Sun. Feb 5th, 2023
All other issues aside, it's still pretty good for meandering through the canyons and waterfalls of the town of Corneria.

All other issues aside, it’s still pretty good for meandering through the canyons and waterfalls of the town of Corneria.

During my waning years as a Nintendo-only fanboy (just before I bought my first Sony PlayStation in 1998), star fox 64 was the rare Nintendo 64 exclusive that I was proud to point out. That game’s tight controls helped support simple but satisfying fly-forward-and-shoot-whatever-moves gameplay, with strong, true cinematic design. But that simplicity hid hidden depth in an elegant, branching mission structure and a skill-based scoring system that encouraged multiple playthroughs.

Star Fox Zero reconquered star fox 64The simplicity of the game is satisfying at some points, but it spends too much time getting in the way with half-baked ideas and unnecessary complexity. Nearly 20 years after the formula was captured almost perfectly, Star Fox Zero just can’t help but mess up the lessons of the past.

Tilt-based annoyance

The most obvious change in the star fox 64 formula in it Star Fox Zero is the Wii U GamePad and its tilt-based motion controls. While the reticle still moves when you move your ship with the analog stick, it now also moves independently when you tilt the GamePad. The idea is to let your ship fly in one direction and fire in another without having to fly directly to your target.

This control scheme is really useful in some situations, like strafing where you fly past a target and shoot weak points on the side before looping and making another pass. In general, however, the Wii U GamePad is far too big and bulky to comfortably and accurately use for tilting.

Towards the end of a long gaming session, my wrists would ache from trying to move the massive touchscreen controller at all angles as I flew. In addition, the gamepad’s tilt sensor often gets a little misaligned during intense action, requiring quick manual re-centering, which is annoying during a gunfight. Why this independent aiming couldn’t be mapped to the secondary analog stick is frankly a mystery to me.

You can try ignoring these motion controls and just use your ship’s motion to aim as normal. That’s easier said than done, though, as motion controls can’t be turned off completely. So if you don’t want wrong controller movements interfering with your aim, you’ll need to hold the GamePad completely still in your lap or in front of you. (There’s an option to set motion controls to only work when you press the “fire laser” button, but since you tend to hold that button down for 90 percent of the game, that doesn’t help too much ).

Let me fly down a corridor

Aside from control issues, Star Fox Zero still manages to capture some of that old series charm in the surprisingly rare levels where your Arwing flies straight ahead down a hallway. Swinging the ship around obstacles and incoming fire while aiming at incoming enemies before they fly past you is a familiar and intense experience, and showcases the game’s strong environmental design. With your ship automatically propelled forward, it’s easy to get into a zen-like state of dodging and firing. This is Star Fox Zero at its best.

But far too often the game gives up these corridor shots in favor of “all-range mode”, which lets you fly freely in 360 degrees. These dogfights are much less interesting and usually take place in vast empty space with only a few enemies in sight. Instead of simply focusing on what’s ahead, you end up spending most of your All Range Mode time trying to slow down and turn around to get an enemy in your sights.

There’s not even an on-screen radar to help you spot enemies that might be behind you or to the side. Instead, you must rely on a lock-on system that secures the camera to a nearby target. That’s OK for short bursts, but using it means moving the camera behind the ship in such a way that you only have a very vague idea of ​​the direction you’re flying and aiming.

Star Fox Zero tries to make up for this shortcoming with a first-person cockpit view that is permanently displayed on the Wii U GamePad, but averting your gaze from the TV to look at your lap is quite cumbersome in practice (you can also switch to the first- person view on the TV). Cockpit view also makes it even more difficult to dodge incoming fire or see enemies approaching from behind. This is especially annoying during many boss fights where you’re permanently and awkwardly circling around a central point and using the cockpit view to figure out what’s really going on.

Too many vehicles spoil the broth

Even the all-range mode is preferable to the overly frequent missions that eschew traditional Arwing flying in favor of a different vehicle. These missions include the ground-based Landmaster tank, familiar to series fans, which can now transform in short bursts for a custom flight mode. The Landmaster missions aren’t too terrible, and the tilt-based controls actually work a bit better for targeting enemies in the air while slowly rolling on the ground. Still, I found myself missing the Arwing’s easy maneuverability and three-dimensional movement.

However, the Landmaster apparently wasn’t enough ground action for a flight-based game, as there’s now a second land vehicle in the game. The Arwing can now transform into an ostrich-like mecha at will, which can run on the ground or hover for short periods of time.

This mode controls like the clumsiest third-person shooter you’ve ever played, relying on those imprecise tilt controls to aim and on both analog sticks for movement and rotation. The time you spend running around tight hallways clumsily picking lone enemies off walls is time you’ll wish you were flying around instead.

Star Fox Zero also throws in a new hovering gyrocopter, which can freely move and tilt itself in three dimensions (as long as it remains level with the ground). The slow, jerky motion in this gyrocopter is a depressing change of pace from the fast, free-flying Arwing.

One mission in particular sees you using the helicopter for a stealthy search and rescue mission. You barely fire your lasers as you slowly swing around searchlights and lower a wired drone to hack into surveillance systems. This mission seemed to drag on and on, completely destroying any sense of pace and action built up by what came before.

In the way

It would be one thing if these different playstyles were a rare change of pace from the core Star Fox game. But when you combine the non-Arwing missions with the clunky All Range mode, easily over half the game is spent on what Star Fox Zero does it best.

That’s a shame, because there’s some strong design on display here. The game does its best to make each battle truly cinematic, with storylines that briefly break the action to explain what’s happening and why. Your wingmen will still hear charmingly cheesy radio chatter during missions, now delivered in captivating “3D sound” coming straight from the GamePad itself. Many of the story’s beats (and even some entire dialogue exchanges) were taken directly star fox 64but there are enough changes to make it feel like a tribute rather than a rip-off.

star fox 64The game’s intricate scoring system is also back: Hitting multiple enemies with a single, loaded lock-on missile awards bonus points and provides an expert-level challenge that’s engaging for multiple playthroughs. The game also has branching paths through its handful of levels as you complete certain hidden objectives, meaning each playthrough can be quite different.

But by the time I was done with it Star Fox Zero‘s incredibly annoying final boss, about five hours after I first started the game, I found myself less than thrilled to play through one of its levels a second time (though I did, for the sake of completeness). Instead, I really felt the urge to do, play again star fox 64which captured all the good parts of Star Fox Zero 20 years ago without the chaff that constantly gets in the way.

The good

  • Sections where you dodge and shoot down a hallway are as fun as ever
  • Cinematic mission design and well-integrated (if cheesy) story beats

The bad

  • Tilt-based controls are clunky and imprecise
  • Frequent dogfights in “all-range mode” are slow and uninteresting
  • Rely on hard-to-use, first-person cockpit view in many situations
  • Way too many missions in hard to drive, non-Arwing vehicles

The ugly one

  • Losing your limited lives and restarting the entire level during a failed boss fight

Statement: Skip it and find a copy of star fox 64 instead.

By akfire1

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