Saturday
May142016

QCF: Star Fox Zero 

et's just get this out of the way before we get going: You know what the Wii U is? Yes, that's right, it's its own thing. As far as the gaming landscape these days goes, all you typically need to get the best gaming has to offer is either one of Sony's or Microsoft's gaming boxes and a PC. But what if you want something a little more lighthearted? A little different? Well, that's where the Wii U comes in.

And you really don’t get a Wii U unless you're both ready and willing to play games the way Nintendo envisions them. Oftentimes, that includes using the technology that they have based their system around; which in this case—that would be the Game Pad.

If you don’t like the idea of motion controls or tablet-style gameplay, then ignore this review, because you shouldn't have a Wii U to begin with. With all of that said, Nintendo still manages to irritate me quite a bit, but when it comes to Star Fox, nothing keeps me from my fix.

You may have seen various pieces from around the interwebs; specifically from larger publications which, for all intents and purposes, shall remain nameless—claiming that Star Fox Zero is nigh-unplayable, that there's just so much busted about the game that it's not worth even a casual glance. Well, you can all just relax already, because Star Fox Zero is good—very good, in fact. Maybe even great, but we'll have to look a little deeper to see if that's an adequate description of Nintendo's sixth (released) core entry to the series.

Star Fox Zero starts off with a bang. A quick Arwing tutorial gets you all familiar with controlling Fox's new craft in a pretty simple and easy to understand way. Don’t go into Zero with rigid expectations; accept the controls as they are, experience them as if Zero is the first game in the series and you'll see; within about ten minutes, you'll be kicking all sorts of Andross' cronies hindquarters. Before diving into the game proper, it is also highly advised to do the training missions for each of the craft in the game: Arwing, Walker, Landmaster and Gyrowing. Each have special features that make them feel quite different from each other, but all are very easy to grasp and a lot of fun to mess around with.

Now, even with fresh expectations, there is a lot to the gameplay that will invariably feel familiar, especially when whipping down the on-rails stages in your Arwing. Being that Star Fox Zero also borrows heavily from Star Fox 64, a lot of time will also be spent in All-Range mode as well, including dogfight scenes with the Star Wolf gang and even with the Landmaster. In any mode, your reticule will never really be fixed to the front of your craft; in fact, it's able to be aimed all over the place by moving the gamepad around using its gyroscope. The Game Pad also displays the game in cockpit view at all times, allowing for some precision aiming when needed.

It sounds complicated, but looking between the two screens feels more natural than you'd think, as do the enhanced gyro controls through the gamepad as well. In fact, generally speaking, the controls felt super natural too. You know how you sometimes yank the controller to the side when you really want that extra bit of movement in some games? I used to do that all the way back with the NES. In star Fox Zero's case, it makes the controls super flexible, allowing for people to aim at stuff that may have even started passing them by.

Now it's true, the Gyrowing segments are a little on the slow side, but it also adds a little bit of an adventure aspect that breaks up the fast action sequences. A little exploration never hurt anyone, and the little robot you can deploy is awesome—seriously, it’s little ROB of your own for hacking and bomb deployment.

Having flown actual aircraft, the Gyrowing never felt especially complicated to me; it's fairly well implemented. Again, the complaints you'll usually hear about it are relegated mostly to hardcore purists that demand nothing but what Star Fox 64 offered in 1997 and nothing else (though in my humble opinion, the 1993 original is totally where it's at.)

There are a couple of sticking points to all of this though. Specifically, a number of bosses will have the camera on the main TV display locked centrally onto the main target, leaving players only the gamepad to navigate properly. It's not terrible, but it is a bit janky. Once again though, a little acclimation does wonders and it becomes fairly natural... most of the time. Some bosses have you going after secondary targets in this manner.

One boss fought with the Landmaster, for example, never really allowed much of a clear shot throughout the entire battle - but I still managed to waste it. Moving the Game Pad around can kind of stick your aiming off-center, too. This isn't a huge deal though, since players can recalibrate their reticule simply by pressing Y or clicking in the left stick. Additionally, the Star Fox Team can only be heard through the Game Pad speakers. A shame, because even Slippy is really well delivered this time around; unlikely, I know, but it's true!

People might be a little miffed about the endgame too. While yes, players can select and access any stage they have played by simply touching them on the Game Pad, it also takes a lot of the grind out of things too—and prevents a lot of frustration if you miss a critical element to unlocking a new branch or area.

The replay value could be seen to be less robust as a result, since the whole game doesn't have to be played out like in Star Fox SNES or 64, but for a guy on the go like I am, the pick up and play nature really clicks. Of course, collecting all of the medals in Star Fox is a lengthy endeavor, with a solid 15 hours at least to get everything. There are even challenge stages for those who have mastered the vehicles as well. It's definitely a far cry from the totally bogus three-hour length claim.

Even if this game was only three hours long, the audiovisual clout that Star Fox Zero sports is nothing short of amazing. The visuals here are just incredible, often with the kind of bloom and shine that I'd have expected out of a PS4 game. Granted, there is a fair bit of slowdown in places, but damn, does it look good; sweet environmental effects, awesome character and mechanical design and super cool explosions are everything you want in a Star Fox game and Star Fox Zero Delivers.

Another area that Star Fox Zero shines brilliantly is in its music. Featuring a strong group of composers that includes Ace Combat's Keiki Kobayashi (one of my all-time favorite composers, to boot,) Star Fox Zero sounds as just as epic as it looks.

Star Fox Zero also, unsurprisingly, has some decent Amiibo Support as well. Using the Fox amiibo will allow players to use the Retro Arwing from the SNES version of the game. The gameplay changes as a result too. The Retro Arwing never had a lock-on function on SNES, so charged shots (modeled after the bomb explosion in Star Fox 64) have to be precisely aimed to hit their targets.

There's just something about flying a ship with 18 polygons at 60 frames per second, fully anti-aliased with sick bloom lighting. In the Corneria Stage, the background music is even changed to the Super NES version's debut stage theme! But the coolest part of all is using the Retro Walker, taken directly from the unreleased Starfox 2, polygon for polygon. It's the kind of nod that true fans of the series will appreciate in all the right ways. Meanwhile, the Falco Amiibo will unlock the Black Arwing, which not only looks absolutely ill, but comes with a more powerful cannon... and weaker armor. It's essentially hard mode for those that want a little more spice in their life.

All in all, so long as you can adapt and accept Star Fox Zero for what it is, accept the implementation on the system it was designed for with the unique technologies that were made for the system it plays on in good faith, Star Fox Zero is a treat for even hardcore fans out there like myself. It offers a good amount of gameplay, thrills spills and will have you grinning almost the whole time, barring the hang-ups mentioned above.

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