I recently spent some intimate time with Nintendo’s upcoming title Star Fox Zero. While I only had an hour with it and its companion Star Fox Guard, I am confident that this is the game Wii U owners deserve. This isn’t a soulless rehash of a tired franchise (looking at you New Super Mario Bros U). Instead, it’s a fresh take on a tried and true formula. Not only does it capture the magic of the original titles, it adds enough to make this feel like the next logical leap in the franchise.
In many respects, this is back to basics for the series. The Star Fox Adventure style is out the window. You play as Fox McCloud, you fly a space ship and you don’t hit dinosaurs with sticks. The levels switch from on rail segments to a free roam style where you encounter more dogfights or boss battles. I wish I had a little more time with the new instalment in this classic franchise because the controls do take a bit of getting used to. Both your gamepad and TV screen are essential. While that sounds terrible, it’s actually very intuitive. The idea behind the dual screen gameplay is you can control your ship in third or first person. Switching between the two is necessary as you can gauge what’s around you on your screen and have more precise shots, or even shoot things off screen.
I played two levels, and used two vehicles (the classic Arwing and the new walker). The first world was Corneria, because it’s not Star Fox without the futuristic city planet. But what impressed me the most about this level was its fidelity to the series. While it wasn’t note for note the level you played in 64, it still recaptured that old school Star Fox feeling. Along with that, the level had alternate paths and trigger incidents to unlock an alternate boss battle. In this particular situation I had to switch from my Arwing to my walker, land on a button to open a door, steer into a newly opened tunnel then save a space ship that flew over me. If I didn’t rescue the ship and let it fly by, I would have found myself fighting the regular boss at the end of the level. That sort of thing is a call back to an older era of gaming. It’s a mentality that isn’t seen in the modern day, where videogame tropes like that are considered too difficult or out of place. It’s a mechanic I expect to see throughout the game, so there could be some legitimate replay value in this title.
The second level I played was a swamp planet. The enemies in this area were more organic, and moved in different patterns. While it was only the second level it felt like I jumped into a bullet hell game—and it was awesome. Unfortunately, I only had so much time and I was still getting used to the controls, so I didn’t really get the full experience on level two.
With that being said, I finally got to see some of the Amiibo capabilities for this title. You can use Fox and Falco, but they’re keeping what the latter does a secret for now. Fox, however, turns the crew’s Arwings into SNES style polygons. Your health bar turns pixelated and the music sounds like it’s running through a SNES sound generator. I’m not going to lie, despite sitting in a room with Nintendo executives I had a moment of pure joy when I experienced this. While it is kind of a cheap nostalgia pop for the title, I did notice a slight change in controls as well. Everything seemed a little tighter, and my shots were a little more accurate. It was actually a really creative use of the Amiibos.
While everything in Star Fox Zero was fun, I had another game to play as well: Star Fox Guard. It’s nothing like the space shooter we’ve come to know and love, but it’s an interesting little game that comes bundled in with the main title (you can purchase both separately as well if you really want to). This game blends Five Nights at Freddy’s or Night Trap style gameplay with the tower defense and first person shooter genres. You set up cameras around your base and robots come in trying to reach the centre where you have an important device they want to destroy. You switch from camera to camera and shoot the hell out of those evil machines until they wise up and stop coming around. There are varying types of robots that do different things; some focus on making their way to the center of your base, while others take out your cameras. They come at you from multiple directions causing you to remain in a constant stress-induced state of focus for 15 minutes a round. It’s kind of basic compared to the main game it’s packaged with, but it will make your palms sweat and your heart race. It evokes the same kind of frantic feeling of frenzy that the main title creates, so it feels right at home in the package.
That makes Star Fox Zero a really easy sell in my eyes. To be honest, as a Nintendo fan, I am not really impressed with the Wii U’s library. I’ve had many discussions with friends and colleagues over the sheer disappointment with Nintendo’s latest offerings (outside of a handful of titles). This is the game that makes my Wii U purchase worth it. This is the game that fully realizes how the gamepad should be utilized. This is the game that shows what Nintendo can offer as a first party developer. This is fun.