I have been a Star Fox fan ever since its first release on SNES. It was one of the first console games that I remember using 3D graphics, which was very innovative for its time. The series soon jumped to the N64, which pushed the graphics even further, and demonstrated how dogfighting in games should feel, and it felt oh-so doggone good! From here, the series continued to progress and experiment with different ideas like hopping out of the vehicle to take the battle on foot, and exploring by drawing flight paths on a touch screen, but Star Fox Zero is the first game in the series where I feel like the big ground breaking innovation breaks the game.
Star Fox Zero is a retelling of the fan favorite N64 outing. All the main characters are back, voice actors and all, which I really appreciate, as their constant classic cockpit banter is a blast from the past. The story remains the same with little to no change, as team Star Fox is taken out of retirement to help aid in the Lylat wars, jumping from planet to planet while fighting off Andross’s evil army. Even some of the fan favorite side characters such as Bill and Katt make a welcome return and aid in a few select missions.
As you travel across the Lylat system, you will encounter many recognizable planets, familiar settings, and boss battles. Although, many of these revisited landscapes and boss battles feel a bit underwhelming, with lackluster design compared to the series’ earlier predecessors. Goras, the terrifying monstrosity from Titania, has been replaced with a giant worm, and the path leading up to that point is a lot less exciting. This is pretty much the case throughout.
Secondary paths also make a return, which leads you into replaying stages in order to find the secret paths that lead to hidden planets. While a couple of these secret missions feel special, some of them seem very short, or feature a very quick 1 on 1 dogfight which is over in no time. This makes the secret planets feel like more of an afterthought, which is kind of a bummer, as they felt a lot more unique and challenging in older entries in the series.
Where the game differs from Star Fox 64 is in the many gameplay changes. One of those changes is being able to transform the Arwing into a Walker with the push of a button, which was a mechanic that was pulled from Star Fox 2, the canceled SNES sequel. The Walker allow you to land on enemy aircraft, get in close, and infiltrate them, in order to take them down from the inside. While it’s a neat addition, it is vastly underutilized, and it controls so radically different from the Arwing, that I constantly misused it and just couldn’t wrap my head around how to properly maneuver it. Another new vehicle is the Gyrowing, a slow moving hacking drone, which is mainly used in stealth missions. My problem with this vehicle is that it just isn’t fun to fly, as it slows the pace of the action to a slow crawl, which just doesn’t fit in what is typically a fast action space shooter. Not only that, but while flying it, you constantly have to line up over the top of artillery and drop a small robot down to hack enemy machinery, which becomes a rinse and repeat process and slows the pace of the game even more. Last but not least, the Landmaster makes a return and feels pretty spot on to begin with, but receives a few unnecessary upgrades throughout the game, like being able to morph into a heavier flying aircraft for short bursts, but it just ends up feeling like a chunkier, useless Arwing, as well as a bigger, slower moving target for enemies.
Another reason these vehicles are not fun to pilot is because of the gyro controls and cockpit view. The game teaches you early on that you will need to focus and aim with the cockpit view on the gamepad while also keeping an eye on the TV to maneuver your ship around incoming obstacles, splitting your focus on two screens at once. The piloting in Star Fox Zero is a lot like texting and driving. Almost all of your attention is on the gamepad, but by the time you look up, you are driving head first into oncoming traffic at full speed, only to crash and burn. While I have to give Miyamoto credit for his innovating controls, that same innovation also breaks the game, as it asking way too much of the player and ends up making the game too stressful and hard to control.
I finished the game in about two and a half hours on my first playthrough, which includes replaying levels and completing secret side planets. Besides finding the rest of the alternative paths, there isn’t much to come back to after completing the game. There is a training mode for perfecting your skills, and an arcade mode that starts players off with one life and no map overview, but there is nothing exciting or groundbreaking to find here. What Star Fox Zero is lacking is a multiplayer dogfight mode, much like what was featured in Star Fox 64. In fact, Star Fox 64 did everything this game is trying to do, but it did it so much better, and that’s where I have a hard time with Star Fox Zero. It wants to bring you back to its 15-year-old predecessor and reignite those classic feelings, but it fails on almost all fronts, which is really disappointing.
+ Classic cockpit banter / returning voice cast
– Awful controls
– Lack of content / modes
– 15 years forward, 15 steps backwards
Star Fox Zero is simply a mess. If you are looking to scratch that Star Fox itch, do yourself a favor, and pick up Star Fox 64, or the 3DS remake on the eShop instead. You will get a lot more enjoyment out of it, as well as bang for your buck.
Jason Betthauser is the Senior Producer at The Game Bolt. He enjoys playing through classic games on cold, snowy, Minnesota days, especially if that game is Super Metroid. Follow him on Twitter.