Star Fox Zero Review – Good Luck

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

PlatinumGames has helped Nintendo strike gold multiple times before. Can they go for three in a row with Star Fox Zero on the Wii U?

Developers: Nintendo EPD, PlatinumGames

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Wii U

Release Date: April 22, 2016

There are just certain game ideas that seem perfect to go with the Wii U GamePad. How Nintendo hasn’t been able to find a way to make a revitalized Pokemon Snap! experience work using the gyroscopic controls just doesn’t make sense. It does, however, work extremely well in platforming titles, as Super Mario 3D World and Yoshi’s Woolly World use either motion or tap controls to further enhance the gameplay experience. You could see why it would make sense to try to make Star Fox Zero use the GamePad as a cockpit camera in theory, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t hold up in practice.

Star Fox Zero is not a sequel, nor is it a prequel. It just simply is, and just so happens to center around the adventures of Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardo, Slippy Toad and Peppy Hare as the action picks up on the planet Corneria. I liken the title to somewhat of a start from scratch; an attempt to actualize the content from the cut-project origins of Star Fox 2, but from the ground up.

Gameplay remains true to the series staples; Star Fox Zero combines on-rails pilot action with free-range exploration in a delicate balance between structure and freedom. Enemies take the form of either land or air-based combatants, shooting energy beams, lasers or swiping at Fox’s Arwing ship during the on-rails sections, with the player having to navigate along the X and Y axis’ to avoid damage. Not only that, because of the expansive maps that the Wii U can produce, it provides design opportunities for hidden in-game trophies, secret paths, and power-ups along the way.

Star Fox Zero screenshot
Credit: Nintendo /

A big part of the variance in missions comes from the utilization of multiple vehicles. Not only does the Arwing have an all-terrain mode that makes you look like a chicken, but Fox will need to pull out all the stops if he is to seize peace for the galaxy. This includes the use of the Gyrowing, which uses vertical and lateral movement juxtaposing each other for precise maneuvers in tight spaces. Dropping a Direct-i buddy (that looks like a blue Nintendo R.O.B. device) will let you pick up collectibles from a certain height and activate hacking terminals on player and enemy bases.

…Due to the gyroscopic nature of the control scheme, players are forced to use an underdeveloped, frustratingly obtuse system for targeting enemies.

The Landmaster, and its evolved Gravmaster, bring the attacks from the ground in a small, maneuverable tank. It’s the perfect craft to use for rescue missions or for targeting opposing ground enemies, as it presents unique combat and platforming challenges with its short-burst hover possibilities. Overall, the variance in crafts means open-ended levels that offer multiple ways of taking out bosses, exploring the environment and changing the story for better or for worse.

While there are plenty of means of traversing the varied environments of Star Fox Zero, it all comes down to the effectiveness of your weapon. Unfortunately, due to the gyroscopic nature of the control scheme, players are forced to use an underdeveloped, frustratingly obtuse system for targeting enemies. While the player can move the Arwing up and down with the left stick, it’s the gyroscopic movements of the GamePad that move the target reticle. It’s possible to switch to a mode that only moves the cockpit upon shooting, but even that presents its own problems.

Star Fox Zero screenshot
Credit: Nintendo /

This decision, in one fell swoop, killed any chance for me to love Star Fox Zero. It plays like a product of frustration, feeding off a disjointed play session that tries to do too much at once. To target specific enemies, you must focus your attention on the POV cockpit view your GamePad offers. While doing so, you cut off your field of vision immensely, losing the contextual scope of the battlefield and the enemies lining up, begging for a charge shot that never comes. You never get to see the full picture; instead, you are forced to split it between two opposing planes of view in an unnatural way.

A regular playthrough of the Star Fox Zero campaign will take three to four hours.

The worst part is that Star Fox Zero is not difficult. Gameplay missions are as straightforward as the story interjections that bookend most levels; move to the end of the hallway by killing enemies guarded by a final boss, or destroy the target of interest. With the exception of the final level and trophy-rewarding challenges for replays, enemies act more as score fodder than threats to take you down. It’s the fact that targeting is such a hassle that enjoyment comes from ending the frustrating play than rewarding positive, engaging gameplay design.

While I do love the interconnectivity between planets that Star Fox Zero provides (completing missions in certain ways will unlock new missions and alternate story paths), I can’t help but wonder why the follow-up to the last new title in the series lacks in overall depth. Outside of limited training modes, most missions repeat the same process; get minimal exposition from General Pepper to help a local friendly cause, complete an on-rails section, mow down dozens of enemies in an all-range mode within a certain amount of time then defeat a boss. A regular playthrough of the Star Fox Zero campaign will take three to four hours.

Star Fox Zero screenshot
Credit: Nintendo /

What’s truly the most aggravating aspect of the game, to me, is that if you fix the control mechanics to remove the whole gyroscopic idea and allow for multiple controller inputs for single-player play, Star Fox Zero wouldn’t be nearly as offensive. It’s got a nice musical selection, a few levels that present multiple maneuverability challenges that make infiltration enjoyable and tries to change up gameplay familiarity with an extended look at multiple flight craft. There are even some interesting post-game modes (of which I cannot describe per my review embargo) that would extend the length of play for those dying for a longer campaign.

Unfortunately, because we don’t live in that world, the control tangentially affect everything else, including storytelling and key dogfighting battles. Throughout Star Fox Zero missions, cutscenes will be displayed on the main screen, but sometimes you will still be considered in mid-flight as per your cockpit view on the GamePad. Not only does this put you off kilter, but to remain on task in search of collectibles or to line up your next objective, you have to take yourself out of the story’s immersion. That dichotomy is quite telling.

It doesn’t help that, while the original Star Fox 64 voice cast returns to action, their effectiveness with line reading is reminiscent of Earth Defense Force without the spelling or grammatical errors. I get that the series is a lighthearted affair and that, despite the system-wide war in place, there’s a certain style that tries to look at the humor of it all, but it’s just too downright corny for me. Star Fox Zero captures all aspects of its N64 predecessor, including this function of development, but the main difference is that we have almost 20 additional years of knowledge going into what makes voice acting work.

Star Fox Zero screenshot
Credit: Nintendo /

It seems like patented Nintendo ideas are the ultimate downfall for Star Fox Zero.

Star Fox Zero is a product of a different era, on almost all counts. Its graphical output is decidedly last-gen, gameplay structure is reminiscent of Gamecube era, the storytelling is shallow enough for an N64 game and the amiibo support for the original Arwing even brings back an artifact from the SNES generation. Ultimately, I feel that if it weren’t for the difficult control mechanics, PlatinumGames would have been freed up to explore more engaging gameplay scenarios, including dogfighting encounters that offer more to do than to hit the brakes or somersault to get behind and around opponents.

It seems like patented Nintendo ideas are the ultimate downfall for Star Fox Zero. There’s no reason why voice acting dialogue should be restricted to the GamePad microphone only (unless you use headphones, which capture all). There’s no reason why offering a Pro Controller mode that lets you switch to cockpit view with the press of a button (which the GamePad does, reversing the camera angles) wouldn’t work, either. This game uses the full extent of the GamePad functionality to explore design creativity at the expense of player familiarity.

. Star Fox Zero. 6. At the core of Star Fox Zero lies a somewhat enjoyable experience. Multiple mission branches, different styles of missions, a steady framerate, an enjoyable musical score and vehicle variance make for a competent core gameplay system. It’s the disastrous gyroscopic controls, short campaign, outdated visuals and terrible voice acting that bog gameplay down. You have to overlook a bevy of flaws to enjoy the game for its core mechanics, which is quite the unfortunate turn for the storied franchise.. Nintendo EPD, PlatinumGames

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.