In 1997, Nintendo rebooted the Star Fox series with Star Fox 64, a gaming classic that was fully 3-D, added a lot of new elements to the original and featured high-octane dogfights and boss battles. And now, the Star Fox series is back with Star Fox Zero. Both a tribute to and a revamp of Star Fox 64, Zero takes the space action to new levels with improved graphics and an interesting use of the Wii U control system. As a pilot fighting through the galaxy, you’ll have to control your craft by balancing your attention between two separate screens – one which controls the flying, and the other which controls the shooting.
Returning gamers will note the locations, enemies and set-pieces that were also present in Star Fox 64. In this regard, Nintendo has missed an opportunity to tell a new Star Fox story for current-gen consoles. But then again, zipping through space, blasting your enemies away as you evade space debris and the cheesy humor that punctuates the proceedings makes Star Fox Zero a lot of fun.
The handling of your ship/aircraft can make or break an aerial combat game. Luckily, Zero makes flying through the skies in your Arwing an absolute blast. The visuals offer you a great sense of speed and scale, zipping and swerving as you outwit enemies before sending them to the next life. you’ll also have to maneuver your craft through several tight spaces at just the right angles. Ergo, you’ll need to have a quick trigger finger and the ability to adapt on the fly.
Your Arwing isn’t the only thing you get to pilot in this game. Your aircraft has the ability to transform into the Walker, which is a two-legged chicken-like thing that you can use to shoot things when you’re on the ground or indoors. The Walker is nimble, unlike the Gyrowing, which is a slow, hovering drone that you have to use during the puzzle-solving and computer-hacking sections of the game. You also have the Landmaster, which is a tank that you can use to navigate treacherous terrain. The Landmaster can swerve and even hover to defend itself. Unlike the original Star Fox 64, the Landmaster can transform into a jet in Zero. It doesn’t hold a candle to your Arwing, but it’s a nice change of pace.
Zero’s missions typically have you hurtling forward through space. Occasionally, such as during boss fights, you have full control of your Arwing and can use the All-Range mode to defeat your enemies. In this mode, you are primarily focused on combat, and this is where the problems with Zero’s control scheme become more apparent.
In previous games in the series, you had to steer your craft and your crosshair would move along with it. On the GamePad however, you have to control the steering and aiming independently. On paper, this would make you a better pilot because you’d be able to move yourself into strategic positions while you’re shooting. However, this requires you to switch your attention between your GamePad screen and the action on the TV. The GamePad screen displays a cockpit view where you can adjust your crosshair. The game uses the targeting crosshair as a representation of what you’re seeing from the cockpit instead of a direct indicator of where your shots will land. This is a problem and it feels like a cheap way to get you to use the GamePad screen. You’ll have to switch back and forth between first and third-person views to engage in combat effectively.
It's a difficult control scheme, but it’s definitely not unusable. Once you’ve put in the time to learn how the controls work, Zero becomes a much more enjoyable experience. You’ll gain an intuitive sense for where your fire might hit, and you’ll learn how to use both the normal and All-Range modes to maximum effect. The new control scheme also highlights the problems with Zero’s campaign. The Star Fox series has historically been more about movement and evasion and Zero makes the game more about shooting. While you always had to shoot enemies, it was a function of movement, which made all the flying and shooting feel like one smooth experience.
However, despite the problems the new control scheme poses, Star Fox Zero still delivers a lot of enjoyment. The graphics and presentation pay homage to the retro origins of the game while adding in some current-gen elements. You’ll fly through clear blue skies and the vast infinity of space. You’ll spout one liners in the middle of a vast space battle. You’ll mount daring escapes through epic set pieces. You’ll get to use different vehicles to unleash havoc on your enemies. Zero is a game that rewards you the more you stick with it, with alternate routes leading to secret locations. If you’re a fan of aerial shooters, cheesy one-liners and retro presentation, give Star Fox Zero a try.