After an absence of eleven years from a Nintendo home console the renowned team of Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare and Slippy Toad make their way to the Wii U in Star Fox Zero. The Lylat system is once again under threat and it is up to Fox and his squad to defeat Andross, a familiar nemesis that poses a great threat to the star system. Andross has been banished to the planet Venom, and with the help of his minions Pigma including Dengar and Wold O’Donnel, he plans to take over the whole Lylat system. Zero isn’t a prequel, nor is it a re-imagining of the original but in some aspects, especially the beginning of the game, it feels like elements of both.
Live to fly, fly to live…
The navigation and accessibility of your ship, the Arwing, is the first thing that sticks out when you first start to play Star Fox Zero. If you’ve played previous Star Fox titles the overall feel will immediately feel familiar. Platinum Games have used similar gyro controls to Splatoon, letting you move and aim by tilting the gamepad while the two analogue sticks control the Arwing’s rotation and axis. This isn’t an easy control system to pick up on, even if you’re an experienced veteran to the series. The learning curve is steep and often, at times, overwhelming. The constant switching between aiming on the gamepad, twisting and turning the gyro controls, accelerating, breaking and frantically looking up at the TV screen for more accurate steering is something that you’ll need to master before being able to fully appreciate this title. With a little persistence your movements and firing accuracy drastically improve and navigating becomes second nature. Well done. You are now ready to play Star Fox Zero.
Now that things are less daunting, as far as controls go, you’ll start to take the time to notice the finer details of your missions. The level design shares similarities of those found in Star Fox 64, or Laylat Wars as we knew it locally. Valleys of lush vegetation and narrow mountain passes are met with the vast open universe while avoiding projectiles from deep, dark space. The textures are smooth and represent a modern portrayal of classic character and ship models from the earlier entries to the series. In the more panicky sections of the game the frame rate does slow down slightly but not enough to affect the overall experience. What is a smooth visual experience without complimentary audio? Lasers firing, machines grinding and the banter of your teammates all come together to make one of the most memorable experiences in the franchise’s history. Whether it be a snarky remark from Falco, a anxious yelp from Slippy or a murmur of concern from Peppy; the wide cast of characters are ridiculously charming.
Take to the skies, dominate the land…
Star Fox Zero has a number of different vehicle modes which expand on the variety. The Arwing, Landmaster, Gyrowing and the Walker all have unique roles to play in Fox’s undertaking to save Lylat. The Landmaster is ground-based but can momentarily hover, gain bursts of speed and quickly dodge enemy attacks. The Walker, as its name implies, is also a land vehicle that allows you to explore hard-to-reach and confined areas. The Gyrowing can best be compared to a drone that can be used to collect items and hack into enemy defenses. At various stages of the game the vehicles are interchangeable with your primary ship, the Arwing. If you have a Fox or Falco amiibo handy you can scan them to unlock Retro Arwings (Fox) or a black and red themed Arwing (Falco).
The co-op mode lets you team up with someone as a co-pilot of your vehicle, similar to the premise of the original Sin & Punishment. The ‘primary’ player uses the Wii U GamePad to aim and shoot at enemies and stray projectiles while the other uses the Wii U Pro Controller (or Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo) for navigating the craft. Taking control of individual aspects makes the game far more accessible to newcomers too.
Despite Star Fox Zero’s steep learning curve the level design, controls and gameplay complement each other to the fullest delivering a unique and fulfilling experience. With the Wii U reaching the end of its life cycle Star Fox Zero is a swansong that uses the systems hardware and features to the fullest. No go on… DO A BARREL ROLL.