Star Fox Zero, a game that torn apart Nintendo fans and gamers in general more than all those Marvel Civil War smear campaigns between teams. Some call it pretty good, some say it’s Satan’s spawn, some just play it and shut up about it. Did i play it? Yes. Did i like it? After reading all those reviews, i was slightly afraid i wouldn’t, but in the end i found it a pretty alright game. Am i going to blindly defend it? Hell no! Nintendo did handle some aspects of it pretty poorly, but it doesn’t make it the antichrist some communities are making it out to be.
Today we answer the four questions i found asked the most when dealing with this game:
#1. Is motion control aiming literally the worst thing ever created by mankind?
#2. Are the new vehicles the worst vehicles ever implemented?
#3. Is 90% of the content recycled from Star Fox 64?
#4. Is the new control system the weakest in the series?
So, let’s Rock and Roll, shall we?
So, the first point on the list is the Gyro Aiming System, one of the most controversial control choices for a game since microsoft’s Kinect: why is it the bane of so many players? Let’s break it down: the Gyro Aiming System uses the Wii U gamepad as a second screen, displaying a cockpit view of the vehicle you’re in, and the firing reticle is controlled by tilting the gamepad itself with little wrist motions, so you have a third person view on your TV and a cockpit view on your gamepad, and your job is to know when to look where…like driving a car, isn’t it? Exactly! And driving a car takes some time to get used to, that’s why this felt so unnecessary: it added a layer of difficulty seemingly for the sake of it, and it felt so unnecessary it managed to actively hurt the sales of the game.
Now, while i can agree on how i found incredibly weird Nintendo’s completely disregard for control choice, and hell, how they actually balanced out the entire game around punishing “old school tactics” like “nosedive aiming” (ramming into your target to shoot them, then changing your altitude before collision, tactic necessary in Star Fox 64, since there wasn’t indipendent aiming), with my fair share of hours clocked into this game i can say this: even with a bit of a learning curve, it actually opens up the whole system to some new tricks and strategies.
The most useful strategy i found for All Range battles, that now occupy a big portion of the game, actually comes from outside of the typical Star Fox mindset, and it’s the good old “circlestrafing”, typical of early first person shooters and tank/mech simulators like MechWarrior and World of Tanks: aim at your target with your indipendent turret while circling around it, and as simple as that 70% of the enemies in the game can’t hit you. It works wonders with big, stationary targets with immense firepower like battleships, several bosses in the game (even the more mobile ones) and even in dogfights to some exent, to rack up some damage while baiting your enemy into getting on your tail, only to Somersault a second later.
About dogfights, learning how to “joust” with your enemy using Target Mode is another fundamental tactic, and even this time is not that much of a hassle: it just consists of using 3rd person view and Target Mode to get a lead on your target’s position (like in the picture above), and then adjusting your trajectory to get them into your line of fire, via Somersault, U-Turn, Brake or whatever method you see fit. Even then, remember: your turret has a turn radius of around 75 degrees, and your enemy’s doesn’t. It may mean turning the gamepad a bit awkwardly, but it’s worth a shot.
Another slight improvement i found about the Gyro Aiming, it’s how makes on-rails sections less about positioning into a spot with more targets and more about positioning into a spot from where you can hit more targets: in Star Fox 64, clearing out a section with enemies placed all around you was pretty hard, since you couldn’t stay still, they wouldn’t stay still, and you could aim only in the direction your craft’s nose was facing, so you had to worry about dodging parts of the scenery, dodging enemy fire and hitting more targets you could. In Star Fox Zero this issue disappears, since you can hit virtually anything from anywhere, and it allows for more enemies to be placed on-screen, in more complex “formations” without having to worry about how the player will ever shoot them all down and dodge their fire at the same time.
So, the answer to the first question is: No, they’re a bit counterintuitive at first, but pretty functional on the long run. Don’t be ashamed to try out stuff in Training Mode.
Variety is the spice of space combat…kinda.
Another often-criticized aspect of this game, is how relatively bland the sections in vehicles different from the standard Arwing starfighter seem to be, and the Gyrowing is often used as the most blatant example. This is a half truth: overmarketing vehicles as a bigger part of the experience than they actually were, like the Blue Marine, has always been a (bad) tradition since Star Fox 64, and this time just like the last, it doesn’t terribly scar the experience as much as some people say: yes, the Gyrowing appears just in a couple of levels and it’s a whole different beast from the Arwing, but it does its job in adding gameplay variety without becoming too “intrusive” for those that didn’t like it. Is it wasted potential? A bit, but this isn’t a perfect game, sadly.
Now with the Walker/Raptor/Chicken Walker transformation of the Arwing, it’s a whole different story: the thing has actually a lot of uses, and even if it’s a bit cumbersome in some situations it still manages to be a good option, offering radically different approaches to situations that normally could only be dealt with with the Arwing, since it can stand in place, jump/float and actually strafe when using Target Mode.
The Gravmaster transformation of the Landmaster battle tank is a multi-locking, slightly slower Arwing, it’s more of the same but more offense-oriented, and it performs really well in all the levels it’s in.
So, the answer to the second question is: no, not that much at least.
Star Fox Remix Album
About the campaign, we can say that Nintendo did play it safe: just like in 64, you go from one planet to another, starting from good old Corneria and ending up on Venom, from where the mad scientist Andross is leading his army in the attempt of conquering the Lylat System, pretty classic right? Well, just in the premise. Like the title implies, all the levels have been “remixed” and twisted in some way, and the results are pretty good, my personal favourites being Sector Beta, a massive space battle now epitomous of Star Fox’s level design, the Salvadora battle, where you tear down what is basically a Star Destroyer one cannon at a time, and Sector Omega, a high-speed on-rails section, the “last stand” of Andross’ army before the final Venom level. It helps that Platinum Games helped with the development, managing to sneak in some good old “Platinum tropes”, like a greater emphasis on dogfights with Star Fox’s rival squadron, the Star Wolf, and a level (Area 3) that looks just like the Providence Colony, the setting of one of their best games, a third person shooter called “Vanquish”.
So, as far the third question goes: Not at all, even if it may seem like it.
Quality of Life Improvements
Platinum Games may also have had some sort of influence on the new button layout, as odd as it is to say it, since this new layout actually discourages the use of buttons, revolving around the use of the control sticks to perform faster versions of U-Turns and Somersaults and using the Gamepad’s triggers as attack buttons, completely throwing out the window the classic A-spam for faster firing…so, what the hell? Platinum’s titles are mostly button focused, aren’t they? Well, this new system, even while privileging motions rather than presses, adds stuff like an input shortcut for the new Barrel Roll, described in the picture above, boost and brake canceling (techniques already experimented in Star Fox 64 3D’s local multiplayer) and even a way to “bunny-hop” with the Walker, all little changes that created interesting exploits similar to various advanced techniques found also in games like Vanquish, that immediately made me think “Yeah, that’s Platinum alright.”…but this might as well be a bit of speculation on my end. What’s sure is that those “quality of life” improvements to the system really made it feel a lot better than most of its predecessors.
So even the fourth question is down: Nope, it just takes a minute to figure out how much stuff you can actually do.
By the way, here’s the command list for the “techniques” i just mentioned:
Boost/Brake Cancel: mash forward/backwards on the right control stick, you’ll gain/lose speed without consuming meter.
Walker Bunny Hop: alternate between backwards and forward on the right control stick, you’ll start hovering and gain speed while falling down, going a bit slower than with a regular boost, but consuming much less meter.
Instant Barrel Roll: instead of flicking in a direction twice on the right control stick, go “right, left” or vice versa, the Barrel Roll will come out much easily.
So, what IS the deal with Fox Mcloud’s new (mis)adventure?
Well, despite some slight flaws and bad marketing decisions, it’s not bad at all, if you’re not that much into arcade-style games than maybe buying it at full price isn’t the best option, but Star Fox Zero is a actually a nice reboot of the series, and definitely one of those games you have to try once in your life, thanks to its control system, that love it or hate it, ends up taking the cake for one of the most unique applications of the Wii U gamepad to this day.
I hope you found this article entertaining and somewhat insightful, this is 3rd Runner, signing off.