Barrel roll away from this thing
HIGH The splash screen is pretty.
LOW The controls, and how they sink everything else.
WTF Star Fox 64 isn’t even available on North America’s Wii U store?!
I don’t want to trivialize the struggles of game development, but is it really this difficult to make a good Star Fox game? Nintendo mastered the formula almost two decades ago, and the result, Star Fox 64, is still my favorite rail shooter because it’s too simple to have aged. A proper successor wouldn’t require much—just do that again with a fresh coat of paint, and we’re good.
The most frustrating thing about Star Fox Zero is that it’s nearly there. There’s a fleeting joy in seeing the game in high definition for the first time, looking bright and sharp without sacrificing the simple geometric shapes iconic to a series that first emerged when polygons were still a relatively new thing. But when I say “fleeting,” I mean that all charm dissipates the precise moment that play begins.
What Nintendo has done to the airborne Arwing’s control scheme needlessly convolutes this simple franchise. I steer with the left analog stick as one would expect, but in Star Fox Zero, steering and aiming are two separate entities. Aiming is done by tilting the GamePad. This results in the Arwing firing at an angle, often at things that are off-screen because the TV only gives me a third-person perspective—the cockpit view, necessary for seeing what exactly I’m pointing my crosshairs at, is displayed on the GamePad.
So, Star Fox Zero has players collecting information from two screens at once, a mechanic Nintendo has been toying with since 2004. The concept can work under less intense scenarios, when one screen supplements the other, or when (Heaven help me) both screens are in the same general location. But in this space dogfighting game full of situations that require quick reflexes, having me feverishly watch two screens at once when one of them is (a) in my lap and (b) constantly being tilted around is a head-scratchingly pointless hassle.
The controls get more fidgety when the non-Arwing vehicles come into play, which is far more often than anyone wants. For reasons I can’t fathom, I have to tilt the stick down to make the ground vehicles hover, and the bipedal walker vehicle has no strafe function. Tilting the right analog horizontally makes it turn and also step forward slightly, for no reason but to throw me off the edge of a platform when I’m just trying to pivot around.
While playing, I can press one of the face buttons to recalibrate the GamePad’s internal gyroscope, and I must do it constantly because the damned thing can’t maintain where my center of view is supposed to be for more than five or ten seconds. There’s an option in the menu to enable the tilt function only when I’m firing (and it’s a mercy) but it only works on the Arwing. When this feature is enabled while using the walker or tank, the gyroscope only functions along the vertical axis.
This, of course, just complicates things further.
I have no idea how anyone at Nintendo thought this control scheme was a good idea. Immersion means making me forget that I’m playing a video game, and that’s accomplished by reducing the delay between wanting to do something and actually performing it on-screen. A non-immersive game reminds me that I’m holding a controller, and Star Fox Zero makes me look at the damn thing constantly in the heat of battle. Maneuvers that were painless to execute in Star Fox 64 now require long pauses followed by heavy reorientation. It’s a mess.
This harebrained control scheme utterly ruins what would otherwise be a solid Star Fox game. Yes, it leans too heavily on vehicle segments when all we want to do is buzz around in the Arwing, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the majority of the missions themselves. I got some occasional thrills from the scope of the bosses, and massive chunks fall off of them as a means of signaling that players are dealing damage. It’s cathartic as hell. Fit this thing with classic controls and it’d be vintage Star Fox.
Ironically, this was co-developed by Platinum Games, a studio generally known for over-the-top action romps. Star Fox Zero would seem to fall right into their comfort zone—its vibrant colors, arcade-like structure and manic energy all scream Platinum. I’d have no trouble believing that Nintendo pushed this control gimmickry on them. Left to their own devices, I imagine Platinum could churn out a top-shelf Star Fox title. Instead, we have this clumsy, borderline unplayable reimagining of a classic that (as Nintendo seems continually unable to accept) needs no embellishing or reinventing.
I know that the company gets a lot of flak for rehashing its material, but if Star Fox Zero is Nintendo’s idea of innovating an established franchise, I hope that this is their final attempt to prove that motion control wasn’t just a fad.
Disclosures: This game was developed by Platinum Games and published by Nintendo. This review copy was obtained via paid rental and reviewed on the Wii U. Approximately four hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 30 minutes of play were spent in the cooperative mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains fantasy violence. There’s nothing objectionable to be found here. It’s just cartoon violence involving spaceships and lasers.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Dialog is subtitled, though there’s so much else to worry about in this game that not being able to hear what the characters are saying probably adds just another complication.
Remappable controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
He was born and raised in Amish country and has yet to escape, despite a brief stint in Philadelphia, where he attended Temple University. He took a one-credit course there called "Career Opportunities for English Majors," which painted a bleak picture for prospective writers. Mike remains steadfast in his ongoing role as a video game critic, however, and has recently written for GamesRadar. Most of his work can be found on HonestGamers, where he has contributed over 200 reviews to date.
When not playing games or writing about them, Mike is a rabid indie music fan and ardent concertgoer. He doesn't read as much as he probably should, but his current favorite author is Alastair Reynolds.