Friday, 6 May 2016

Star Fox Zero - Review

Developer: Nintendo/PlatinumGames
Publisher: Nintendo 
Platforms: Wii U

Star Fox Zero is both quasi-remake and semi-sequel to the Nintendo 64's Star Fox 64. I suppose the best way to describe it would be as a spiritual successor. It's not necessarily a direct sequel but rather a reimagining of that game on modern hardware.

Naturally, for the Wii U, that means factoring in the gamepad somewhat. Yet, if there's something to take away from Star Fox Zero, it's that Nintendo (and Platinum) know how to exercise restraint. This isn't a last ditch gimmick-laden attempt to justify the Wii U's gamepad.

In fact a lot of what makes Star Fox Zero enjoyable is simply what makes the entire Star Fox series fun to play. At its heart this is still a classic arcade shooter, complete with power-ups and wave after wave of enemies to shoot at. It's not particularly difficult either, the challenge isn't to beat the game, just about anybody could manage that, but rather to do it with a high score rating.

That being said Nintendo know what makes Star Fox tick. Whilst it's primarily an arcade shooter it's also a love letter to the Star Wars, with many of the game's levels being subtle and not-so-subtle nods to the series.

Slippy, Peppy and Falco make a return alongside Fox McCloud and provide the usual mid-fight banter. Occasionally, they'll need help or warn you of a fighter on your tail. It's simple in terms of how it affects the game but adds to the fun, space adventure tone that the series has always succeeded in nailing down

Whilst the meat of the game is in its dogfights and space battles, each level typically throws another vehicle or two into the mix. The tank, walker and hovercraft all get their spot in the limelight through the campaign.

What's impressive is how Nintendo use each of the game's vehicles to affect the ebb and flow of the game's pacing. After a frenetic dogfight aboard your spacecraft, one particular level has you piloting the new Gyrowing hovercraft through a maze of tunnels and enemy spotlights, dropping bombs on targets and hacking into machinery using the gamepad. Its a distinctly different take on Star Fox's basic formula but ensures that its core gameplay rarely becomes one note or predictable.

Likewise, many levels have you switch, Transformers style, from one vehicle mode to another, using the strengths of each, gentling notching up the complexity of each scenario without things becoming convoluted. The Walker, previously condemned to the unreleased Star Fox 2, is a welcome addition, as you go traipsing about the inside of an enemy ship after taking apart its shields aboard your spacecraft.

Moreover, Platinum's influence can be felt throughout the game, especially during the boss fights. A hulking eight-legged monstrosity on a Hoth-like planet is a particular highlight in a game that rarely disappoints in this department.

In fact, throughout the game's campaign it's easy to forget about what the Wii U gamepad is used for. Primarily, it's there to handle tighter shots. Looking down at the controller's screen gives you a first-person cockpit view from which to fire from, whilst the motion controls provide (somewhat) tighter aiming.

It's not perfect, the controls never feel completely spot on, primarily because you're still simultaneously trying to pilot the craft with the left stick, which is especially cumbersome with the new Walker. Yet, it manages to work partly because the game rarely enforces their use. It's almost a tacked on treat for those that like the immersion but can almost be safely ignored for those that don't wish to tangle with it.

There is an unfortunate slip-up during the final boss fight, however, where the gamepad controls are enforced throughout the entire scrap. For a game that up until that point had resisted such clumsy and gimmicky encounters it leaves something of a bum note to end the game on.

If anything though, this is a game that wants you to play through it multiple times, again, a Platinum trait that worms its way into the games overall design. Many levels have alternate routes and hidden levels that can be accessed on repeat playthroughs. Bosses get remixed too, usually with additional requirements or added layer of challenge.

These post-ending treats make up for the fact that the main campaign can be finished in just a few sittings. Rarely does the game's difficulty become a factor and most of the levels don't stretch over the thirty minute mark.

Star Fox Zero is a sleek game, in other words. There's hardly an ounce of fat on it and it makes the most of its runtime to simply have you engaged in great boss fights or exciting set-pieces, and emulates the classic Star Wars tone better than many licensed Star Wars games have ever done. In an age where many games have resorted to the same bland padding to bolster their game's length, it's refreshing to have a game that ruthlessly cuts out the boring bits and instead has you focusing on its best moments.

Star Fox Zero isn't likely to win over any newcomers. In fact, on the surface it reads terribly, a second tier Nintendo character on a pseudo-remake with motion controls. In a certain light it doesn't make for an exciting game pitch.

For what it is though, Star Fox Zero is thoroughly satisfying to play. It's a nostalgia trip both in terms of its series and its genre. It's unapologetically old-school, but uses that philosophy to create one of the most entertaining action games to be released so far this year.


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