Star Fox Guard is that “other” game that came out with Star Fox Zero, by a small Indie developer known as Shigeru Miyamoto. Previously known as Project Guard, it’s one of Miyamoto’s original ideas for the Wii U re-purposed into the Star Fox universe. As it turns out, Slippy’s uncle Grippy has been collecting minerals in space and he’s run into some trouble. I thought we’d never get to play this game, but miraculously it’s been finished and polished quite heavily. I’ve been playing the game a lot the past month and having a lot of fun playing every main mission, beating people’s levels online, and making my own. It’s very different to Zero because the control scheme is much simpler, all you do is scan through the cameras and shoot. Outside switching cameras on the touch screen and aiming them, it literally has one button. Every single button on the GamePad is the shoot button (even the dpad directions will shoot), and you’re going to need it.
We’ve got our first intruder here. The 12 screen display might seem ridiculous to the modern critical gamer, and it’s certainly hard to understand when nothing is moving. However like almost any game Nintendo has ever made, it makes sense when you play it, and from the FIRST mission I felt pretty comfortable scanning the screen. It doesn’t feel like you have TWELVE screens to look at, because you’re looking for movement anywhere on the big TV. When you see movement, you automatically look at the camera number in that square, press it on the touch screen and BAM! Shoot that little robot into pieces. So in this screenshot, if the camera wasn’t focused on 1 already, you’d switch to Camera 1 and display it in the middle. Then you shoot it and immediately go back to scanning the whole picture, because this game is fast paced and the next robot is on its way. It feels like you’re a security guard on constant alert, and the game even plays on this in the story by “employing” you with a cute little ID card to accumulate points on.
Suddenly more enemies start pouring in, they really want these minerals. There’s now multiple on the screen at once, so you have to cycle to the next camera. There’s one at the Camera 3 entrance, BAM! Now switch to Camera 4, BAM! Aiming is done with the analog stick which disappointed me at first, being a gyro nut. However I quickly got over it, since this game isn’t really about precision aiming, just getting the enemies into focus. It’s also fitting for mechanic cameras to move slowly. This means in some cases it’s quicker to just switch to another camera, rather than slowly rotate one to look behind. The first few levels are not too difficult, but even simple enemy placement will get the juices going in your brain as you re-calibrate your focus and look everywhere, just to “make sure” nothing’s coming. It requires a perky peripheral engagement that makes this game exciting rather than stressful.
Here’s your camera setup on the GamePad screen. It looks like this during gameplay too, but this is before you start. Before each level you get grey dot intel from Slippy on where the enemies are going to come from, allowing you to configure your camera positions in advance. In this picture I’ve dragged Camera 11 from the bottom to the top, just because I don’t need such heavy security for one robot. The cameras at the top will inevitably be attacked by large groups of enemies, so that’s why having more than one in a particular area is useful for backup.
Losing cameras is pretty scary. The enemies KNOW there are cameras and they get pretty smart and conscious about it. There are specifically designed Chaos robots in the game, who’s sole purpose is to mess with your cameras. Some robots will hug them, UFOs will spin them around, some will drop smokescreens, some will PICK THEM UP and take them somewhere, and some even use magnets to draw cameras in a particular direction. This game is not just about pushing back troops, but learning their behavior and outsmarting them. There are about 30 enemy types, which is more than the average tower defense game. There is a relentless onslaught of new enemies and patterns to deal with as you progress through the levels, since the levels only take a minute or two.
The more cameras you lose, the harder your job gets. The game will do everything it can to lure you into a state of panic, but as long as you have cameras left you need to focus. This game is intense right to the end, because even with ONE camera left you can technically still shoot the tops of some enemies from a distance to defend at the last second. You even get a little “Sniper” bonus for these shots. If any enemy is behind a wall, you can also drag your camera there DURING gameplay on the touch screen. It’s VERY difficult to drag one single camera around to get multiple enemies and not recommended, but it’s possible. This full control is what makes Guard a lot more engaging than most tower defense games, it’s become almost a signature Nintendo approach to any genre at this point. It’s like you’re getting in there yourself and aiming those things where you want, FROM where you want.
Welcome to Zoness, one of 5 different planets in the game with its own set of maps and hazards. Each planet has its own atmosphere with Titania featuring rising sand for example, and Zoness as shown in this screenshot getting very dark and spooky. There is one mission (not in the screen above) that is completely in the dark and it’s terrifying. This game has shades of survival horror as you scan the cameras and see their creepy robot heads pop up, especially when you missed one coming in. My heart rate shoots right up when I suddenly notice an enemy near the middle, because you have to be pretty damn quick at that point. The variety of enemies ramps up as you go to different planets, and suddenly you’ve got smokescreens and UFOs to deal with, as well as these shield robots you have to distract and hit from behind.
The music in Zoness is also a big highlight, with a real slow crawling melody making the place feel like a robot graveyard. It’s a very different soundtrack to Star Fox Zero, with more focus on the melodies and different pacing. It has a lot of fun arrangements and a more classic videogame feel, compared to the epic nature of Zero.
While it’s nice to go to different planets, I didn’t like the “compressed” nature of the gameplay structure, with the levels being too short and easy. This game has SO many great ideas but they only last for about a minute, and the game just moves on so quickly to the next map or the next planet. It’s almost frustrating how fast-paced the level progression is, because once you get your head around how to beat a certain enemy, you don’t get challenged to a higher degree. Instead, it’s constant relentless adaption to the next gimmick. I use gimmick as a positive word, by the way. I love gimmicks. There are SO many different enemies in this game with different abilities, movement patterns, speeds and strengths. It’s a very rich game from a gameplay perspective, and quite amazing how much they did in the very first iteration of this concept. The one gameplay element I thought was really fleshed out is something I didn’t expect at all, boss fights.
This game has a boss at the end of every planet and they are ridiculously awesome and terrifying. These giant robots walk around the entire map with huge strength and speed, and it’s a struggle to even keep them on the screen, let alone shoot them. They have their own weak points, multiple phases, and different attacks to give an incredible feeling of intensity and a huge sense of scale. I died on most of these the first time, but once you learn their patterns they aren’t overly extreme in their difficulty. Still awesome though, and I’ve replayed them a lot even after beating the main story.
The story was not meant to be a strength of this game, but it’s surprisingly charming and I really enjoyed it. Grippy Toad is fucking hilarious and the Star Fox universe is fully utilized to prove the concept, with the planets in the Lylat System being a good reason to get minerals from different places. There is a lot of banter between Grippy, Slippy and the enemies and the presentation values for the story are surprisingly high with cutscenes outside the levels and unexpected interactions. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this game had more dialogue than Zero. The ending of the game is also INCREDIBLE, I won’t spoil anything but it was just very well done and the game really doesn’t leave anything unchecked from a presentation standpoint. It is absolutely worth beating the main missions just to see the story through.
Star Fox Guard also has a level editor, and the online scene is pretty unique. Unlike Mario Maker, this has the opposite problem of most levels being too easy. It’s actually a legit challenge to try and make a hard level. “Trolling” levels in this game are just when people spam the fastest enemies and have them enter at the same time. However, it doesn’t really work since they are so predictable and the game has limits on how many enemies you can deploy. You can just set up one camera near the center and blast them one by one, if the player spams nothing but fast units. The game is so confident in its level editor, that you don’t even need to beat your own level to upload it. The ACTUAL harder levels I’ve played throw ghosts and magnets at you, and force you to deal with them while fast enemies slip through unnoticed. Most user levels I have beaten first go, since it’s hard to get too creative with these restrictions. The game acknowledges this with a “win streak” counter, so the challenge when playing other levels is being consistent. You get more points and can level up quicker this way to unlock bonus missions in the main game, and there’s also achievements tied to your win streak. This brings me to another problem however.
There’s an awful grind in Star Fox Guard that is completely unnecessary. I’ve played the game a LOT and I’m still only level 40, with more bonus missions to unlock. I was aiming to get to level 50 before doing this writeup, but it’s going to take me weeks to get there playing regular levels, and I don’t want to force myself to grind and take the fun out of the game. Even worse, the fastest way to level up is to play certain single player missions (Corneria B Survival is my recommendation for grinders). This is just bad design, as it discourages players from going online and being active in the community. It seems counter-intuitive that such a mechanically focused gameplay-first game would rely on an RPG grinding system to unlock things.
There are no high scores saved for individual levels which is a shame, as the only purpose of replaying things is adding to that overall total. It’s the opposite motivation to Star Fox Zero, where I got incredibly addicted to refining the gameplay. Guard is structured so a level feels exactly the same every time. So I guess anyone who thought Zero was too short, will find a lot of value in THIS game watching a pointless bar go up. It’s a bit frustrating to me because there’s a lot of easy ways this could have been fixed, just by implementing a scoring system within the levels. I would love to see an “Endless Mode” to this game, where the map doesn’t end after a minute. I could easily sit back and zone out for an hour just having fun, defending myself down to the last camera. Oh well.
Despite a few weird problems with its structure, Star Fox Guard is a LOT of fun and has more than proved itself as a worthwhile concept. Hell, it’s better than any other tower defense game ever made just because you have so much control over the gameplay. My “problems” don’t really exist until you play about 15 hours and find yourself wanting more. It feels a bit like Miyamoto passed this to a different development team, and they didn’t know what to do with it. Pure speculation on my part, but it’s just what it feels like. Perhaps it was also shortened as a result of being an eShop priced game, which is also a shame because I feel like this could have justified a full price purchase, with brilliant gameplay execution, a lot of new ideas and high production values. The market doesn’t see things the way I do though.
Every security guard should be trained on this game, because unless cute robots starting robbing museums, it’s far more action than they’ll ever see. That brings me to another “issue” with this game, completely unrelated to the gameplay. It seems like nobody is playing this game when they should be. It’s a brand new idea by Miyamoto and is super accessible, fun and cheap. It ticks every box of a smash hit videogame in 2016. Nintendo’s “problem” with this game is they assumed the Star Fox universe was a selling point, when it has just given gamers an excuse not to play it, and reviewers an excuse to say “it’s not Star Fox”. If the game scenario was skinned as some Meme Lord stopping kids in a mall, it’d be a slightly worse game but probably would have sold a million copies. I’m not trying to downplay the Star Fox universe because I personally love it, just trying to emphasise how instantly appealing this gameplay is. You just look around with high intensity and shoot things. Unlike Star Fox Zero which I’d say is a pretty hardcore game (just like Star Fox 64), I’d recommend Guard to people of any experience. The concept immediately makes sense and there’s a lot of charm packed into the main story missions.
For anyone with the game, I’ll share a couple of levels I tried to make challenging. I’ve had a few people online lose to them on their first attempt, which brought my score up a bit. I think that’s all you can really hope for with so many restrictions. Regardless, it’s a lot of fun to see what people come up with, and I get a kick out of watching the replays. Mwauahahahaha.
Titania B – 3P0NC29
Grippia C – 8HHF30V