Developer: Nintendo, PlatinumGames
Platform Reviewed: Wii U
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Acquired via: Purchase by Reviewer
Star Fox Zero on Wii U Review: Nintendo on Auto-Pilot.
Star Fox Zero released 6 months ago. Many, including me, hoped that this would be a fitting end to the Wii U’s life and a last gasp attempt at how the game pad could be kinetically and dynamically implemented. With Paper Mario: Colour Splash and the NX reveal imminent, neither turned out to be true.
Frustration is a word that plagued my experience with Star Fox Zero, whether it was wrestling with the initially obtuse and disorienting controls, or coming across the handful of really cool gameplay mechanics or scenarios, only to be disappointed by their uninspired execution.
In true Nintendo fashion, the story hasn’t changed that much since the seminal 1993 original. Andross is plotting to take over the Lylat system. Via epic boss battles and tense dog fights with team Star Wolf – Fox, Falco et al – fly, hover, walk, and drive through ten main and seven side missions from Star Fox staples like Corneria, or different takes on familiar locales such as Titania or Zoness. More on the levels in detail later.
The all-range areas and dog fights flip-flopped between making me feel like a maverick one second, and a completely clueless novice the next, even after five or six tries. I’m not one to give up, but honestly, the actual scenarios themselves, both in objective and environment, felt quite bland.
The first level, Corneria, from the beginning up until the boss fight, is comfortable and familiar, and it felt good to be back. Lush green hills, canyons and waterfalls litter the area thatand looks pretty decent. A solid frame rate, a bold yet varied colour palate, and good water effects bring the environment to life, even if the enemies are a bit derivative and basic. The first boss battle is the first attempt of introducing the new control scheme, game play and vehicles. And it excites and frustrates in equally.
Taking the boss down in stages – first, having to pick off legged mechanoids climbing up the control tower, then breaking away segments of the boss itself, to then transform the Arwing into a two-legged walker to enter the boss and destroy its innards – sounds great and interesting on paper. In execution, it’s initially quite awkward, clumsy and eventually quite dull to actually achieve.
I would have written a detailed breakdown of each level, but it would actually spoil any surprises there are, so if you have any interest in Star Fox, you’ve probably invested your time and made your own mind up.
Nevertheless, to me, nothing in Star Fox Zero ever amounts to much more than merely shooting at obvious and brightly coloured targets. In 2016, with the possibilities the game pad has – which have been demonstrated with the Wonderful 101, Zombi U and even Nintendo Land – I can’t help but feel like it is a missed opportunity. Cutting wires with swipes, typing in codes or even shooting in a particular shape or path with precision aiming from the gamepad could have increased the variety, urgency and overall fun.
Exemplified by stylistic recent releases of games like Resogun or even Rez, a dramatic shift to focus on core gameplay rather than shoehorning in the controls would have made a huge difference. Truth is, the controls and derivativeness of Star Fox Zero ends up masking the occasional interesting moments.
Some really neat initial concepts and a few epic boss battles aside, Star Fox Xero is tragically nothing more than at times fun and decent, but more often than not, a frustrating and barely satisfactory entry in a series that started out as being so beloved and pioneering. The convoluted controls, regardless of practice or mastery, and especially in the absence of any customization, don’t hide what is underneath. What should have been a crown jewel in 2016 and a swan song for its console is merely a stop gap that will try to keep the Wii U alive just until Zelda and/or the NX surface. Paradoxically and heartbreakingly, never has a ‘good’ game been so disappointing.