Star Fox was considered to be hands down an outstanding series on the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64. It was in a genre all of its own, it was mostly a rail shooter but occasionally it would shift into "all range mode" where you would get complete freedom to fly around in an arena. Star Fox was great because it had constant movement, you had to maneuver through cities and fly around in space, and sometimes you had aerial dogfights with other ships it was incredible! Honestly, it felt like a really good Star Wars game!
In recent years, Star Fox has had a somewhat turbulent reception. Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault took the series in a very different direction, they added sections of the game where you're on foot and exploring, similar to a Zelda game. These games had very mixed reviews from both critics and fans of the original games.
But here we are today with Star Fox Zero, the sixth main entry into the franchise...Or should I say fifth and a half entry?
I'm not going to beat around the bush, Star Fox Zero is fundamentally a reboot of Star Fox 64. You start at Corneria, and you end at Venom, but that doesn't make it a bad game, quite the contrary actually. Star Fox Zero is a solid game in its own right, and for what its worth it does add a fair amount of content to what was originally in Star Fox 64.
As a game in its own right, it's great! It's visually fantastic, it plays and feels just like a Star Fox game should. I especially love the aerial dogfights in this one, I don't know why but with this new control scheme, the dogfights feel incredible.
The story is about the same as it was before, save for a few minor twists that amounted to almost nothing. You go from planet to planet, fighting off Andross's forces, occasionally fighting Star Wolf and fighting bosses. There are actually a lot of new bosses to the game and only a few that I remembered being re-used.
The Arwing and Landmaster return, along with a new helicopter like ship called the Gyrowing. The Arwing can now transform into a land mode (an idea from the scrapped Star Fox 2) and the Landmaster got a flight mode. I actually really like these forms, the bird-like form of the Arwing allows for new forms of exploration, and the flight form of the Landmaster makes it much more accessible. I found myself transforming in between the two of these depending on what I needed in the situation. They also don't give you these transformations right away, you have to unlock them, and I personally love that incentive to go back and find new secrets.
The most disappointing part about the ships is that aside from the Arwing, you only use the Landmaster and the Gyrowing twice throughout the entire campaign. I didn't particularly enjoy the Gyrowing to begin with but they went as far as to make these ships, you would think they would do more with them. Not to mention that the land form of the Arwing was barely utilized in the game aside from a few specific missions.
Now let's talk about portals. You can revisit certain levels to find portals to other parts of the galaxy. It's not entirely new for Star Fox to offer alternate paths which can change the route you take to the end of the game, but these portals can lead to entirely new and secret levels. For example, on the first level with the Landmaster, you can see a giant portal in the sky, but you can't reach it until you can fly in the Landmaster. Once you're able to, you reach an entirely new level. While I really do like these secrets...there weren't that many to be found. There are around twenty stages in the game, but you only get half of them just by doing the campaign. I really expected more from Star Fox Zero in this regard.
The last new aspect which can't be ignored is the new control scheme. On your TV, you see what you would expect to see. It's third person, and you avoid the environment around you. On the gamepad, you see in the first person from the perspective of the cockpit. This is by far the most unique, frustrating and interesting addition to Star Fox.
On one hand, This brings an entirely new dimension to Star Fox and it kinda works! By looking at the gamepad, you can aim your guns more accurately and this allows for levels that have specific targets you need to hit. At the same time, this makes you have to focus on two different screens at once, and both screens can require your full attention. It's not like one screen is a mini-map and you can glance at it, you really need to focus on one or the other. It's not bad, not at all, it's just challenging and on some levels it's actually really fun. The best part about this is they made it so any level you've beaten can be played again in co-op, with one person flying using another controller, and the other person manning the guns!
Star Fox Zero has its faults, more than I'd have liked to have seen. Honestly, I think the entire reason this game exists is because they needed to reestablish what Star Fox was. They needed a strong base game to make new games off of and because of its shaky history, they were afraid to take any big chances.
I liked Star Fox Zero, I really did but there's barely more to it than Star Fox 64. Every new aspect of the game (except the control scheme) feels lacking. They didn't have enough secrets to warrant replayability, they barely used the alternative ships (despite them being a fairly large part of the marketing for this game) and while it's a fun experience overall, there just isn't enough new and good content to make it an outstanding game.
The last new Star Fox game to come out before Zero was Star Fox Command for the Nintendo DS and despite mixed reviews, it was a decent game. What made it interesting was that it had nine different endings to the Star Fox franchise, and I would have loved to see something along those lines in Zero. There is so much potential for the Star Fox universe. Potential for the story, potential for levels, and potential for gameplay without going too far off course like they did with Adventures or Assault.
Star Fox Zero was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
Star Fox Zero is a great return to the Star Fox formula. But at the same time, it's way too similar to Star Fox 64. While it is fundamentally a reboot, it does bring a lot of new things to the table...just not enough. It's a good framework for a sequel.