The wait is finally over. After nearly a decade after the release of Star Fox Command, we are finally treated to a brand new Star Fox game that isn't a re-release or an enhanced port of an older entry in the series. HOWEVER, it unfortunately isn't a new addition to the story as it is a full on reboot of the series' timeline. In addition, I have also had an unfortunate lack of self-control as I often found myself reading early reviews of the game before its official release, and almost all of them say the exact same thing: They "disliked the game's gimmicky controls" or it is "failed to recapture the spirit of the original." Well I played it thouroughly and in this review, I intend to disprove those so-called professional reviews that likely never gave the game a chance.
JUST A HEADS UP
Unlike my past reviews, this one contains major spoilers to the game's rebooted story.
If you do not wish to be spoiled on the game's altered plot, please stop reading now.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Now as I was saying, Star Fox Zero has been completely rebooted and everything in it was re-imagined from scratch. Shigeru Miyamoto has even described it has being neither a sequel or a prequel, so I guess that would be an apt enough description. The game for the most part has the same design as the previous games where you would either fly down a predetermined path and shoot anything that impedes your progress, or have free-range flight where you need to actively hunt down your targets. But an additional level element was added to the game to make it feel a little more cinematic: Target Mode, where the target enemy is always the focus on the TV screen. This is where the game's new control gimmicks come into play.
Unlike Star Fox 64 or Star Fox Assault, Star Fox Zero has a brand new control scheme that tries to take advantage of the Wii U GamePad as much as possible. The GamePad's screen always has a first person view from the cockpit of the Arwing, the radio transmissions from your squad-mates and enemies only come from the GamePad's speakers, and aiming the targeting reticle is primarily done with the GamePad's gyro sensor. In addition to these GamePad gimmicks, the controls were mixed up a bit as well in an attempt to try and emulate the controls of a fighter jet (all steering is on the left stick, thrusters and rolling is on the right stick, and the ship's guns and bombs are on the ZR and R buttons respectively). And if that wasn't enough, there are three vehicles that each have different controls with two of them having the ability to transform which alters their controls even further. With these new controls and gimmicks, it makes the game feel a bit awkward and confusing to play, especially during the Target Mode segments where the camera focuses entirely on the enemy. It all makes it feel not fun...AT FIRST.
You see, this game had a very unusual form of Stockholm Syndrome on me. After I did a few missions in the game (about 2 hours worth) and played through some of the alternate paths, it all suddenly clicked for me and the controls finally started to make sense. From that point on, I was starting to enjoy the game much more than I was previously. The action was fast and exciting, the varied gameplay styles were a nice change of pace, and the environments were creative and colorful. I was even able to finally enjoy the music as well as most of them were remade from Star Fox 64. The amiibo features were also quite fun; playing as the Retro and Black Arwings gave the game a new challenge to it I was hoping for. It's just a shame that after I had gotten used to the controls that there is no multiplayer (local OR online) outside of the local Co-Op Mode (which is basically a Han & Chewie mode where one pilots the ship and the other mans the guns).
Now the story and level progression is where this game takes an unprecedented turn. Unlike Star Fox 64 which is where Zero gets most of its inspiration, the game is mostly linear with branching paths having little to no impact on the ending of the game. This is a rather big oversight as Star Fox 64 had a great reward system where in most stages if you did an unknown additional task during the level such as killing a certain number of enemies before the end or by keeping a certain character alive, you were given the opportunity to take a harder path which would lead to the true final battle and the canon ending of the game. Because that is no longer the case, there is now a lack of motivation to unlock the alternate paths (even though I did it anyway). In addition to this, many of the stages from the original game have been renamed, removed or completely changed to fit the new story. The Nebulae Sectors are now Alpha, Beta, and Gamma instead of X, Y, and Z; Area 6 has been replaced with a new Sector which appears to be a black hole called Sector Omega; Aquas, Katina, Macbeth, and Bolse are completely absent; and the biggest offender, Venom has been reduced to the size of a small moon and remodeled to be a Death Star like device. This last bit right here is why I can safely say that Zero is a reboot and not a re-imagining; it makes the plot of Star Fox Command completely null and void. That being said, I still really liked the level design and I loved the boss fights.
Now the post-game content is probably where a lot of players will get the most enjoyment assuming they stuck around long enough to beat the game. Finishing the main story once will unlock Arcade Mode which is a one sitting play-through of the game with no system map, and only ONE life. You can collect three gold rings to store an extra life for later, but they unfortunately don't stack. That means, one extra life is all you can keep at any one time. This, and the fact that the game keeps track of your high-score and all of the different flight paths you take during a single run is what Miyamoto was talking about when he and Platinum were trying to make the game as replayable as possible. And every time I beat it, I can't help but shed a tear whenever I see that dedication to Iwata in the credits.
All in all, Star Fox Zero is quite fun, but only after you get the hang of the controls. As such, I will not be giving this game a star score like I usually do since it is very much an acquired taste due to the steep learning curve. The remade story completely changed the timeline for the earlier made games, but if Nintendo were to continue the series, I'm sure they could figure out how to reintroduce old characters and worlds. Now the physical version of the game also came with Star Fox Guard as a bonus, but I'll cover that another time. But until then, I'll be seeing you.
Edited by Gilgamesh