It’s been nearly 20 years since we’ve a seen a real sequel to the Star Fox series. There’s been a multiplayer spinoff in the form of Star Fox Command, a remake of one of the franchises best and don’t forget a certain GameCube title that took the series in an action adventure direction. Nothing though you could really classify as a complete follow-up to the N64’s fantastic Lylat Wars. That is till now. With the help of Platinum Games we’re put back in the cockpit of an Arwing, defending the Lylat system with mercenary team Star Fox.
When you first get into the main story scenario you’re going to get that familiar feeling of Déjà Vu. The sense that Star Fox Zero may just be a HD remaster as opposed to brand new title. Scientific genius and apeman, Andross, has emerged from hiding with plans of taking over the peaceful Lylat system one planet at a time. The main force standing in his way is the Cornarian Army located at the centre of peace in this galaxy, Corneria. It’s during his invasion here that the ace flying team Star Fox swoop in to put a stop to things. It’s a great feeling to see our favourite squad back together despite some retaining their irritating quirks. There’s the jerk Falco Lombardi, Peppy ‘Barrel Roll’ Hare, and squeakily voiced Slippy Toad. Our main hero though is Fox McCloud who has a lot of bad blood with Zero’s main antagonist, after all it was his father, James, gave his life in another of Andoss’s plans for galactic domination.
Star Fox Zero, for the most part, is an on rails shooter in which you pilot a fancy ship called an Arwing across the Lylat system fighting off Andross’s military forces. Interspersed are ‘All-range mode’ fight sequences which lets you fly about freely to engage in open dog fights. This new title does throw in a couple of changes to the normal gameplay but more on that later. The story initially is very linear as it introduces you to a series of new vehicles to control, but on consecutive playthroughs you’re able to open up alternate paths leading to new locations. Finding them all means you have to keep a look out for secrets and hints placed strategically in each map, for example saving someone from enemies so that they can lead you in an alternate direction later. I won’t go into the specific instruction here, as discovering them all is one of the games major selling points, and helps to bulk up a short 6 hour story. Along with alternative locations each area also has a number of secret medals. These can be found floating around the world, or awarded for achieving high scores. The purpose of them is to open up new challenges in the training scenario which make for a nice distraction.
The main concern many fans had for this title was the rather gimmicky control scheme. On your main TV you get the normal behind view of your ship, where you’ll pilot it around obstacles and across battlefields. Mapped to the face buttons is the new vehicle switching mechanic, a summersault and a U-turn although these can also be performed by flicking the right control stick in certain ways. The left stick controls movement while the right is for boost, brakes and those all-important barrel rolls. All of this will feel very familiar to any fans of the series, but it’s where shooting is involved that there’s a significant difference. Displayed the whole time on your gamepad is your view from within the ships cockpit, with the gyro controls giving you greater precision on your laser cannon and smart bomb shots. Getting used to this takes a lot of time. As a friend described, it’s like ‘patting your head and rubbing your belly’ as you look from screen to screen, flying yourself into positon on one, before lining up shots with the other. It’s the same mechanic we’ve seen in another recent Nintendo title, the addictively messy Splatoon. So it is a system that does work well, but here it just takes a little longer to get the hang of, as to get the most out of it you’ll need to look at the two views more often.
You fly around saving the galaxy in your slick looking Arwing, but in this new title Fox now has access to multiple new vehicles and modifications that allow him to switch mode in game. The Gyrowing is a slow moving drone like ship, allowing you to hover from place to place with a robot that can hack terminals and pickup explosives. Making a return is the Landmaster, a tank with some hovering capability, a feature that has gained a significant upgrade as Gravmaster mode lets it fly for along as you have boost. Lastly the Arwing can now transform into a Walker (a robotic chicken if you’d prefer) which is used for traversing small confined spaces. These are all neat additions and their fun to play with but together it’s a bit much, as it constantly switching up the gameplay. You can go from playing a traditional Arwing level, to platforming through the bowels of a ship in your Walker, before proceeding on a very out of place stealth mission on Zoness.
One of my main highlights of the N64 was being able to compete against friends to determine the better fighter pilot, but in this multiplayer battles are surprisingly absent. This is a real disappointment but multiplayer has not been completely ruled out. As an alternative players who want to play with friends can team playing together with a single ship. Co-op mode involves one player using a Wii remote and nunchuck to pilot the varying vehicles, while the other is assigned the gunner position utilising the gamepads gyro controls. It’s an interesting approach, as it shows you what is possible if you happen to master both control setups. Good communication is key to as it feels like the gunner get the shorter end of the stick, having no control over your direction can be disorientating as your view can whip away from your targets quite violently.
Essentially for the visuals Platinum Games and Nintendo have taken the style of Lylat Wars and given it a HD upgrade. The clearest sign of this is in the opening level which is almost identical to the N64 classic. It’s stunning to look at and you can see more of Platinum Games personal flourishes come across in the action sequences. From the barren deserts of Titania, the frozen wastelands of Fichina, or the frenzied space battlefields of Sector Alpha, everywhere is tightly packed, bustling with enemy fighters and lots of flashy action. The sound design is a similar story, featuring a number of previous tracks that have been given a loving revamp. The voice acting still has its cheesy quirks, with a lot of the dialogue being reused from previous games but it’ll always bring a smile to any fans face.
It’s taken several years for us to get a new instalment into this series that can live up to the N64 classic, but with Star Fox Zero that wait is finally over. With a new lick of paint, a vast amount of secrets to discover and solid gameplay mechanics it’ll easily provides players with hours of thrilling dog fights and action packed set pieces. The new Gyrowing and Walker vehicles are fun new additions but they’re thrills that quickly wear off leaving you wanting more of the fast action packed Arwing missions. Star Fox fans will surely not be disappointed with this title.
This review is based off a review code of Star Fox Zero provided by Nintendo.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.