It’s been a crazy few weeks. After my excited 5 hour impressions, I have 100% completed everything in Star Fox Zero. I have all 70 medals and have beaten all 19 paths in Arcade Mode. So has the excitement worn off? Fuck no. It has gotten better every time I’ve played, like I am ascending through the fighter pilot ranks. I’m now shooting things off-screen without even thinking about them. I’m casually dropping missiles below the TV for group combos. I’m flying through a giant robot’s legs and transforming while aimed upwards so I can land on a tiny platform above its butt to reprogram it before it turns around. This would not be possible without the new control scheme. I’m going to use this review to explain how this game is impossible without the Wii U, not because of “forced waggle” but because the level design takes advantage of it. There is a TON of brilliant design in this game that casual players (game journalists) will never see, and hardcore players NEED TO FUCKING KNOW ABOUT.
I’m going to dive straight into this with an example. Aquarosa is an absolutely fucking magnificent showcase of the new Target View camera. Target View locks onto something with ZL and displays it in the centre of the TV screen, while you steer with the GamePad first-person view. The ONLY reason this fight is possible is because you can see its ridiculously powerful shield attack on the top screen in Target View. Some people struggle with this fight because they aren’t looking at the big obvious tell. It’s like any other boss in the history of videogames, except its visual cue is on a different screen. That is literally the “difficulty” with this boss mission. You wait until its shield is down and chip away at the lasers, aiming at them on the GamePad screen and watching the TV for the blue shield to come back. When that middle thing starts to glow, it means GET OUT OF THERE. In cockpit view you can not possibly see this, because you are shooting the lasers head-on with the best aiming you can get. These lasers ALSO fire at you so it’s important to aim hard and fast, and maneuver your Arwing within that battle. This means to actually do this fight well and not get destroyed by the bubble shield explosion, you HAVE to take in both screens and be aware of them at all times.
I had so much fun refining this fight, trying to take out more lasers in each phase, and slowly push my flying skills to get closer to the shield. After I got the Gold time, it kept dropping. 1.48, 1:36, 1:28, 1:12, now 1:08. As the time dropped I felt my sense of positioning in this game become natural instinct. It’s an incredible example not only of game design that is ALLOWED by the new control scheme, but one that fucking SHINES. Pretty much every boss in the game has huge attacks that you can skillfully avoid with Target View. The entire game is designed around having access to all parts of the level at once.
If you think this skill is above you, then you need to give yourself more credit. It is no different to changing lanes while driving a car. Every single day you do things with your hands while looking at something else. Not only do you do this task successfully, but naturally with little effort. That is how Star Fox Zero can be for any gamer if you LET GO of this completely fabricated concept that a videogame must be tied to one screen. If you can wipe your arse, you can play Star Fox Zero.
Star Fox Zero is the first time I’ve ever felt good at a flying game. It is the only game I have played where I can actually fly where I want without having to “baby” the aiming with movement tied to the same input. There are on-rails shooters that do this, but it’s a WHOLE different feeling when you are flying in all-range mode and controlling your acceleration. To be a shooter is one thing, but that’s only half of this beast. While aiming and moving still affect each other indirectly, having separate inputs means the ship never does anything you DON’T want it to do, like move to the right just because you wanted to shoot something there. This caused me to hit a lot of things in Star Fox 64 before I “got used to it“. Does that sound familiar? I then “got used to” Star Fox Zero because it fucking fixed this. The new control scheme is a solution, not a problem.
The replay value in this game is ridiculous because with multiple views and bullets flying around from all angles, they’ve increased the amount of outcomes on the screen by thousands. Every single time I’ve played a stage I’ve seen a new angle to a crash or explosion even by hitting the same marks or getting the same combo. Yesterday I managed to land a charge shot on TWO flaming fighters that I had already shot. That is the only time I have done that in 38 hours game time, and it was an extra point to my score. It’s so ridiculous that you would never set something like that up when going for a score, but the fact that these variables can come at you and force you to react, makes this game incredibly exciting and ENCOURAGING to replay. The controls are just so flexible that you CAN react to enemies flying out of control if you are extremely good.
Last time I played the boss in Fichina, a huge chunk of metal debris flew right in front of my cockpit as I looked down at the GamePad. It’s just amazing how much is going on, not just from a gameplay standpoint, but visually, and you have to take it all in to play well and survive.
I fucking love the scoring system, it’s the same concept as Star Fox 64 but you can exploit it so much more. A lot of shooters will just take a tally of shots, but in Star Fox you get more hits for doing awesome things. Shoot a crane so it drops some metal on a robot, crushing it into a million pieces? +5 instead of +3. Kill a cluster of fighters together with one charge shot? +8. Have a few extra hits because why the hell not. Oh look, they’re on fire and out of control. Here’s a chance to get ANOTHER HIT. You’ve already got a point from the initial charge shot on these fighters, and you can get ANOTHER by shooting their flaming debris into nothing. The technical reason for this extra hit is that the game is awesome. It rewards you for doing awesome things because the game is awesome. Star Fox Zero is fucking awesome.
Time Attack is another way to play through Arcade Mode. With 19 different paths, some are significantly faster than others, while the longer paths are better for getting more hits. The level design is completely set up to accommodate both, and when going for speed you notice a lot more things. Since you get a limited amount of missiles, you’ll want to save them for switches or triggers, instead of big groups of enemies since you don’t need the points. You can also turn into an Arwing during the Walker sections to really push your luck, and fly through very tight tunnels with utmost precision. Some gaps are EXTREMELY tight and not worth going for, but they are possible. I always try stuff like this in games and end up disappointed when you can’t do it. Star Fox Zero rewards my destructive behavior and even when I explode into a million pieces, I have a huge grin on my face while doing it.
Look at this fucking angle. Inside that hole you can see a switch you need to shoot. This is normally done by hovering over that platform sticking out, deploying Direct-i, and controlling that on the GamePad screen to walk over and shoot it, then walk back to you. It takes about 30 seconds to fly around and do this with both switches and it’s pretty fun. HOWEVER, if you’re really good at the game you can hover right here and just shoot the switch from the outside. BAM, we’re outta here. This is ONE example of many ways you can change levels just by trying new things. There’s a part where you can activate a robot early, and things you can do with bombs to trigger things and group enemies together. Probably a whole bunch I haven’t found yet which is why I am still playing this game.
Dogfights. I have saved this until last because it is the BEST thing about Star Fox Zero. All-range dogfighting combines the cinematic camera and fast cockpit shooting together to create the most fast-paced, intense gameplay experience these controls allow. Dogfights are exciting and a bit scary because you need all your wits about you, especially when there’s a time limit.
Pigma is mad because I saw him coming in Target View and knew exactly when to do a somersault. He tries to scamper away but I have the best possible position now, right behind him. PEW PEW PEW, off with your health bar!
In this first picture I can see behind me, since I have Pigma locked on with ZL. This is how you should start all the big dogfights because then you don’t lose sight of the enemy. This means you’re not awkwardly turning around, struggling to figure out their position in the darkness. This happens in other flying games ALL THE TIME and you just have to guess which direction the other pilot is going, awkwardly hoping they fly in front of you. Now you can see everything and anticipate, WITHOUT losing your ability to aim. The more aspects of the controls you take advantage of, the better you will be at dogfights. They can last from 20 seconds to multiple minutes depending on how quickly you can take advantage of opportunities.
So now where’s Pigma, is he coming back? Let him get on your tail, then either slow down or do a loop to get behind him as he flies past. Or perhaps he’s not coming back, and flying off to regroup? BAM, you have time to turn around and land quite a few decent shots immediately as he turns his ship around. You can also get shots in as they fly towards you, but the shots have to be FAST to take advantage of this. You can lock on with slow charge shots for a consistent fight, or shoot and spray for the best possible result. Another example of this game’s balance of risk and reward. I just wish this game had multiplayer, because the dogfights with other players would be incredible. There is a co-op mode but I haven’t tried it yet, maybe a future article if I get the chance and it’s different enough.
Star Fox Zero is an amazing game, and in my opinion the best Wii U game outside Splatoon. It is the first game in a long time to bring a brand new FEELING into the core gameplay experience. A big reason this game is misunderstood is that you can’t really capture it in screenshots. I tried my best, but it either looks too busy or too empty. The motion controls are not the selling point, but the sensation of taking in all the action around you and using different perspectives to extend your reach into the game world. As far as I know (since nobody challenged me on Twitter), this is also the only console game that renders at 120 frames per second, with 60FPS on both screens. Probably the reason there’s no online multiplayer, right there. It’s easy to criticise the models and textures in this game, but it’s pushing the system HARD and feels like a perfect arcade game with great effects that do not slow the action down. It’s like you’re sitting in the cockpit and looking all around you through windows and mirrors. It is a brand new feeling of 3D interaction with no compromises, and the more you play the better this feeling will get.
I still think Star Fox Zero is not for everyone, just the same way a lot of complex games aren’t. Some people just like games that are easy to understand and that’s fine. It’s a very specific kind of arcade challenge, but if you DO consider yourself a hardcore gamer you are missing out on a LOT if you skip this game. You also might have to reconsider how good you are. It is less complex than many other 3D action games (specifically by Platinum Games), since the depth is immediately accessible in the tactile controls, rather than multiple gameplay systems layered on top of each other. It’s all there at once.
The crazy thing is that I honestly wasn’t sure I’d like Star Fox Zero while buying it. I just decided to give it a chance because I have not been disappointed by any Nintendo games on the Wii U, and this one is from Shigeru Miyamoto of all people. What a fucking surprise that the best developer in the world knows what he’s doing. You know the Nintendo stigma in the media has gone out of control when people are doubting a project headed by Shigeru Miyamoto. His other Wii U baby is Pikmin 3, and that is fucking excellent too. Star Fox Zero does everything it set out to do, and I finally understand why Miyamoto was so insistent on getting this game polished and released, even through multiple delays. It is a triumph in game design and I hope every flying game from this point on copies the control scheme. If I could use one word to describe the gameplay of Star Fox Zero it would be wholesome. If you’re going to play it like any other game, don’t bother. If you want to fly, this is your chance.