One of my favorite games on the Wii is WarioWare Smooth Moves. It makes excellent use of motion controls, and features some pretty entertaining microgames and mini games. One of the best is a “boss” mini game that recreates the Corneria stage from the original Star Fox, complete with SNES-style graphics. You steer the Arwing by tilting the Wii Remote, and it worked quite well. It made me wish for a new Star Fox on the Wii. Unfortunately, we didn’t get one until the recent release of Star Fox Zero on the Wii U.
Star Fox Zero once again reboots the series, telling the same story as Star Fox and Star Fox 64 before it. Right off the bat, this is disappointing; a new story would have been nice. Plus, the last game in the series, Star Fox Command, had multiple endings, so we never really got a conclusion. Actually, playing the first section of the first stage (set on Corneria of course), you might think this is a remake of Star Fox 64, as the stage is almost identical. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse.
The controls for this game are at best confusing and at worst terrible. At the beginning the Arwing controls just like it always did, with the option to use motion controls for precise aiming. The problem is that it isn’t an option: many enemies, including the bosses, have small weak points that you need to hit precisely. To do this, you often have to look back and forth between the TV and the cockpit view on the Gamepad. Adding this to a targeting mode that focuses the camera but not your targeting, and flying the Arwing becomes a cumbersome mess.
There are other vehicles to use as well, but they have their own issues. The Arwing now has a walker mode, which is a really cool idea. The best use the game makes of it is letting you fly up to an enemy ship and then seamlessly move through it, but there are also other situations where you would want to be on the ground. The only issue with the walker is that it has the same issues as the normal Arwing, but at least you can control your movement. The Landmaster returns as well, and for the most part it functions like it did in Star Fox 64. However, now it has a flying mode as well; you can switch back and forth, just like with the Arwing. It makes using the Landmaster much easier for some missions, and I like what it adds to the gameplay.
Finally, there’s a brand new vehicle called the Gyrowing. It differs from the Arwing in that you can fully control it in three dimensions. By default it will hover, and you use the analog sticks to move up, down, left, right, forwards, and backwards. You can also drop down an adorable robot on a rope, who can grab things, hit switches, and travel in small spaces. It’s a fun idea, but it too is ruined by the nature of the game’s controls. Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern by this point.
There are some saving graces for Zero though. While they don’t quite match Xenoblade Chronicles X or what we’ve seen so far from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the graphics are quite impressive. This is especially apparent at the beginning of the Corneria stage, because we can compare it directly to how it looked in previous games. The level designs, while inspired by Star Fox and Star Fox 64, are unique, which is generally a good thing. And I do like the amiibo functionality; using Fox to get a SNES-style Arwing is cool, and it even changes the music in Corneria to the classic theme. Beyond that, the game is fun when it works well. And with practice, you can become good at using the new control scheme.
But unless there’s a very good reason for it, a game shouldn’t force cumbersome controls on players. Splatoon’s motion controls were hard to use at first, but they eventually led to better aiming. The precision aiming just feels shoehorned in here, as an excuse to use the Gamepad. And even though I’m a fan of the Wii U controller, not every game needs to use it. Star Fox fans, in my experience, are looking for a new game that plays like Star Fox 64. Previous Star Fox games have introduced on-foot combat and turn-based strategy elements, but the core game play was always consistent. And honestly, if it isn’t broken, maybe you shouldn’t fix it.
A barrel roll won't save this game
Graphics - 9/10
Gameplay - 4/10
+ Excellent graphics for the Wii U
+ Some stages designed very well
– Forced motion controls
– Complicated aiming