I’ve been hesitant about Star Fox Zero since its unveiling. Maybe it’s the nature of this series to be questionable with its offerings.
Aside from the 3D remake of Star Fox 64 on the Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo’s been eager to take risks with this fan-favorite franchise. The problem? As far as these risks go, I’m not sure you can say any of them have genuinely paid off.
Star Fox fans, then, have been clamoring for a proper Star Fox title. They want something that calls back to the pure experience they liked on the SNES and then fell for on the Nintendo 64.
Star Fox Zero is a return to form in the sense that it’s the best, purest, original Star Fox game we’ve had since 1997. In terms of straight content, Star Fox Zero is what fans have been asking for. It’s a game almost worth 20 years of waiting.
The motion controls, though? They might ruin this thing for some, and I’m sure they’ll be divisive.
These motion controls are forced
I don’t think any of us will ever know this for sure, but Star Fox Zero‘s control scheme suggests Nintendo pushed Miyamoto into a creative chamber until he came up with a good use for the GamePad. That theory could be completely incorrect, but it serves to demonstrate the fact that the motion controls here feel forced.
Much like Splatoon, Nintendo elected to make use of a motion control system that requires moving the GamePad for precision aiming. You’ll move your ship on a macro level with the sticks on the GamePad, and this works fine. You’ll aim your reticile by looking away from the TV and at the GamePad and then tilt and turn to line up your shots with precision.
The system works, and there will be those who promise that getting used to this is all it takes. I’ll offer that, sure, after four or five hours of play, you might feel pretty darn comfortable with these controls. This might happen, it also might not.
As I squared off against the final boss, the difficulty came in two ways: learning his attack patterns and struggling with the controls. That was on my first playthrough. I certainly got better, but I’m not sure if “you’ll get used to it” is enough to excuse the hours-long comfort curve.
The controls frustrated me at times. I mention Splatoon‘s motion controls because I think the two are worth comparing, and there’s a sharp distinction here that separates the two. You didn’t have to look away from the TV in order to aim well with Splatoon. Aiming happened on the television with the motion control of the GamePad serving as a finite adjuster for the stuff that already existed on the sticks. It was like a third analog stick, and its sensitivity felt great in high intensity moments.
With Star Fox Zero, however, the aiming that occurs on the screen is not the aiming that happens on the GamePad. You have to break your attention away from the screen above and look at the GamePad in order to precisely aim. The reticle on the TV doesn’t line up with targets in precisely the same way it does on the GamePad. In boss segments, this is crucial, and it also makes the game tough to play at segments that are already difficult.
Yes, this is something that you could totally get used to. It’s just not like Nintendo to force this stuff on players. It worked in Splatoon, and that’s why I was alright with it. Star Fox Zero needs Pro Controller support, plain and simple. Co-op mode makes use of the controller, letting one player exclusively aim with the GamePad’s motion controls while the other flies the ship. This mode works fine as you never break focus on what you’re doing in order to take on tougher segments. The fact that a Pro Controller solution wasn’t designed for single player is, well, bogus.
However, part of me thinks that diehard Fox fans won’t care. Heck, by hour five or six, I sort of stopped caring myself. Why?
This is an incredible Star Fox game
The Star Fox bits? The stuff that I can talk about now that I’ve handled the control system? They’re almost entirely fantastic.
Truly. My only legitimate gripes are that some boss segments are a little drawn out, and I would have liked the additional level paths to be slightly more obvious. Heck, that second point? I can totally explain that away: they’re hidden to improve replay value.
I think there will be some who dislike the Walker and Gyrowing segments. I enjoyed both, especially the Gyrowing-focused levels. That vehicle is sort of like a nimble helicopter. You can move forward quickly if you like, but it’s a beauty to control in All-Range Mode. The Gyrowing also has this interesting hacking droid that you can drop out of your craft and command with the GamePad. Again, I didn’t mind these segments, and I found them as a nice, distinct change of pace next to the Arwing stuff.
The Arwing levels are still the best, in my mind. Nothing beats the thrill of a level with both on-rails and All-Range segments with the Arwing. Star Fox Zero lets you transform between Arwing and Walker on the fly, too, so you encounter levels that force you to transform, enter an area, beat some dudes, leave, transform again. It works really well, and it made each mission that much more satisfying.
The game can be cleared in around five hours, I’ll say. Perhaps even faster. However, the money isn’t in Star Fox Zero‘s campaign length, it’s in its diversity of content. You will unlock modes and extra training missions throughout play. The training stuff is fun, too, and I’ll offer that a mastery there will definitely help with overcoming the controls when it matters in your battle against Andross.
Then there are the hidden paths in each level that make each playthrough unique. Star Fox Zero feels like a game that Nintendo kept making bigger and bigger. They took the initial missions, made them great, then added content. They did this again and again, and the result is a game that feels densely layered with stuff to do, enemies to blast and space to see.
I have no qualms with calling this the best Star Fox game since 64. If you can ignore the motion controls, or if you wind up liking them, you will love this game.
The Star Fox game fans have been waiting for; however, getting to the experience will require wading through unique controls.
If you were linked to this review from another site, you might be wondering why we gave it the recommendation we are. If you completely skip the text and look at the “score” below, you’ll find a “Wait” sitting for the world to see.
Our “Wait” normally serves to tell players that the game either needs patching or isn’t good enough to warrant full price. We offer that players should wait until it gets cheaper or is fixed before they play.
I’m telling you to wait for a different reason. Your opinion on Star Fox Zero will hinge on how well you can adapt to the controls. Wait, try the game, see how it feels and then make a purchase. This adventure is a wonderful one. It’s the Star Fox game fans have been waiting for; however, getting to the meat of the experience will require wading through unique controls.
I wrestled with the controls. I went from hating them to ignoring them over the course of play. Even with that baggage, I’m itching to fire up the game again and continue blasting through Andross’ forces. That’s a good sign, as I’ve been skeptical of this whole thing since I first laid eyes on it.
If you try it and dig the controls, buy this game. Tell Nintendo you appreciate a quality Star Fox experience when it arrives. Enjoy the diversity of content, slap on your Fox amiibo and rock through missions in a retro Arwing.
We’ve waited almost two decades for this.
Disclaimer: We received a physical copy of Star Fox Zero and Star Fox Guard for review from Nintendo. We will cover Star Fox Guard, though we’re not comfortable with delivering an opinion on that yet.