Starfox Zero Review

After nearly a decade in the wilderness a true sequel to the Starfox mantle has finally appeared. Developed for the Wii-U by Platinum Games, Starfox Zero aims to resurrect the series and bring Fox McCloud and his band of star fighting mercenaries to a new generation of Nintendo fans. Has Platinum Games, the masters of fast-paced action games managed to give one of Nintendo’s more neglected properties a new lease of life? or should it just have been left in the cupboard… Let’s find out.

Starfox Zero is a quintessential Starfox game. Ignoring the side-steps of Starfox Adventures, Assault and Armada, Starfox Zero attempts to return the series to its more successful roots with the game utilising the same basic formula as the first two main games in the series – Starfox and Starfox 64 (or Lylat Wars for us Aussies). In fact, the huge number of similarities between Starfox 64 and Starfox Zero make the game feel almost like a reboot of the Nintendo 64 classic rather than a new title in its own right with many of the same familiar environments (Corneria, Fortuna, Venom etc. – all make an appearance), level designs and gameplay progression.

The game takes place across a number of stages with players fighting their way through waves of hostile enemy forces in a bid to take down the large boss lurking at the far end. Throughout the various missions players take control of several different vehicles ranging from the series’ iconic Arwing which now features a strange bipedal transformation that looks a little like a chicken, to the Landmaster Tank and the all new Gyrocopter. Each of these vehicles has its own unique abilities and gameplay style and helps to keep things interesting as you progress through the campaign.

As is to be expected, the Arwing gets the most attention in the campaign and by far the largest variety to mission types. With it you’ll take part in epic space battles, perform attack runs on ground invasion forces and dogfight against enemy pilots with similar abilities in all-range mode. The transformation into walker mode opens up new avenues for attack as you’ll be able to damage and then enter giant ships, transform and then use the walker to explore the interior before locating and destroying a core.

The Landmaster tank missions are much the same as the Arwing levels, just at ground level and with slightly slower movement speeds. The Gyrocopter on the other hand appears to have more of a stealth and reconnaissance focus, only used a couple of times for infiltrating areas and hacking control panels via a small robot which will drop down via a cable dangling beneath the vehicle. All in all there’s a good mix of vehicles used during the game and they do a nice job of breaking up the action to keep things interesting.

Similarly to Starfox 64, the campaign is quite short, clocking in at a round three hours your first time around and less afterwards once players grasp the complex control system and know what their objectives are. Fortunately, the game does boast a fair bit of replayability. In addition to challenging yourself for high scores in Arcade mode, the game also ties in a medal system which will reward players for completing specific in-mission tasks, finding ring collectibles and challenging players to reach target scores by defeating a set number of enemies. Many of the game’s missions will also incorporate some new elements once you have completed the game and replaying these levels will enable you to unlock alternate routes often leading to new areas and bonus missions.

As with most first party games on the Wii-U these days, Starfox Zero features Amiibo support. Use of Amiibos allows players to unlock a pair of new Arwings to experiment with. The Fox McCloud Amiibo unlocks the Retro Arwing which gives the main vehicle a polygonal overhaul to appear like the original Arwing in Starfox on the Super Nintendo complete with blaster sound effects and the inability to lock onto targets. The Falco Amiibo on the other hand will unlock the Black Arwing which causes double damage, can lock on up to two targets at once but will take triple damage as a handicap. Both add an additional element of challenge to the gameplay and are a welcome addition.

Starfox Zero makes use of the Wii-Us capabilities more than most games have so far and both the game’s major strength and weakness lie with its unconventional control system. The game requires players to pay attention to not one, but two screens simultaneously with players required to use both the television and the gamepad in sync for the best result. The display on the television features the standard behind the vehicle view, providing a wider view of the surroundings and allowing players to pilot it through or around obstacles. The gamepad on the other hand features a cockpit view with an aiming reticule and some in-built motion controls enabling players to more accurately aim said reticule to attack incoming enemies.

Unfortunately the game does a piss poor job of introducing the controls and following a brief, fairly uninformative training mission the game throws you straight into combat, forcing you to learn as you play. This control system can be confusing as hell to begin with and leave you with a sore neck after a couple of hours thanks to the necessity of craning your head up and down constantly. Whilst this sounds like a bad thing (and it is, it is terrible), if players actually give the control system a chance and it finally clicks with them (it’ll take an hour or two) players will be able to pull off all kinds of crazy manoeuvres whilst firing away with great accuracy and realise just how truly innovative, fun and empowering it is. The problem is most players will not have patience enough with the tutorial or the subsequent frustrating learning curve to get to the point of mastery.

On the other hand the game’s presentation is a bit of a mixed bag with decent visuals that are not quite on par with what the Wii-U is capable of, but having them deliver a solid hit of nostalgia. The on-screen text boxes when your radio is going is a nice throwback to the Nintendo 64 days and the boss, vehicle and enemy designs are very much traditional Starfox. The audio is filled with corny dialogue and voice acting that belongs in the mid 90’s only add to the game’s rustic charm and delivering a real Starfox 64 feel to the title.

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Starfox Zero is a decent game that is unfortunately held back by a control system that is not at all user friendly and a learning curve for said controls that will deter most players from bothering. Whilst the game is fairly short, replays through the Arcade mode for new high scores, alternative mission paths and bonus levels all add to the game’s replayability… Unfortunately, for most players though that will be all for naught as the controls will be too much of a hurdle to get past and ultimately, the game is going to suffer for it.

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