaster Tank rolling along being heard on the Gamepad gave a good feel for being in the tank since the engine noise is not heard on the TV. Most of the original voices from Star Fox 64 reprise their roles and haven’t skipped a beat. Even with some of the cheesy lines, it was still delivered well to make it feel like a Saturday morning cartoon show. There are some funny moments when Falco and Slippy get at each other.

Similar Games Liked:
Star Fox 64 (N64)
Star Fox Assault (GCN)

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