I really, really wanted to like this game.
Star Fox 64 was one of my favorite games of all time. If asked, “If you could only choose one game to play over and over again and never get bored of for the rest of your life, what would it be?” my answer is “Star Fox 64.” I played Star Fox: Assault on the GameCube and found it reasonably enjoyable, although it lacked the same spark Star Fox 64 had. When Nintendo released Star Fox 64 3D, I bought it and sunk many, many hours into that game as I had when I was a kid for the original game. It was just as enjoyable as it always had been–trying for new high scores and tricks to perform. When Nintendo announced that they were going to develop Star Fox Zero as a sort of reboot of that game, I was incredibly stoked to see what they would make.
I am so disappointed :'(.
I went into the game without having read any of the reviews online because I really wanted to go in without any sort of bias. When I loaded it into my Wii U, I got excited. After I got through training and saw my fleet zone into Corneria, I got really excited. I flew through the level in awe of the beautiful visuals and noting where they made changes to the original level, commenting to myself how a certain section looked like Star Fox: Assault, and realizing that I had missed whatever trick was required to unlock a hard route. Oh well, I’ll get it next time.
On to the second stage. It was a place I didn’t quite recognize, and in the level you’re boosting through to (hopefully) manage to take down enemy cruisers before they blow up the fleet you’re trying to protect. It was really cool and action-packed–I felt like I was racing against time to protect the ships under fire–and I was pleased by the new level design idea they had implemented. And then you enter into the core of a facility and change into walker mode.
The controls were kinda janky for the walker. It was sort of reminiscent of playing Resident Evil for the first time, except instead of avoiding creepy zombies you’re maneuvering tight spaces and fast enemies. Not exactly easy, but I figured there was a learning curve to something new and I accepted it. I will, however, say that I think the walker form is absolutely adorable because it flaps those arms like a little chick trying to fly whenever it hovers/drops.
Unfortunately, the game pretty quickly went downhill from here.
In the following level, you navigate as a walker into the basement of a defense station and find the gyrowing. The gyrowing itself isn’t so hard to manage, but it’s slow and presents an entire shift in the gameplay style. You go from a streamlined scrolling shooter to an adventure game that seemed to be inspired by Star Fox Adventures. I was okay with the idea of Zero taking on inspiration from multiple past games, but I found the gyrowing levels really slow and not really fun to play. They introduce a gimmick where you fly the gyrowing around then lower a little robot to hack into computers and lift bombs and stuff, but then they really just exploit that same mechanic over and over and over throughout the level until it feels like you’re playing a completely different game.
And that gyrowing level led into the next gyrowing level, and then I completely lost interest in the game.
It sounds like I dislike the game because of one mechanic, but to build two full levels based on a mechanic that doesn’t seem like Star Fox at its core and with so little inspiration completely killed whatever hope I had for the way this game would turn out. I’ll likely eventually push through the remaining levels, but I had to put it down and comfort my poor disappointed inner child first.
I suspect the game suffered from a lack of clear direction. I know that Platinum Games had been recruited to work on the project midway through, and then the game had gotten delayed by about half a year. The delay itself isn’t unusual for Nintendo, but I feel like it may have been linked to adding Platinum Games to the developers. Don’t get me wrong, I love Platinum Games, but it’s easy in the working world for projects to get sidetracked in direction when merges happen, and the game itself seems like a failed and rushed attempt to reconcile different ideas.
With regards to the controls, I wasn’t so weirded out by them because the motion controls had already been implemented in Star Fox 64 3D. I do think that they are significantly better fitted to Star Fox 64 3D, however, as moving the 3DS will move the screen with it so it feels like an extension of your reality. In Star Fox Zero, one screen moves but your TV does not, so it gets a little confusing. Also, your arms get tired while holding the gamepad up next to the TV as I think it was designed to be. I eventually found a comfortable position propping my knees up on my chair and resting the gamepad on top of them, and then the control scheme was much easier to work with, although still awkward and flawed.
Not everything about the game is bad. There are things to like. They pay so many homages to past references (the voices are pretty much the same as the older games, they use old one-liners, etc.), and the graphics are gorgeous, but there’s not enough to like to balance out that this ultimately feels like a flawed experiment applied to a franchise in the same way that Super Mario Bros. 2 had been skinned. I feel like a better use of the gamepad would have been to include a map, or use it like how it’s used in the 3DS game to respond to calls and stuff, but not the way they implemented it here. It’s an idea that I think would have been better for a virtual reality experience, and it doesn’t quite translate to the gamepad.
Nintendo, you’ve used your gamepad in brilliant ways. This was not one of them.
I really wanted to love this game. I wanted it to be the revival of the Star Fox franchise I had grown up with and missed for so long. I had every expectation that Nintendo would deliver on their main franchises with the utmost quality that we’ve come to expect of them, and then I was so, so disappointed. I think this game might have accomplished just the opposite–I feel like they may have just secured the death of a franchise teetering on the edge of the end.
Excuse me as I go comfort the broken heart of my inner child.