Star Fox Zero Review

Star Fox Zero

We’ve had to wait nearly twenty years for it, but Star Fox 64 finally has a proper follow-up in the form of Star Fox Zero on Wii U. The on-rail shooting, arcade-style gameplay the series is known for makes a long-awaited return. Zero brings the series back to its roots, dropping any and all baggage that came into the series in the post-N64 era. So in many ways, Star Fox Zero is something of a dream come true for longtime fans of the series. Unfortunately, not all is well in Star Fox Zero, and despite being a stellar effort in many ways, some technical problems do prevent it from becoming the Nintendo classic it might otherwise have been.

Star Fox ZeroThe core gameplay is exactly what we’ve been asking for for nearly two decades. That is to say it’s an expansion of what Star Fox 64 accomplished. Players take control of Fox McCloud, who pilots a variety of vehicles: The classic Arwing is the most common of such vehicles, and serves as the basis for the game’s shooting action. Though a twist from the unreleased Star Fox 2 has been integrated into the Arwing, as it can now transform into the Walker which, as its name implies, brings the action of the Arwing to the ground. Meanwhile, 64’s Landmaster Tank returns with a transformation of its own, and can in certain levels become the Gravmaster, which fittingly takes the Landmaster gameplay to the air. Finally, a new vehicle called the Gyrowing makes its debut, which has less emphasis on combat and more emphasis on deploying robots to hack into computers.

The vehicles, as well as their transformations, give the gameplay a nice sense of variety. Unfortunately, while the essence of the gameplay recaptures what Star Fox should be, the controls can often feel overcomplicated, and can hinder the otherwise entertaining experience.

Star Fox Zero utilizes both the screen on the television and the screen on the Wii U Gamepad to showcase the action, with the former giving a traditional Star Fox style viewpoint, while the Gamepad displays the action from Fox McCloud’s cockpit. The Gamepad’s motion controls are used to aim the targeting reticle, and that works well enough, so I kind of wish Nintendo and Platinum Games had kept the Gamepad features there.

Focusing on both screens can become distracting, especially during segments that take on an “all-range mode” and certain boss fights. What’s worse is that at times the game will require the player to switch their attention to the Gamepad screen exclusively, without really informing the player of such. It can be a bit jarring, especially in instances such as cinematics, which are displayed on the television screen while the player is still controlling the action through the Gamepad. Though some aspects of the controls feel more natural as you grow accustomed to them, other control elements are just too convoluted. I appreciate Nintendo for trying new things, but there are times when a more traditional route can be more beneficial (look no further than the Wii U’s own Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for proof of just that).

The often awkward controls are what ultimately prevent Star Fox Zero from becoming the definitive Star Fox experience. But on the plus side, the shift back to an on-rails shooter puts the series back in the right direction.

Much like Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero’s adventure can be completed in a few short hours. But also like Star Fox 64, Zero presents players with multiple alternate routes to traverse the game, giving it some replay value, which is taken to another level here.

Star Fox ZeroStar Fox Zero manages to trump 64’s replay value by adding additional levels and routes after you beat the game. Alternate routes can similarly be unlocked by replaying a completed level at certain points. Additionally, each level contains hidden medals, which can be found tucked away within the level itself or achieved by performing certain requirements, as well as high scores that the player can shoot for. To top it all off, Star Fox Zero includes a “Training Mode” which, despite the name, is more akin to a challenge mode, giving player’s something else to shoot for.

If Star Fox Zero has any other drawbacks, it’s probably in its overfamiliarity to Star Fox 64. From locations, character banter and even some boss fights, the game teeters very closely to being more of a remake than a sequel. If video game remakes worked the same as movie remakes, with the same story being retold through a modernized vision, then Star Fox Zero would in fact be a remake. The story is a reboot of star Fox 64’s (and, as an extension, a reboot of the original SNES Star Fox), which is fine, but perhaps a few extra original beats may have helped Zero build more of its own identity.

Star Fox ZeroStill, I’m reminded that Donkey Kong Country Returns played very much like a modernized Donkey Kong Country, and it opened the door for the bountiful ideas of Tropical Freeze. If Star Fox Zero can relaunch the series as successfully as DK did, then we should look very forward to what the future has in store for Fox McCloud and company. Online multiplayer would definitely be a desired addition in a future installment (hint hint Nintendo).

Star Fox Zero also shines on the aesthetic front, with gorgeous, vibrant visuals and a great soundtrack that revives old tunes and introduces a few memorable ones of its own.

Despite the familiarity and cumbersome control issues, Star Fox Zero is a welcome return to form for the series in many ways. It provides a fun adventure with loads of content and some nice replay value. But perhaps its biggest achievement is that it remembers what it means to be a Star Fox game. Its issues may hold it back from being a Nintendo classic, but as it stands, it’s just kind of great to have Star Fox back and doing what it does best.

 

6

Star Fox Zero Impressions

Star Fox Zero

So I’ve beat Star Fox Zero, but I’m going to wait to write a full review until after I play through it a couple more times. Much like Star Fox 64, Zero is an intentionally short rail-shooter that’s meant to be replayed multiple times and aiming for a higher score. And like Star Fox 64, Zero includes multiple paths throughout the game, and even expands on that concept for even more replayability.

I’m just going to say it. On the whole, I love Star Fox Zero. It really is the proper sequel to Star Fox 64 that I’ve waited close to twenty years for. The overall style is still so much fun that you really have to wonder why it took Nintendo so long to get back to the series’ basics.

Now there are two big issues that I should acknowledge before I sing Star Fox Zero’s praises too much: The first are the controls. While the control scheme is far from broken, and in most cases works well enough, switching focus between the television screen and the screen on the Wii U Gamepad can become cumbersome at times. The motion-controlled targeting reticule worked just fine for me, but having to shift your attention between the two screens can grow tedious in the game’s “all-range mode” levels and in certain boss fights. Again, it never feels broken, but I can’t help but feel the control scheme might have been better if the motion controls were as far as the Gamepad features went, and left everything else to a more traditional control scheme.

The other problem is that, at times, the game might be playing things a little too close to Star Fox 64. It should be said that, storywise, this game is in fact a reboot of Star Fox 64 and, by extension, a reboot of the original Star Fox as well. So Star Fox is becoming something of Nintendo’s Spider-Man, where they just hit a reset button on the whole thing when it makes a grave misstep. I actually don’t mind Zero’s nature as a reboot, since I really didn’t care for the directions the series went after 64, so I feel starting fresh was probably the way to go.

The problem with the similarities is when they feel so close that this might as well be an HD update, as opposed to a reboot. A number of character dialogues, environments, and even boss fights are re-used from Star Fox 64 (though at least from what I’ve seen with the recycled boss fights, they have added a new twist or two). It might come off as faithful at the expense of some originality.

Star Fox ZeroWith all that said, Star Fox Zero is ultimately proving to be a very fun game. As stated, it does feel like a proper follow-up to Star Fox 64. That alone is reason enough to celebrate. The level design is well done, the gameplay is kept fresh and varied between stages, the characters remain charming, and the game takes the branching paths concept of the series to new levels, with certain stages even requiring a second go in the same playthrough to unlock alternate routes. Not to mention it looks great and had a memorable soundtrack.

It may be a bit familiar, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not looking forward to my next few playthroughs.

 

Top 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2016

Now that it’s December, 2015 is nearing its end. Along with preparing for the holiday season (and subsequently, the one-year anniversary of this site), Star Wars, and New Year’s Resolutions that I’ll probably stick to for five days, December also serves as a time to reflect on the year ahead.

This future-hype naturally finds its way into the world of video games as well. So as we all prepare to look back at the best games of 2015, we also look forward to our most anticipated games of 2016. And I am no different!

The following are my top five most anticipated games of 2016. They may look a bit different from most people’s selections, but for one reason or another, these games all have my attention. Let’s start with a runner-up then get to the top five!

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Honestly, I had six games that stood out that I could choose from, so I feel guilty about placing any of them as a runner-up. But since a “top 6” list just sounds goofy, someone had to take the fall. Since Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam comes out in January, I don’t have much more of a wait. So that bumps it to a runner-up on this list of anticipation (just go with it).

Aside from Paper Mario: Sticker Star, there hasn’t been a bad Mario RPG. Though Dream Team was a considerable step down from Bowser’s Inside Story, I have high hopes for Paper Jam. Being a crossover between Mario’s two ongoing RPG series, Paper Jam has the potential to bring a new sense of creativity to the Mario RPG formula.

I do have to wonder where Mario RPGs will go from here though. After you have both series cross paths, it seems like it would be a good time to give Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi a break, and maybe start a new direction for the Mario RPGs. But maybe that’s just me.

Now on to the top 5!

5: Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3

Platform: Multiplatform

Dark Souls is one of the better modern franchises in gaming (even if I kinda suck at it), and I’m really excited to die repeatedly play this new entry. I do kind of hope it adds more to the series than Dark Souls II did though. As great of a game as it was, I don’t want the third entry to just do what the first two already did. I hope DS3 can take all the good things from the series (of which there are many) and add some new twists into the mix as well.

What makes the Dark Souls series great is that it really feels like a modernized version of the kinds of games you’d play on the NES back in the day. It’s incredibly difficult, focused entirely on gameplay, and features a kind of progression that would feel at home on an 8-bit console. Yet it also feels brand new. The series has so far continued this trend through three games (remember, Demon Souls was the first game, Dark Souls was the second), and I’m confident it can repeat its success for a fourth time.

4: Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero

Platform: Wii U

Lack of multiplayer aside, Star Fox Zero looks to be the return to form I’ve been waiting for from the series. The gameplay looks like a modernized Star Fox 64, none of the weirdly sexualized characters from the subsequent games are present, and the story is going back to basics. It pretty much looks like the proper follow-up to Star Fox 64, which has somehow not yet happened in almost two decades.

If Star Fox Zero does indeed end up being this generation’s Star Fox 64, then it will be well worth the wait. Now I just hope the game’s delay into 2016 means they’re adding a multiplayer mode.

3: Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9

Platform: Multiplatform

Though the Red Ash Kickstarter fiasco might have put a sour taste in gamer’s mouths in regards to Keiji Inafune’s Comcept studio, I’m still super excited for Mighty No. 9.

It’s hard to believe Mega Man hasn’t appeared in a game outside of Super Smash Bros. for over five years. But if Capcom won’t let us have the Blue Bomber, at least we have a spiritual sequel to look forward to.

Mighty No. 9 really does look like a Mega Man title, and hopefully the gameplay and level design can live up to that heralded series. As a huge bonus, the game looks to feature several different additional modes to add some replayability and change up the experience.

2: The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Zelda Wii U

Platform: Wii U (but maybe NX)

The latest “proper” addition in The Legend of Zelda series looks to be the most ambitious entry yet. It could be one of the last great Wii U games, or one of the first great NX ones. Or both.

The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s greatest series, and a new home console entry is always a big deal. But this one in particular seems to be aiming to change up Zelda conventions, and hopefully, as we learn more about the game, that becomes more apparent.

Though I really wish Nintendo would give the series another art direction as daring as The Wind Waker, I like the new cel-shaded look. It looks a lot like a more advanced take on what Skyward Sword did visually. But while Skyward Sword used its visuals to guise the aging technology of the Wii, this new Zelda actually looks to be taking full advantage of its hardware.

My two great hopes for Zelda Wii U is that it really does change up the series, since Zelda games, great as they are, lack the consistent sense of newness of its sister series, Super Mario, and that the main adventure is only as long as it needs to be. I’m actually among those who loved Skyward Sword, but I admit that game would have been better if it were trimmed a few hours shorter. There’s no need to stretch a game’s length just for the heck of it. I’ll take a 10 hour game that feels complete over a 60 hour one that feels largely comprised of filler.

Anyway, it’s Zelda. Of course I have it on this list!

1: Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee

Platform: Multiplatform

Rare made some of the greatest video games of my youth. With a resume that includes the likes of Donkey Kong Country 2 (arguably the best 2D platformer), Banjo-Kazooie (arguably the best 3D platformer until Mario went to space), Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and so many other classics, it’s a wonder how the developer has fallen so far from grace over the last decade.

Yooka-Laylee is something of a dream come true for me. The new studio Playtonic Games – founded by a small group of some of Rare’s finest former developers – debuted the game as a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. And so far, everything about the game is looking like a modernized version of the Banjo-Kazooie style of platformer.

Playtonic has been vocal in saying that the game isn’t merely a re-skin of Banjo-Kazooie, however, and that Yooka-Laylee is making the winning formula new again. The collectibles will all serve a purpose, the game will have a greater sense of freedom in exploration, and players will have some forms of customization in gameplay and progression.

After Nuts & Bolts more or less kicked Banjo-Kazooie fans in the… nuts & bolts, Yooka-Laylee looks like the proper follow-up to Banjo-Tooe that I’ve waited fifteen years for. It was even the first game on Kickstarter I’ve helped fund. The only other game I’ve funded since was Red Ash. And well, let’s just move on.

Yooka-Laylee simply looks to bring back a style of game that’s been all but forgotten in the last few console generations. Given the minds behind it, I have a lot of confidence they’ll be able to pull it off. Really, there’s no reason why Yooka-Laylee wouldn’t be my most anticipated game of 2016.

My Top 5 Games from E3 2015

E3 has come and gone once again. Amidst all the big announcements, awesome games, and presentations that aren’t nearly as bad as people are making them out to be, the event itself, while not without its highlights, was ultimately one of the lesser E3s of recent years. But, even if the show didn’t quite reach greatness, it still gave us a glimpse of some great games. Here are my top 5 games presented at the show…but first, some runners-up! Continue reading “My Top 5 Games from E3 2015”