Reviews// StarFox Zero

Posted 2 Jun 2016 14:54 by
'Just like old times, huh Fox?'

It is difficult to know where to start with Starfox Zero. The game is likely one of the last major first-party releases that the Wii U will receive. Revealed at E3 2014, the game was supposed to showcase why the Wii U's gamepad offers new and unique ways to play games.

Personally, I am a big fan of the gamepad. As a father of two young children it has proved to be very useful as I have still been able to play games whilst they use the TV to watch Paw Patrol or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Many times I have lamented the fact that the Xbox One lacks a similar function (I know it can stream, but I don't own a Windows 10 PC).

As for adding to gameplay, the controller has proven useful in all the ways it was expected. Inventory management and maps work well, but it is off-screen play that really makes the difference. Consequently, I was never really bothered about the need for the pad to 'prove itself.' For me, it already has.

'It's quiet. Too quiet... be careful, it's a trap!'

Criticisms of Starfox Zero have largely centred around the control system and whilst they are problematic, they are far from causing the 'existential dread' that some reviewers have complained about. Generally, the game controls quite well. I found that in the early stages it was perfectly possible to ignore both the second screen and the motion controls.

This becomes more difficult in later stages when the player is forced to use them, but the transition is hardly difficult. The game would probably have benefitted from having a more traditional control set, but the idea of using two screens to control a game is not so outlandish and, with a little effort, it does work. More could have perhaps been achieved with the controls had the production team not been so intent on so slavishly copying Starfox (Starwing in the UK) and Starfox 64.

'I'll do my best. Andross won't have his way with me.'

This is where my problem with the game lies. Aside from the controls it's largely a remake of Starfox 64 which itself was a remake of the original game on the Super NES. It is pretty clear that the developers spent a great deal of time trying to integrate the new control set into the game at the expense of expanding the Starfox universe and providing the player with some new experiences.

When the game was announced, it was made clear that it was neither a prequel or a remake of Starfox 64. Whilst there are obviously some differences, the plot is identical and the environments within which combat takes place are strikingly similar to its predecessor. Level design feels very familiar, to the point that I was beginning to feel little excitement about what was coming next - I knew.

That being said, the combat is still very enjoyable. It is still tremendous fun to fly through Corneria, doing barrel rolls and flying between exploding buildings. All range mode, wherein the player is given more freedom of movement, works more effectively in Zero primarily because of the new controls. It is just a shame that so few risks were taken with mission design.

'You're not getting away that easy!'

Visually, Starfox is largely competent, but not spectacular. Unlike Super Mario 3D World or Mario Kart 8 there are no moments that made me feel that the Wii U was being particularly pushed. However, there were quite a few moments where I experienced slowdown and pop-in as the number of objects on the screen increased. This is rather surprising as Nintendo games are usually extremely polished - this is probably the first one I have played that has been visually problematic. However, these problems do not impact gameplay greatly and are few and far between. Graphically the game is competent, if not hugely ambitious. This is rather a shame given that it will likely be one of the last first party releases for the system. Perhaps the forthcoming Legend of Zelda will give the machine a more worthy graphical send off.

'Good luck!'

The main questline for Starfox Zero is also rather short. I was able to clear the main storyline in just over four hours. However, this does not mean that the game is over. In my first play-through, I only unlocked roughly half of the levels available to the player. After going back I have found that the additional 'secret' areas to be considerably more difficult than the main game, but enjoyable enough to keep me coming back.

Overall, Starfox Zero does have a slight problem with difficulty. Some missions can be extremely easy whilst others suddenly spike in difficulty, occasionally making progress frustrating. However, I did have a great feeling of achievement upon overcoming the more challenging parts of the game.

'Do a barrel roll!'

It would be difficult to recommend the game to those who are new to the franchise, but I don't think that Nintendo was making this for newcomers. The game features so many references to previous entries in the series that it is clear that the developers were hoping that nostalgia would draw people to the game. Starfox has been dormant for quite some time with the last entry, on the Nintendo DS, released in 2006. Nintendo had the opportunity to bring the series back with a bang, to show that the original template still had relevance by building on what had come before and creating something new.

Sadly, aside from the controls, the design of Starfox Zero is rather too conservative. If the developers had strayed further from the original formula then perhaps, in conjunction with the new control scheme, something new and fresh could have been created. Instead Starfox Zero is essentially Starfox 64, but with a slightly more awkward control scheme bolted on. The game is still fun to play, the template still works, but it could have been so much more. Hopefully Nintendo will revisit Fox McCloud and Slippy Toad again, but it's time to retire the story of a Fox following in his father's footsteps.

Pros:
+ Flying an Arwing is still fun.
+ A lot of (hidden) content.
+ Slippy Toad.

Cons:
- Unambitious story.
- Visually uninspiring.
- Voice acting.

SPOnG Score: 6/10
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