I’ll never forget Star Fox 64. It was the first Nintendo 64 game that was purely mine and it sent me off to a brand new galaxy ripe for exploring and protecting. Ever since then, Nintendo has flirted with the idea of bringing back Fox and his star-fighting friends, with at least one game that shall remain nameless, but they’re finally on the way and they’re setting a course for your Wii U system with Star Fox Zero.
So what is Star Fox Zero? Is it a remake? Is it a prequel? Is it a sequel? Honestly I’m not even sure, and I don’t think Nintendo is either. What’s certain is that elements of the previous games are back and that flying a spaceship equipped with laser guns has never been more fun. You play a Fox, the leader of the roaming band of mercenaries “Star Fox,” and fly around the galaxy taking out enemy fighters in a number of interesting and exciting locales.
The first level I played for “Zero” was on the familiar planet of Corneria. Though the environment looks mostly familiar, there are some changes to the landscape including vast canyons with rivers running through, and hidden caves behind waterfalls which you can also fly through. Otherwise, the first phase of the level, of which there are three, is largely similar to the Corneria levels of past right down to enemy placement, which isn’t entirely a bad thing and may in fact be intentional in order to get players familiar with the world once again.
Following that, the level enters ‘Phase 2,’ where the Arwing enters all range mode and is tasked with protecting the tower that General Pepper is secured in. The area is under attack from smaller ships and is its own self-contained area but visually it’s quite striking. Certainly my favorite thing about the Wii U is how it’s really brought the Nintendo characters and worlds into high definition, and they’ve outdone themselves with Star Fox Zero. Following those ships, some spider-like mechs that seek to topple the tower emerge. The trick for them is they’re only vulnerable on their top side, which is where the GamePad comes in. Players can use the television, with a third person camera, for the entire game, but the GamePad offers a first person cockpit view, which is advantageous for moments requiring precision.
The big bad showed up after this, a giant space station piloted by one of Andross’ many fanatical ape followers. Here’s where Nintendo takes another unexpected right turn, there’s more than one way to defeat all of the bosses in the game. You can simply go after all of the exterior weak points of the game (less fun) or you could breach the ship’s hull and fly inside like “Return of the Jedi.” I went for this tactic, after blowing open a hole in the side (and using the GamePad for accurate flying!) I flew in and converted the Arwing into the walker. It sounds like an engineering nightmare, but when you remember you’re playing as an anthropomorphic fox it doesn’t matter. Walking in like an AT-ST, I blew up the core and flew out of the ship that plunged into the ground below. The controls for firing while in walker mode do take some getting used to, especially when you’re trying to strafe from enemy fire.
Overall Star Fox Zero’s controls are simple enough, getting the hang of the motion does take time. There’s also the matter of looking down from your TV to your GamePad, which takes getting used to but ends up being a valuable feature. Even if the game’s controls weren’t easy to master it would still be a delight to play, because there is really nothing else quite like it, plus it just looks incredible.