Star Fox Zero was meant to be the game that saved the Wii U, which is odd considering most of it’s been lifted straight out of the N64 Star Fox classic, Lylat Wars. More a re-telling than a simple HD remake, Star Fox Zero has rebooted its somewhat aged predecessor to show exactly what the Wii U Gamepad is capable of, giving players a cockpit view of Fox’s Arwing for more precise aiming and first-person aerial acrobatics while the main on-rails action plays out on the TV in front of you.
On paper, it sounds like the brilliant flash of stardust Nintendo needs in order to go out with a bang on Wii U before everyone gets swept up by the official unveiling of its next console, which is currently codenamed NX. In practice, however, it’s a far more nebulous idea that often fails to create the same kind of satisfying space opera that Lylat Wars did almost twenty years ago.
The main culprit is its rather fussy controls. While the bulk of your flying is controlled by the two analogue sticks, you’ll need to use the GamePad’s motion sensors to fine-tune your aim in first-person. This is particularly true when the game breaks out of its traditional on-rails action and enters its 360 degree all-range mode.
However, when your aiming reticule has a habit of wandering off to the side, you’ll frequently need to recalibrate it by pressing in the L stick to bring it back to the centre, which isn’t exactly ideal when you’re in a heated dogfight with a skyscraper-sized boss. What’s more, the Arwing itself doesn’t feel nearly as nippy as previous entries in the series, and the whole act of flying, from its motion sensors to its slightly sticky analogue controls, feels clunky and laboured.
That said, all this isn’t nearly as bad as Star Fox Zero’s main new vehicle, the bipedal, almost chicken-like Walker mech. You can switch over to the Walker at any time while flying the Arwing by pressing A, even in the depths of space (in which it will flail its small wings about quite sweetly as it plummets down into the void). However, unless you really love awkward tank controls, then I’d recommend using it only when required.
^ The Gyrowing is one of Star Fox Zero’s better new additions, but its tethered hacking robot is severely underused
The Walker mainly comes into play when Star Fox Zero takes you into some rather more confined spaces than the series is traditionally used to, such as the inner passageways of giant robots or complex security beacons. However, while the ability to use the GamePad to shoot enemies both above and in front of you is pretty novel to start off with, the combination of the Walker’s limited manoeuvrability and its small field of view ends up making each of these relatively short sections of the game an exercise in frustration.
It’s a complaint that can be levelled at first-person flying as well, as I constantly found myself crashing into things simply because I couldn’t see them or didn’t have enough time to move out of the way. Had I two sets of eyes, I would have clearly seen these obstacles appear on the TV screen, but when you’re completely focused on trying to hit a tricky enemy weak spot on the GamePad, it quickly becomes quite difficult to find the right balance between each perspective.
^ During boss fights, the camera on the TV is permanently locked on to your main target, creating a more cinematic view of the battlefield, but it does little to help the player
It doesn’t help that Zero forces you into using the GamePad view for every last boss fight either. These always form the third and final phase of each stage, and whenever one appears onscreen, the action on the TV will automatically lock your perspective so the boss is always in the centre, creating a more sweeping, cinematic, but ultimately useless, view of the battlefield.
This leaves you trapped inside Fox’s tiny glass window on the GamePad, which not only makes it difficult to know where anything is due to the lack of a secondary mini-map, but it also makes it extremely hard to accurately judge the distance between you and your foe, especially when they’re chasing after you or preparing to charge across the arena. There was a reason why so many of Lylat Wars’ boss fights were limited to an on-rails camera, and Zero suffers all the more for constantly shoe-horning in this first-person flight mode.
^ On the GamePad screen, you’ll find a view of the cockpit, which gives you greater control over your aim, but doesn’t give you a good view of nearby obstacles
The Gyrowing, another new addition to Fox’s arsenal, is about the only vehicle that comes away unscathed, as this drone-like helicopter is more often used for solving puzzles than fast-paced combat. As a result, its slower, more relaxed style of flying doesn’t feel nearly as awkward as its cousins, and there are several moments when you’re descending into the innards of turret towers and laser beacons where the GamePad’s motion controls and 360 degree view really come into their own.
Sadly, these sections are painfully short-lived, and it’s a shame Star Fox Zero doesn’t make better use of its unique features. The same goes for Gyrowing’s rather charming remote-controlled hacking robot. As soon as you’ve got to grips with its endearing ability to disable foes by landing on their backs, it’s immediately substituted and replaced by more of Zero’s dreaded Walker.
Altogether, it makes Star Fox Zero feel more like a poor imitation of Lylat Wars than a truly innovative re-telling. Hindered by fussy controls and its frustrating shifts in perspective, you’d be better off picking up the original Lylat Wars from the Wii U’s Virtual Console than grapple with its infinitely inferior clone.