So, you know how I sometimes review games on here that I really like? Well, I think it's about time I reviewed a game that I DIDN'T like.
Star Fox Zero is a remake of Star Fox 64 which was a remake of Star Fox on the SNES, and despite remaking the same game twice now over 23 years, Nintendo still has not been able to figure out what made those first two games great. As a standalone game, Star Fox Zero is mediocre at best; a short, forgettable three-hour romp that does very little to justify it's $50 price-tag ($60 if bought bundled with Wii U tech demo Star Fox Guard). As a successor to Star Fox 64, it is a disappointment in almost every regard. And since the game itself relies so heavily on piggy-backing off Star Fox 64, this review will exclusively be based around comparing the two. Don't worry, Zero does nothing to stand-out on its own, so its not really worth judging it based on its own merits.
Star Fox 64 is a great arcade-style on-rails shooter with occasional free-flying sections. Star Fox Zero is a mediocre motion control-based free-flying shooter with occasional on-rails sections. The major focus of Zero is on all-range mode sections, but while Star Wolf is more mobile and maneuverable than ever, you're still piloting a slow, clunky piece of junk from 1997. Let's be frank here, Star Fox is no Ace Combat. The on-rails sections were always the strong point, while all-range mode was serviceable. The Arwing is slow, takes turns way too wide, and but u-turns and somersaults momentarily take you out of the combat while a long animation plays. Granted, this worked in 64, all the enemies were built around those limitations. However, Zero's Arwing controls exactly the same as it did in 64, but now the enemies (especially Star Wolf) are faster, more agile, and can do all sorts of crazy shit you can't keep up with. To make up for the Arwing's lack of mobility, you can now aim and shoot all over the screen using your Wii U gamepad, a thing that constantly needs to be recalibrated mid-combat and is never as reliable as you'd like it to be. While shooting and flying went hand-in-hand in 64, you need to really focus on one or the other at times in Zero. If you want to shoot some annoying little fucker dancing all over space, then you need to take your eyes off the TV and glue them to the gamepad. Both screens don't match up, so while you're looking left on the gamepad to shoot, your Arwing is flying straight into a rock. And if you want to just focus on flying without looking at the gamepad to shoot, then your TV reticle is never going to match with what your gamepad is actually looking at. The seperation of flying and shooting is even more apparent by the game's co-op, where one player is designated the shooter and the other is the pilot.
The on-rails sections are fine. They work, but there's not enough of them. There's a huge lack of variety in this game, something that I figured would only be improved on from 64. Almost every all-range mode mission in Zero boils down to "fly around, shoot generic enemies for a few minutes, wait until the boss shows up, shoot the boss, leave". While the all-range sections in 64 were few, they still had unique objectives. You'd have to fly around in an Independence Day-style scenario where you have to take out key points of a giant moving mothership, or fly around a constantly rotating sattelite to shoot the power structures of a force field. Even the on-rails missions had interesting scenarios and deviations. Follow a train, and shoot the rail switches to skip a bossfight AND find a new planet. Travel across the fucking sun as it constantly does heat damage to your ship (oddly enough, the sun is missing in the new Lylat System). But when Zero isn't just lifting scenarios from 64 (and not even doing a good job of that, which I'll complain about later), it's giving you nothing else even remotely as unique or memorable. Instead of interesting mission objectives, most of the time the game will just force you to use the new chicken-walker transformation for a section or even worse, the Gyrowing. I just beat the game a couple of days ago and replayed several missions, and I'm honestly struggling to remember most of them since none of them have anything interesting going on, either visually or in their objectives. Titania's the one that stands out for me, and even then, it was just a graphically better version of a 64 mission.
Star Fox 64 was an incredibly short game, but it was built to be replayed. Every level had two different ways to beat it, and through each playthrough, you could trek a completely different route to the end. While Zero borrows 64's map system and short length, it completely botches alternate routes. Your first playthrough is completely restricted to one set path through the Lylat System since you can only unlock Corneria's alternate exit once you unlock chicken-walker later in level 2. If you were good enough in Star Fox 64, you could head to the hardest planets on your very first time playing the game. There's only two deviations that lead to completely unique planets, while the few other levels that have alternate exits simply lead you to remixed versions of levels you've already played. 64 never had to recycle entire levels just to pad out its map. Even then, the way you unlock different "routes" in Zero is so limp compared to 64. Remember the level in 64 where you had to dodge spotlights, and if you get caught, you'd be set on a route to a different planet? That gimmick is in Zero, too, only if you get caught, you get some small enemies swarming on you for a brief few seconds until they forget you (no alternate exit). Or how about that mission in 64 where you had to blow up oncoming missiles before they damage the Great Fox? If they hit you, the Great Fox takes damage but the game carries on, forcing you to go to an easier planet. That mission is in Zero too, only if you let the missiles hit, you get a game over and have to redo the level. "But Brad," you say, "these don't sound like alternate route unlocks!" And you're right, they're not. To unlock alternate routes, you'll sometimes have to play other levels until Star Wolf shows up in a completely different level. Then you'll play that level, and when Star Wolf shows up about 1/4 through the on-rails section, you simply lock-on to him and the level ends, bringing you to a completely different level (still a planet you've been to) where all you do is fight 1-2 Star Wolf members. It's the lamest shit.
It's just mind-blowing how lacking this 2016, triple-A current-gen release is compared to a Nintendo 64 game from 1997. Every bossfight in 64 had a unique voice and personality behind it. Some would trick you, taunt you, insult you. There were southern train conductors, guys in mech suits, a malfunctioning robot, and a weird golem that just runs from you as you chase it down. What made Star Fox 64 so memorable and so damn quotable was just how much personality the characters and even the bossfights had. In Zero, bossfights for the most part are dead silent (outside of one fight on Fortuna that can occasionally trigger some funny banter between Slippy and Falco). When the game isn't simply reusing lines from 64, it's adding new ones that just suck ("You just got Slipped!"). The characters just lack the charm and bite they had before. Even still, you might expect some sort of deviation or subversion with the plot, but no. The entire theme of the game just seems to be "It's Star Fox 64 again, but worse". There's not even multiplayer, something which the 64 game had three variations of!
I cannot recommend Star Fox Zero. Whether you're new to the franchise or a die-hard fan, it would honestly do you better to skip it and replay the 64 release on N64 or 3DS. You'd get the same general experience, only it'd be more infinitely more enjoyable. So many reviews are focused exclusively on the game's controls, and while I dealt with them well enough, I can see why they're such a point of contention. You either hate them or tolerate them, which should be a huge red flag to anyone interested in the game. But while the controls certainly are an issue, there's so much else wrong with this game that it's impossible for me to recommend it to anyone. The worst part is is that it's not a laughably terrible entry like Metroid: Other M. It commits the more unforgiveable crime of being so painfully mediocre and boring. Still, I expect it to share the bargain bin with Other M in the next few months. If you're absolutely dying to play it, please wait until then, don't pay full-price for this game, please.
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