Star Fox is back! After a ten year hiatus the rogue squadron is ready to tackle whatever menace looms over the Lylat System.
The last time we saw Fox and Co. they all agreed that it was time to retire and disband the squadron. Fox promised to spend his remaining days living off the hefty checks General Pepper wrote him during his tenure as a pilot and live a quiet life with his family.
In his place, Marcus McCloud, his son, inspired by the stories of his father’s youth decided to enter the Cornerian Academy. Quickly after graduating as a pilot Marcus dejected and formed an elite squadron to defend peace wherever it is threatened... And so a new Star Fox is born!
Marcus and his team comprised of Peppy Hare’s granddaughter, Slippy Toad’s son and legendary ace pilot Falco Lombardi are ready to rise up to the challenge...
Rob64: Message from General Pepper. Priority one!
General Pepper: We need your help Star Fox! Andross has declared War. He’s invaded the Lylat System and is trying to take over Corneria. Our army alone can’t do the job! Hurry, Star Fox!
Oooops! We lost the record of Fox’s achievements, time to go back in the old think box and recall memories of the lost adventures (although we can all agree that no one wants to remember that Adventure). Forget Star Fox Command and its nine different endings. Forget the Apparoid Menace and forget about Panther Caroso, the sauciest member of Star Wolf.
This is awkward…
Should we rewrite the story of the Lylat Wars? I mean, this isn’t the first time we would be going through that course, after all Star Fox 64 did that already. What I’m trying to say is: Is it worthy to go back in time and reboot the universe? I guess we have no other option but to find out by ourselves.
Sorry… did I say ourselves? This isn’t a team mission, NOPE! This is personal. It’s up to each one of you to look into yourself and make the decision of piloting the Arwing (and Walker, and Landmaster, and Gravmaster, and Gyrowing...). I’m just going to act like that funny-looking dog that guided you in Star Fox 64’s training mode.
Having said that, are you ready to reboot your adventure (for the third time in 23 years)?
The Elephant In The Room
If there’s one word I could describe the controls in Star Fox Zero, it’d be: overwhelming. My experience during last year’s E3 was positive and left me craving for more. I’m not going to lie, I’m wary that piloting an Arwing isn’t as easy as 3.1415926.... I mean, it is the best personal ship in the Lylat System, of course there is going to be an adaptation period.
Having spent over 24 hours inside the cockpit of the Arwing (and all its variants) I can attest that this is the way to go. Sure it is gimmicky, but this new setup not only does work, it redefines the journey of becoming an ace pilot.
Numerous ace-pilots-in-the-making have recorded their struggles, but none expressed his thoughts as well as Kevin Cassidy from the GoNintendo Squadron. In his most recent recording he mentioned that handling the Star Fox Zero controls is like that time when you first went from First Person Shooter days of the the N64 generation (with the single stick and the use of buttons to aim) to the twin stick scheme of games like Time Splitters, and I couldn’t agree more. I remember well the first time I grabbed my Game Cube controller and was baffled when the game asked me to aim with the C-stick. It felt like a heresy and I hated it, but with time and patience (for some of you more than your regular amount of patience may be required) I started to notice the benefits of having the aiming and the navigation separated.
Is this new gimmicky setup necessary? Not exactly, then again many things in life were deemed unnecessary, like FPS in consoles.
In case you have been living under a rock for the last 700 days or so, this new setup sports a dual perspective and twin stick layout (and buttons, cause we all need them) to pilot the numerous vehicles at your disposal.
You control the navigation with both sticks, the left stick handles the pitch and turning while the right one handles the boost and brakes and yaw (barrel roll functionality). Shooting is set to the RZ trigger, to shoot bombs the R button is your best friend. Somersaults can be performed by flicking the left stick up and the right stick down (or pressing the X button) and U-turns by pulling both stick downs (the B button can help you with that too). After a few error runs this new twin stick setup will feel natural.
One neat addition is target mode. With the press of a button the perspective switches to one that works similarly to the Z-targeting of the Zelda series, as it puts the enemy and the vehicle in the same screen at all times. Clever use of target mode especially when using static vehicles like the Walker, help strafe and move around targets and make the task of avoiding enemy fire a breeze.
Luckily for you, old dog, you can still aim down the sights of the Arwing. Actually, around 60% of your adventure can be cleared this way, but what separates a greenhorn from an ace is being able to trust your visor and pinpoint your enemies with the cockpit view.
The cockpit view can be accessed by looking down the gamepad screen. The controls are simple, you tilt and turn your gamepad to aim your lasers in that direction, the sensibility is perfect and rarely does the reticle loses its orientation, but in case that happens all you need to do is press the Y button to reset it.
Not a fan of having the aiming reticle flying all over the screen? There is an option to reduce the amount of motion controls required to aim, the key word here is reduce. You cannot turn the motion controls completely off, but you can certainly limit them to become active only when pressing the shoot button. My personal advice is to try both setups and pick the one that feels more natural to you - it’s like having two different flavors of yogurt, like blueberry and pineapple, you just have to pick the one you like best.
And that, champ, are the Star Fox Zero controls in a nutshell. Bear in mind, different vehicles sport different control schemes, but the basics remain the same for each and one of them. Just remember the Rime of the Ancient Arwing Pilot:
Navigate with the sticks,
Aim with the screens.
With all this hassle of learning new controls to navigate the Lylat System the adventure itself must be worth the price of admission, amirite? Fret not, Andross has decided to throw everything and the kitchen sink into orbit:
- Interplanetary missiles? Check.
- Giant birds? Check.
- A team comprised of Lylat’s most despised slime-bags? Check.
- Inter-dimensional portals? Check.
- Fun and thrilling adventure? Check.
This new (old) journey through the Lylat System may seem familiar. So-called “veterans” of the series will claim it is the same galaxy they visited in the late 90s, but the truth is, this new Lylat System shares more similarities to one found in Star Fox for the SNES and the cancelled Star Fox 2 than the one from the Nintendo 64 title.
During their first run, pilots will reach Venom on a set path, flying through various planets areas and sectors. Intergalactic battles between the Cornerian and Venomians fleets are abound, old friends show up to lend a hand and old rivalries come to halt your progress. There is never a dull moment in Star Fox Zero’s main quest.
Of course, we’re talking about a Star Fox title, with the exception of Assault, all entries in the series have one characteristic: Alternate paths and different mission objectives that re-route your path into new and uncharted areas of the Lylat system.
The stakes are set high when the Great Fox is forced to navigate through the Asteroid field and is ambushed by an army of drones. Visiting planet Fortuna will face you off against a crossover of the pokémon Doduo and Skarmory. In some cases, members of the Star Wolf Team will interrupt your path and if you decide to follow them a new mission opens up in which you’re forced to tango against the likes of Wolf, Pigma and Andrew awaits, with each battle being more exciting than the last.
A Hummingbird, A Boar & A Chicken Walk Into A Bar...
The new vehicles spice up the adventure in numerous ways. The Walker coming all the way from the canceled Star Fox 2 for the SNES, or chicken runner as I like to call it, gives you the ability to slow down the pace in exchange of added precision. Returning from Star Fox 64 is the Landmaster, now equipped with multi-targeting system and a new vehicle variant, the Gravmaster. Forget the days of Star Fox Assault where switching between vehicles was a hassle, vehicle transformations are the new jam and are here to stay.
Last but not least, the Gyrowing, a drone like vehicle reserved for stealth missions and precision navigation. Equipped with a tinier version of ROB64 called Direct-i, it can hack into terminals and disable searchlights, open doors and even shut down enemy units.
This is by far, Star Fox’s largest fleet of vehicles ever, gone are the days of Fox exposing himself like he did in the days of the Apparoid invasion. The Walker and the rest of the vehicles can do a better job and being able to transform in a pinch from one form to the other keep the action pumping.
The best thing about having two different perspectives is the ability to have a broader view of the action, right? Well, sure... but there is a even better feature, one that is more accessible than an overly complicated control scheme. The immersion gained from the amazing sound design of Star Fox Zero. Whoever came up the idea to divorce the sound from the TV screen and the Gamepad deserves a Pulitzer, a Nobel, or at least a sticker that reads”You’re Grape!” The sound design is simply outstanding. OUT-FREAKING-STANDING!
Sound effects are of the highest quality, and the use of 3D sound to immerse the player into the action is beautiful, you’ll hear enemy ships humming around you, and hear the buzz from navigating through the obstacles as they go from the TV screen to the Gamepad. Radio commands from Peppy, Falco, Slippy and other characters come out of the Gamepad giving the feeling as if you were hearing them from Fox’s earpiece. Easily one of the game strongest points and a joy for those who appreciate sound fidelity over any other feature.
Experimental Music Design
Each title in the Star Fox series has had one characteristic staple that makes them easy to tell apart from each other.
Star Fox for the SNES had the upbeat electronic sound. The Nintendo 64 title ditched the electronic beats for a more inspiring and lighthearted orchestrated sound arranged by the likes of Hajime Wakai and Koji Kondo. Star Fox Assault continued the trend of the orchestrated sound, only this time the people and Bandai-Namco decided to ditch the midi strings and horns for a live orchestra.
The soundtrack of Star Fox Zero feels much like what Katamari Forever tried to do for the Katamari series: to pay tribute to the titles that preceded it, while still adding something unique to the mix.
Star Fox Zero mixes new arrangements of classic songs and original tracks, with the main theme of the game being a recurring motif in many of the new songs.
Of the classic songs, the main theme of Star Fox for the SNES makes its triumphant comeback as it tries to squeeze his way through between the new songs, as well as other less known pieces from the 1993 title.
From Star Fox 64 the main theme plays whenever a mission is cleared, in a new arrangement that mimics the overall style of the game. But enough about the boring songs… We all are eager to learn how the new Meteo/Asteroid Field and Star Wolf’s theme fare when compared to their previous iterations, aren’t we?
Star Wolf’s Theme is… unfortunately a bit weaker than its Assault counterpart, although the six second bridge that connects the initial fanfare to the main melody is beautiful. The problem with this new iteration is that the trumpet solo that made Assault’s version so epic is gone, in its place we have a whole set of brass instruments playing that characteristic motif. Not every change is negative though, the wind section does an amazing job to accentuate the tone of the song, one that is equal parts sombre and upbeat thanks to the addition of a choir and the percussion line who are constantly dueling the same way a Fox and Wolf would.
Meteo/Asteroid Field fares much better than any other version ever conceived. Gone are the off-key trumpets from Star Fox Assault, in their place we have a more balanced piece that implements both the synthetyzers and orchestra into a lovely melange of epic space sound. The electronic bass combined with the choir add an extra layer of drama that previous iterations lacked, but the best addition to this version of Meteo has to be the xylophone line that plays in conjunction and against the aggressive brass section of the orchestra. Funnily enough, this version of the song plays in the weakest version of the level.
In Star Fox Zero, Hiroshi Yamaguchi and Yukari Suita, veteran composers of Platinum Games, succeeded in finding the perfect balance between two contrasting musical styles like the ones present in Star Fox for the SNES and Star Fox Assault while still finding enough space to leave their own unique style.
Rey: Nice shooting!
Finn: Now that was some flying!
Remember the epic moment during Star Wars: The Force Awakens when Rey pilots the Millennium Falcon and Finn takes down the TIE Fighters with the mounted gun? That’s how the Co-op mode in Star Fox Zero feels like.
The player holding the Gamepad takes control of the guns while the player using the Wii U Pro Controller or the Wii Remote + Nunchuck pilots the Arwing. This setup gives both players more freedom and control to tackle their responsibilities and is easily the best couch co-op mode Nintendo has come up with since Super Mario Galaxy 2.
If you have a sibling, a partner or a friend visiting don’t hesitate to fly through the Lylat System together, you won’t regret it.
“You’re Good, But Not Good Enough!”
Raise your hand if you’ve memorized the dialogue of Star Fox 64! Thought so…
Voice acting has been a staple of the series since ‘97. Back then it was unexpected of Nintendo to have a game where every single character spoke his/her lines. 19 years later… it is still rare for Nintendo to publish a game that boast so many lines of spoken dialogue.
Has the dialogue changed or become better after all this time? Ehhh....
Star Fox Zero boast a cast of new and returning voice actors, of which some of them have grown into their characters better than others. The mixed feeling towards the voice acting is due to the writing itself, Star Fox Zero, unlike another recent title published by Nintendo and developed by the great Masahiro Sakurai, takes itself a bit too seriously (at least when compared against Kid Icarus: Uprising).
The overall nature of the script is pretty good, and some characters fall better into the story, especially when they act as despicable as the fetid Pigma Dengar, whose only goal is to destroy everything that’s good in the world.
Other highlights are General Pepper, who sounds more concerned than ever as he acts as a fatherly figure, and I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I don’t mention the new and sassier Slippy Toad.
Fox and Wolf’s voice actors on the other hand feel like they could have tried a bit harder when it came to reprising their roles. They both lack enthusiasm and in many cases their lines fall flat and detract from the whole experience. Don’t get me wrong they still have their moments… but they’re not as iconic as they have been in previous entries.
Time Hopping & Extra Challenges
Hey, remember amiibo? That craze we all went through for the better part of 2015? Yep, they are in Star Fox Zero. Mind their functionality is nothing out of this world.
Fox’s amiibo changes the model Arwing to a retro look, additional changes include the retro Walker with see-through legs and the return of the bass-pumping Corneria theme of Star Fox for the SNES. Falco’s amiibo gives the Arwing a new coat of paint and set the damage ratio to three times the normal levels, in short you do more damage and receive more damage.
The Year is... 2002
When looked from a distance the game can be quite gorgeous. Levels have great design and some of that attention to detail makes it to the other assets, like when vehicles show signs of damage from the battle. But the overall design of the models and the architecture of the worlds themselves are basic at best.
In hindsight this style is a welcome addition since the action can be pretty hectic with enemies, explosions, lasers and debris. The basic design of the environment and architecture keep the game from becoming confusing..
Now, when taking a closer look, Star Fox Zero shows the ugly side of the universe. Muddy texture, low-poly models and dull special effects; visuals are not Star Fox Zero’s forte.
And sadly sacrificing the way it looks didn’t help the fidelity of the game. Star Fox Zero fails to handle itself when it comes to keeping a constant frame rate. While it may not look like the game is pushing the Wii U’s performance, the fact that the game has to render two different points of view hinders the performance of the title. It is never cringe-worthy or unplayable, and to be honest few will notice, but the dips in frame rate are there.
The One Time When Recycling Isn’t Optimal
Another negative aspect found in Star Fox Zero is the lack of variety of environments. A good portion of the battles are set in outer space, and while the objectives and situations are still exciting, exploring lush planets always out-trumps the emptiness of space. Furthermore, some of the alternate missions reuses assets from other sectors/planets - don’t get me wrong these extra missions are always welcome but honestly, helping the Great Fox navigate through the Asteroid field twice is not an attractive proposition.
The Vast Emptiness of Space
Star Fox Zero features no online support. Not even to compare your high scores against your friends and strangers from around the world. If games like New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World have done it in the past, then why does this feature is omitted in Star Fox Zero? Heck even Star Fox Guard features some sort of experimental online mode.
Star Fox Zero isn’t Star Fox 64, nor is any other Star Fox title released in the past. It is its own game that simply decided to retread the path other titles have already explored. Does it bring enough to the plate to guarantee a third visit? Absolutely! It is a great entry in the series, but one that is flawed, just like Assault and Command were before this game.
The entry barrier is set maybe a little too high because of the new control scheme, but in no way is Star Fox Zero broken or unplayable. It is just different. I understand change is not usually perceived in a positive way, I’ve refrained from playing certain games because the premise of adjusting to a new control scheme scares me, but that shouldn’t be a thing.
With an open mindset and patience the controls in Star Fox Zero will give you the sensation that you’re in control of your adventure, and that’s because you have absolute control of your actions.
I’m giving the game a Proceed With Caution but not because it’s a bad game, on the contrary I believe Star Fox Zero is a great entry for the Wii U and one of the latest titles that make the best use of the Wii U Gamepad but... In the end I can’t gauge if you’re going to love the game or not. In my experience it’s great addition to the series and a pretty awesome reboot of the universe, but as I said in the opening, this is a personal journey...
Star Fox Zero is just one small part of the Star Fox experience Nintendo and PlatinumGames crafted. There’s also Star Fox Guard, which is, believe it or not, a tower defense game you should be playing right now. You can find the TAY Review here.
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