When Star Fox released for the Super Nintendo in 1993, it demonstrated a revolutionary new technology that gave birth the dawn of the polygonal era of video games. Fast-forward to 1997 and Star Fox 64 followed in the steps of its predecessor, as it too introduced a new type of technology that would change the way one interacts with video games. This device was the Rumble Pack. It would seem that it is a Nintendo tradition to have the Star Fox series introduce new means in how one plays and experiences a game, and that trend continues on the Wii U with the release of Star Fox Zero.
While some may resist and even fear change, one must also acknowledge that change can be good as it brings about new ideas and growth. Recognizing that the Star Fox franchise was in dire need of change, Nintendo looked to the Wii U GamePad to give the series new life. Thanks to the Wii U GamePad, Star Fox Zero offers players a new way to interact and experience the game by offering a distinct control scheme, inventive use of sound, and by presenting two points of view that help to evolve the Star Fox series.
At its core it is a classic Star Fox title. It is one that fans will love as it feels like a true successor to Star Fox 64.
Due to Star Fox Zero’s distinct method of control, opinions on this matter are going to be divisive – much like they were in regards to Kid Icarus: Uprising for Nintendo 3DS. With that said, I found the motion controls of Star Fox Zero far superior than that of an analog stick. In my experience, the motion controls and second screen setup felt natural almost immediately. The motion controls of Star Fox Zero work the same as they do in Splatoon – meaning only small movements are needed to move your aiming reticle to the desired target.
The motion controls are quite sensitive and this allows for fast, yet precise aiming. Moving your reticle from one side of the screen to the other in an instant is done with ease, thus allowing you to shoot down more enemies and earn higher scores. To help ease you into the idea of using motion controls for aiming, the game offers two control options for you to select from. Upon starting off, I strongly advise players to choose the option that activates motion controls when you press ZR to shoot.
This control setup will recalibrate the reticle to the center of the screen whenever you release the ZR trigger, and gives the game a more natural feel. Once you become familiarized with the motion controls, feel free to switch the default control scheme, which allows you to move the reticle around the screen freely without needing to press ZR.
Some may be wondering what are the benefits of having motion control aiming over traditional analog control. For one, motion controls are more accurate and allow for much faster movement and reaction speed. Secondly, the motion controls found in Star Fox Zero create a new way to battle enemies and extends to how you play a stage. In previous Star Fox games, the range in which you could aim was limited to the direction in which you were flying. No such restriction exists in Star Fox Zero. Now you can shoot the enemy swarm coming from above you while you fly low, or fly above ground threats and have an aerial advantage as you target them.
Lastly, motion control aiming allows the development team to create more active and engaging stages. Enemies populate stages in greater number and with higher frequency than previous Star Fox games. Thanks to the speed and accuracy of motion controls, you can battle more enemies and still be able to evade attacks and obstacles.
For some, motion control aiming will feel natural. Others may need a stage or two to adjust. If you are willing to adapt to this control scheme, you will find that it works very well and is superior to analog aiming. The button controls themselves are simple as the player will use the left analog stick to move the vehicle up, down, left, or right; while the right analog stick can be used to brake, boost, tilt, or to perform a barrel roll. Bombs can be shot by pressing in the right analog stick or by using the R button.
As I hinted in the introduction of the review, the Wii U GamePad plays a vital role in Star Fox Zero’s game design. Aside from motion controls, the GamePad offers 3D sound effects, which makes you feel like you are in the cockpit, and an alternative view for players to use. While the TV screen displays the standard third-person view that fans have come to know over the years, the GamePad screen will display a first-person cockpit view. At no time are you forced to use this view, but you may find it helpful during some situations.
Star Fox Zero is played in two different phases: on-rail arcade shooter and All-Range mode, where you have complete freedom to move through the area. It is in All-Range mode that the first-person cockpit view comes in handy as you’ll battle bosses or complete challenging objectives requiring precise aim.
For example, one mission tasks you with destroying three missiles. Now, doing so in third-person view is possible – though time consuming and more stressful. Instead, by using the cockpit view, you fly ahead of your target and a bit to the side. You then hit the brake, anticipate the missile’s arrival, and, using the game’s motion control aiming, have the reticle positioned to the far side shooting the missile as it flies parallel to your location. Shooting at such an angle isn’t possible in third-person, but it is thanks to the cockpit view on the GamePad when used in tandem with motion controls.
You will develop a sense of when to use the cockpit view to gain an advantage in battle. Don’t overwhelm yourself and feel like you have to use it. Trust your instincts.
For the majority of the game you will pilot the Arwing, but there are stages that require you to helm different vehicles – primarily the Gyrowing, Landmaster, or Walker. Unlike the other vehicles, the Gyrowing is made for stealth and hacking. Stages with the Gyrowing offer a nice change of pace as they are more about exploration than combat. The Landmaster has a couple of stages and boss battles designed exclusively for it, and these stages are pretty intense. The Landmaster is easy to control, has multiple lock-on ability, and can transform into the Gravmaster. Of the playable vehicles, only the Walker gave me trouble. I had minor issues when it came to dodging and strafing, but, after some practice, I felt more comfortable with the vehicle.
Piloting these vehicles helps to mix things up and keep the game experience feeling fresh, and may also open up alternate paths and routes for the player to discover. On the game’s first stage – Corneria, if the player transforms from the Arwing to the Walker, there will be a switch to hit that opens an alternate path. Freely transforming between the Arwing to Walker, or Landmaster to Gravmaster lets the player experience a stage or battle in their own way.
Much like its predecessors, Star Fox Zero is all about replayability. With medals and in-game Trophies to earn, alternate paths to discover, and desire to achieve a higher-score, there are plenty of reasons to return to the game. Completing the game won’t take long – requiring only a few hours on your first go of it, but to unlock all the stages, earn all the in-game trophies, and to complete all the Challenge missions will take commitment and an investment of time.
Co-op mode is available in the game in which the player using the Wii U GamePad shoots and the second player flies by using a Wii U Pro Controller or Wii Remote and nunchuk. This mode requires both players to work together. It can get chaotic if you don’t communicate with each other, but it’s a fun mode for friends. Sadly, there is no online or local versus mode offered in Star Fox Zero.
The game does support the Fox and Falco amiibo. By tapping a Fox amiibo to the GamePad, you’ll unlock a Retro Arwing from the SNES game. The Falco amiibo unlocks a Black Arwing that deals extra damage to enemies, but also takes twice the amount of damage when hit. Those looking to make the game more challenging will want to get a Falco amiibo.
Star Fox Zero is a classic Star Fox game that stays true to the formula set by its predecessors. With a focus on replayability, unlockable content, discovering alternate paths, and pushing for higher scores, fans of the SNES original and Star Fox 64 will find that the game has everything they love about the franchise and plenty more. In the current gaming era, it is rare to see an on-rail arcade shooter like this release, and that makes Star Fox Zero a treat for Wii U owners. It plays and feels like a successor to Star Fox 64, and fans of the franchise shouldn’t miss out.
- Motion Controls & Cockpit View
- Strong Soundtrack
- Endless Replayablity
- No online modes or features
(Editor’s Note: A copy of Star Fox Zero was provided by Nintendo for review purpose.)