Nick Smit thinks this remake is worth a shot.
To put it bluntly, Star Fox Zero is the second time since I started writing reviews that I’ve had a reason to use the Wii U in my house. The first was Splatoon, and perhaps it’s rather telling that both it and Star Fox Zero are the only games I’ve encountered so far that feel distinctly like a game for the Wii U. Bucketloads of nostalgia doesn’t hurt.
Unsurprisingly, Star Fox Zero is a reboot of the Star Fox franchise, based on the critically claimed Star Fox 64 or Lylat Wars as it was known in Australia. Returning fans will be happy to hear that Star Fox Zero is a sufficiently worthy remake of the sci-fi flying shooter which retains the bright and distinctive visual aesthetic, well-crafted level design, and infinitely quotable as well as frequently cringeworthy dialogue that made the original so famous. Newbies might be confused as to why a dog is telling a fox to get in a spaceship and shoot some monkeys.
The story is a faithful re-telling of the N64 title, with some minor variations. You play as Fox McCloud, an ace star pilot and leader of the mercenary team known as Star Fox. You are tasked with helping defend against the invasion of Andross, a mad scientist bent on galactic domination who had a hand in your father’s death.
To tell this extremely Star Wars-y tale, the first important point to make is how well the developers at PlatinumGames have transitioned the look of Star Fox onto the current console generation. Star Fox Zero keeps the heavily polygonal design of ships, buildings, and characters from the original while adding a texture and shine befitting the Wii U. The graphics are an excellent blend of old and new that only makes the sights of the Star Fox universe more distinctive, and credit must be given for turning what was essentially the result of hardware limitations into believable designs.
Star Fox Zero uses the iconic ‘Arwing’ fighter and ‘Landmaster’ tank for combat in both on-rails and more freeform capacities, as well as the newly added ‘Gyrowing’ and transformed variations of the original vehicles. The Gyrowing flies like a helicopter or drone rather than a plane, and is used to hack certain access points spread about the levels. The Arwing is given a walker mode, which allows “increased manoeuvrability in confined spaces”, as in game dialogue tells us. “Increased” is a technically accurate term. The Landmaster is given a hovercraft mode, which allows it to fly for a short amount of time to bypass difficult obstacles or access hidden pathways.
Sadly, this is where Star Fox Zero disappoints somewhat. A number of perhaps the most interesting levels from the N64 title have been removed, and in their place come relatively uninspired dogfighting missions that feel like re-hashes of other levels or pace-breaking pseudoplatforming sections designed to showcase the new vehicles rather than polish Star Fox’s flying combat. There also somehow seems to be less levels overall, with the number of unique paths to complete the campaign shrinking from 24 to 19.
Finally, we turn to the contentious topic of controls, which I actually really enjoyed once I got used to them. Initially, using the Wii U’s motion controls to aim while steering with the analog sticks gave me the feeling my dad had trying to play a 3D game. Truly, the world is scary and new. But since I didn’t give up after one play session, moving the Wii U gamepad around like a turret began to feel natural and better than Star Fox’s old controls ever had.
Ultimately, Star Fox Zero is definitely worth picking up if you liked the original version. If you never played it, Zero may well be a good way to start once you acclimatise to the controls. While not exactly outpacing Star Fox 64, Star Fox Zero does enough different to deserve consideration.
Images: Screenshots from Star Fox Zero by Nintendo and PlatinumGames.