Just like Metroid, Star Fox is a franchise where the one thing the fans desire most is a sequel with classic design sensibilities: no cutscene-laden story, no gimmicks, no slew of bonus modes—just basic but engaging arcadey corridor shooting. And similar to Metroid, Star Fox is a franchise that is overtly content to ignore these pleas, instead focusing on brainstorming new ideas that might reinvigorate the series. Star Fox Zero is the newest game in a franchise now synonymous with disappointment, the sleek on-rails sections weighed down by motion controls, plodding vehicles, and a universe too familiar to feel remarkable. I understand wanting to reach a broader audience with a storied, established Nintendo IP, but uhhh...
... how hard is it to make another good Star Fox game?
Star Fox Zero isn't without its merits of course, but it boggles my mind how Nintendo simply won't return to the series' roots. The first two games were great because they were solid on-rails shooters that took you across the galaxy, each planet and space sector a new, colorful challenge to survive. And then came Star Fox Adventures... and Star Fox Assault... and Star Fox Command... all of which tried to take a different approach on the Star Fox framework, but ultimately couldn't rise above mediocrity. Each game peaks with the Arwing sections, where you're flying around with Fox & co., gunning down pompous critters that jeer at you with cartoonish temerity—but miscellaneous design decisions overshadow these high times, ultimately burying it beneath a sea of half-baked debris.
Star Fox Zero fares no differently in this regard.
I definitely admire Nintendo's attempt to go back to their roots and recreate Star Fox 64, but this game paradoxically stays too close to it yet at the same time veers too far. Most of the planets, characters, chatter, music, enemies, bosses, and structure is directly modeled after 64, the space-time portals being perhaps the only twist added to the campaign (and they're not even utilized all that much). It can be fun to explore the HD renditions of Corneria and Titania, but there's a prevailing sense of "been here, done that" throughout the entire game. As I stated before, part of the appeal of Star Fox was that every planet was a new horizon you got to zoom through at high speed; Star Fox Zero's lone contribution to the anthropomorphic galaxy is a Halo-esque ring you don't even get to explore properly.
However unfortunate it is that Star Fox Zero opts to copy so much from Star Fox 64's blueprints, nearly everything new Zero brings to the table is categorically worse. The control scheme has been clumsily fitted around gyroscopic aiming which makes no sense—both hands are already going to be busy maneuvering the Arwing so taking time to physically look down at the Wii U pad and pivot your wrists for more precise aiming just flat-out does not work well. I would be perfectly happy to ignore it for most of the game except that camera control is constantly wrestled away from the player on the TV screen, and certain battles are an arduous waste of time if you ignore the manual aiming. During my four hours with the title I kinda got used to it, but I would've been far more satisfied with a traditional control scheme, delegating the Wii U pad to a minimap that I could've ordered my allies on or denoted spots for Great Fox to drop supplies or something (I suspect it would've saved the game some frames it desperately needed too, as Zero runs worse than 64).
Star Fox Zero's worst addition is undoubtedly the Gyrowing, a slow moving copter that drops down a dinky, tethered robot that can hack into terminals—does any of that scream Star Fox to you? I felt like I was losing my mind in Zonness as I was pausing for searchlights to pass, carefully dropping explosive boxes on robots, and hacking into reactor cores. Hacking!! I kept asking myself, "is this really what Star Fox has become? Did anyone actually want this?" It was like playing Call's mission from Mighty No. 9 all over again, except Comcept's slip-up can be explained by their amateur incompetence, whereas Nintendo should've straight-up known better. The Gyrowing is only present in two missions, but its mere inclusion remains a thing of bewilderment. I don't think the walker mode for the Arwing fares significantly better, but at least it resembles Star Fox to a degree.
As if I haven't berated this game enough, the focus on all-range mode segments is another topic of contention. There's literally 0 on-rails bosses! Most of the all-range bosses are a pain in the ass to battle as well, since they're too easy to fly into (Dodora, Attack Carrier), or they have profoundly frustrating attacks (Aquarosa, the final boss), or their weak points are revealed too infrequently (Scrapworm, ATTACK CARRIER). Star Wolf is thankfully always a thrill to dogfight with, but they make up only a handful of encounters out of the entire game. Besides that, I also think there are too few unique stages in the game, and having every path end with the same final three worlds & bosses is a huge bummer. There's a myriad of other small things that bothered me—like why don't I keep laser power-ups between stages, even in Arcade mode?—but I suppose I've spent enough time ragging on this entry; I spew this aggressive vitriol not out of hate, but out of sheer frustration for a series that I dearly wish to love once more.
Star Fox Zero attempts to be some kind of spiritual remake of Star Fox 64, but there's too much residual DNA from the other games for it to remain a pure breed of space shooter. It's a shame too, because as misdirected as Zero is, I think Nintendo gave it their best shot, and due to the way it sold there's not likely to be another Star Fox game with this much commitment and polish for a long while. Perhaps it's for the best though; the premise of Star Fox is perfectly suited for a downloadable title, and should Nintendo remember that on-rails games can be fun without the need for filler or padding, then maybe there's hope for it in the future yet...
... but it's not something I'm going to hold my breath for—I've learned that lesson years ago.
Images obtained from: nintendo.com, meristation.com, VentureBeat.com, metro.co.uk