Yes, the Star Fox fan in you is just bursting at the fleshy seams with excitement that Star Fox is finally making its first HD debut. Finally, it’s time for Star Fox to become a part of Nintendo’s modern IP stable rather than be kept on the sidelines. Now that it’s upon us, the real question becomes a simple one: is this the flying arcade shooter that sets new modern standards?
Sadly, I don’t like starting with disappointment, but I like answering questions quickly and promptly, and the answer here is “no”. First and foremost, one must understand that the motion controls can never be truly turned off. This means that your extreme allergy to motion controls could prove fatal. While flying itself on rails and in open areas is intuitive enough, there is a frightening reality here to the shooting mechanics: the controls WORK just fine, but never truly become COMFORTABLE. I’ve put enough time in to tell you that the constantly divided attention between the TV and Gamepad becomes an immersion breaker, even AFTER you become competent with it. As for the actual act of shooting, it’s entirely an expected experience: shoot at shiny spots on bosses or shoot at fast moving objects. While the varying Arwing configurations DO provide some fleeting fun and some intriguing moments of pew-pew awesomeness, none of them make the control scheme worth it. Moving into Guard mode comes a very similar experience and problem: the control scheme once again works just fine, but the tedium of looking up at the TV to shoot and down at the Gamepad to select cameras wears a person thin very quickly. And finally, while Guard enjoys an actually more varied enemy line-up than its own main counter-part and also acts as a proper supplement of variety with its strategy-based gameplay, it wears its own novelty out thin with yet-again expected experiences. To sum up both Zero and Guard, the control experience is wholly operational, but not something that pans out in the greater scheme of things, especially when that greater scheme itself lacks any real gameplay design inspiration.
If one were to look at either package individually, both Star Fox Zero and Guard add up to very little. However, looked at as a combined package, the picture is a bit easier to stomach. My playthrough of Star Fox Zero merely lasted about 5 hours, and that was with unlocking the majority of alternate paths and missions. Star Fox Zero primarily relies on replayability, so if you wanted an epic and long campaign, it’s not here. Adding Star Fox Guard into the mix is what balances the picture out, lasting about the same amount of time, but adding one very nice feature: Squads. If you’re familiar with Metal Gear Solid V’s metagame of Forward Operating Bases, then you’ll understand the simplistic joy of Squads. Imagine it as the Mario Maker version of Forward Operating Bases. Taking into account Star Fox Zero’s arcade-focused replayability with Guard’s online metagame Squads, the overall package rounds itself out decently. Except the part where you have to keep swapping games if you wish to bounce between the two like I did.
I immediately recognize the taxing nature of running TWO viewpoints at 60 fps, but unfortunately, this is a case of biting off more than the Wii U can chew. This is not a good-looking game by any stretch of the imagination. Polygons are incredibly basic, shader work is simply “shiny”, and the framerate dips when alpha effects come too close to the screen. Though, somehow, some fires look REALLY good. Guard suffers the exact same presentational issues minus the framerate dips, and it’s quite simply a situation where there’s just not enough power to do what was intended here. When Bayonetta 2 makes a better looking “Star Fox” than Star Fox itself, there’s almost nothing I can say positively about the visual presentation. On the flipside, while you can’t hear it, I have to give credit where credit is due: having teammate chatter come through the Gamepad like a comm device caught me by pleasant surprise. And speaking of pleasant surprises, so too is the music.
Star Fox has been a series I’ve stuck with whenever it made an appearance on home consoles (yes I’m including Star Fox Adventures), and therein lies why I find what I’m about to say so painful: this latest iteration of Star Fox feels too far behind the market. Its gameplay design is uninspired with the Guard spin-off being the fresher take than the main game itself. Add to that a control scheme that divides your attention rather than grabbing it, and at the end of the day, it’s hard for me to recommend this game to anyone OTHER than die-hard Star Fox fans. It has its moments where things are done right, and it has its moments that put a smile on one’s face, but its structural design comes from too old of an era to do the franchise justice.
I give Star Fox Zero and Guard…