STAR FOX ZERO Review

It’s always great to see a franchise return after a rather long hiatus. Mario and Zelda are fortunate enough to get titles frequently, but it could take awhile for others. (Metroid for example.) In the case of Star Fox, it had been 10 years since the last main game. Yes, in 2011 there was the 3DS remake of 64, but the last new game in the series, Command, came out back in 2006. One could then imagine the immense hype when ZERO was announced. This would be the first home console game for the title character since Gamecube’s Assault back in 2005. This would also look to be a much needed addition to the Wii U, which lacks a large array of great titles. Zero brings the franchise back to its roots and attempts to be much like what Super Mario Galaxy was to 64. It contains many of the classic elements while being something new. Sadly, there are quite a few aspects holding it back from being called a “great” game.

One of the more interesting aspects is the game’s story mode. For awhile it was quite vague whether this would be some kind of reboot or not. Well, it definitely is. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up for debate. On one hand, it had been a long time since the previous game so it makes sense Nintendo would want to revamp the story for a new audience. On the other hand, starting over and erasing a rich history could be a bit alienating. On the onset Nintendo does a pretty good job setting up the story through a solid intro. It sets the tone and introduces the characters well. After that however is when the writing takes a turn for the dull side.

Despite being a reboot, the game assumes you know these characters. Because of this, there isn’t much in the way of character development. Most of the time, you can interchange any character for any line and it wouldn’t make a difference. Instead of great banter between the characters, we get generic dialogue such as “Way to go Fox!” and “Are you OK?” Even worst, Star Wolf appears for basically a non-role. Again, the game assumes you know these characters and the relationships between them. This kind of thinking doesn’t work for a reboot. Who is Star Wolf? Why does he look similar to Fox? Are they old enemies? Instead of answering these questions, the game speedily has the player do the missions with very few cutscenes or explanations. This leads me to the game’s biggest drawback: the length.

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I personally would say any mainstream game (as in one that will cost you $60) should aim to be at least 8 hours. You can beat Zero in under half that. You can pick it up at 10 am and have it done before 2. That is unacceptable and makes it feel like we got half a game. It’s a shame because it has the making and look of an all-star title. The story is rich in concept, but the game doesn’t utilize it effectively. According to the intro Pigma pretended to be with the team, but was found to be a traitor working for Andross. The game could have spent some time on that aspect of the plot, because in theory that should be pretty deep. Instead, we have Pigma saying uninspired lines such as “Stop treating me like a pig roast!”

Adding more missions would have been a solid way to prolong the main mode, but that in itself wouldn’t have been enough to save the story. The game has excellent animation, some of the best graphics on the Wii U. It’s a shame it’s wasted on recycled radio scenes. Also adding more missions could have made the gameplay repetitive, so I think they should have brought back the on-foot patrol from the criminally underrated Assault. This way we could have had another gameplay element stopping the Arwing and Walker parts from becoming tedious. Of course, this would have only mattered if the game were longer. Sadly, you’re paying for half a game.

One more aspect of the writing worth discussing is Katt Monroe. As longtime fans know, Fox had a love interest named Krystal starting from back in Adventures. Sadly, Nintendo dropped the ball and ruined her in Command. I suppose the thought process here was to erase that and have someone else. The problem is that Katt appears out of nowhere. What’s even more strange is that she appears and Fox for some reason doesn’t say a word. It’s incredibly bizarre. Then, she reappears and hints at apparently knowing Falco at some point. Here Fox acknowledges her, but she disappears again for the rest of the game. Who was she? How does she know Falco? Was Fox simply awed by the pink color that he couldn’t speak? These are questions the mediocre writing leaves.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the game is the gameplay. Nintendo opted to use motion control with the Gamepad. Motion control isn’t inherently a bad thing, but often can take away from the core gameplay, making things unnecessarily complicated or worse: making what would be good gameplay broken. Here the game gives us two options: have motion control always on, or only when targeting. I’m really glad they added that second option, because to leave it on all the time is too “loose.” You’re bound to miss more with motion control always on, so there’s virtually no reason to keep it. With that said, the gameplay besides this is solid. It plays like how a Star Fox game should be. There are some instances where it feels like the controls are working against you (such as in the first battle against Pigma) but for the most part Nintendo has the player make excellent use of the cockpit in Gamepad view (plus fantastic use of both joysticks) and big screen TV view.

A good chunk of the missions are very well done and forces the player to strategize. Later you have the ability to shift from Arwing mode to Walker, which mixes up the way the player does things. Despite surprisingly appearing very little, the Landmaster is also put to fantastic use. There’s a sense of urgency and danger to most of the missions, starting right from the entrance to Corneria. This leads to perhaps the game’s biggest positive: a genuine difficulty. Even the most seasoned of players will have some trouble with a few of the boss fights. The Landmaster vs. Subterranean Weapon Scrapworm was very well done for example. The final boss was also challenging and I doubt many will be able to beat it on a first try. As a whole, the game harkens back to Nintendo’s glory days of providing legitimate challenges, which makes most of their modern entries, such as Yoshi’s Woolly World, look even worse.

Another strong positive is the game’s soundtrack. Nintendo is typically known for its great music, and this game is no different. Starting from the game’s intro it brings back many of the classic Star Fox themes for a new age. While Wolf was sadly underwritten and underused, at the very least his remixed theme song was a blast to hear. There’s also some excellent choir at the right times throughout the story. How about other modes? The game offers cooperative play, which is nice, but there should have been a separate “vs.” also. Assault had one of the greatest multiplayer modes from a Nintendo title, so it’s a shame we didn’t get something like that here. There’s also Arcade mode, but it’s essentially playing the entire game again. If there was a reward worth acquiring, it might be worth it, but the only other unlockable mode is Sound Test, which is incredibly disappointing.

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Overall, Zero has a lot of good features but too many drawbacks hindering what could have been a stellar product. $60 is a lot of money, so I expect something that’ll last a bit, not a game where one is able to complete in under 3 hours. The gameplay needs a little polishing, but I think the usage of a cockpit view working alongside a general view is brilliant, and to be fair it does work most of the time. (With motion controls turned off anyway.) The aerial and ground fights provide a solid challenge for old and new fans alike. The story sadly is incredibly lackluster. With more of an emphasis on writing, it could have at least made the short game more engaging on that front. Still, to call Zero a bad game would do it injustice, because it’s not. At its best, it provides a definitive Star Fox experience. It however lacks enough substance to be called anything other than “pretty okay.”

6.5/10

The Fall of Nintendo’s Core Gaming

I’ve been a fan of Nintendo for about 15 years now. I’ve seen the way they they’ve changed their games from era to era, console to console. It’s also interesting to see the things that have not changed. The company is still the king of unique first party titles. They deliver bright, colorful, fantastical stories and worlds.  When one thinks of Nintendo they think of mushrooms, princesses, stars and things related. In the distant past they’ve bordered on only having games for core gamers (the ones who go down to Gamestop and invest hours into each game) and also for the whole family such as Mario Party. The company kept a balance, but they didn’t forget that they were a video game company first and foremost in making quality single player (and multiplayer) experiences. What’s the purpose of  a video game? Generally speaking, I believe the purpose is to challenge the player to complete some sort of quest. On another note, there’s also party games, racing games, fighting games and sport games, all of which the major companies have.

But the core thing is to generally challenge the player, young or old, and to throw them in an unknown world. The goal is to complete the adventure, whether it be saving the world, rescuing the princess, or becoming the world champion. Nintendo has delivered these things in different formats very well over the years. Of course as you probably noticed I used the term “distant past” to describe Nintendo’s practices. That’s because I believe the company has truly fallen short these past years.

Recently it was announced that the upcoming STAR FOX ZERO would be including a mode called “Invincibility.” Basically, it will make the Arwing invulnerable, granting players the ability to fast-blast the level. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head at this. Let’s think about it for a second: the game is literally giving you a cheat code. It’s telling the player that if this is too hard for you, here, take a pass. You might tell me that just because it’s there doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, have to use it. True. The thing is that it shouldn’t be there at all. A kid playing is given an option to defeat the level without overcoming anything. This defeats the purpose of a challenge to be overcome. The fact that it’s there encourages the easy way out when something seems too hard.

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Let’s say you’re faced with an exam. It’s truly tough and you’re having a hard time completing it. Instead of the student learning to study harder, the teacher decides to give you the answers, guaranteeing a pass. Does this ever happen? Should it happen? Of course not. Things like “Invincible Mode” encourages no hard work. Back in the day you had games like Yoshi’s Island and Mario Sunshine. These games didn’t have invincibility modes. The players, whether they be kid or adult, had to learn to overcome each stage every time they got stuck. There was no “holding the player’s hand.”

If Zero was the only game with this type of mode I wouldn’t have too much of a problem. The thing is that this has been a practice of Nintendo for years now and has become a staple for the company. In New Super Mario Bros. Wii (7 years ago) after losing eight lives the game offers the player a “Super Guide.” Basically if they use it the game shows the player how to beat the obstacle. Instead of the player using their head, the game offers a cheat. Super Mario Galaxy 2, one of the finest platformers ever made, sadly utilizes this concept and takes it a step further. If the player chooses to gain the help of a “Cosmic Spirit,” it will literally possess Mario and propel him to the end on auto-pilot. In Yoshi’s Woolly World the game constantly reminds you that you have “badges” to help make the already easy game, easier. You wouldn’t find this stuff on the Gamecube.

This isn’t only limited to Mario games. In SONIC LOST WORLD for Wii U and 3DS it allows the player to skip segments after losing a number of times. You’ll pretty much never find this on any Playstaion or Xbox game. Of course, the actual Nintendo games are usually of quality despite having that Super Guide option. Even then, those quality games are becoming rarer since the company has put their attention elsewhere. Where did this begin? With the Wii.

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The Wii was revolutionary for introducing motion control to the world of gaming. While on the onset it was a brilliant idea, it would be the start of Nintendo’s downfall. Why? Because with motion control Nintendo started to shift away from core gameplay experiences to things like Wii Fit. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a game like the Fit, (it does have great benefits) but the problem is that starting there is when the company began to be known not by its games, but by its gimmicks. This isn’t the main negative aspect however. The really awful aspect starting with the Wii is that Nintendo had become known for being squarely aimed at non-gamer children. Remember the game Transformers: War for Cybetron? It was ported to the Wii under the title “Cybertron Adventures,” a severely watered-down version. The Wii also featured the largest amount of shovelware and Z rank games to date. You wouldn’t find low budget entries like those on the PS3 or Xbox 360. Things like these alienated gamers from Nintendo. (Why should a Wii owner get a lesser version of the same game?) The company still hasn’t quite recovered from the Wii era.

Nintendo also seems to really dislike the internet and competitive scene. Leaderboards and player rankings have been virtually nonexistent. One would imagine with its latest console, the Wii U and its biggest fighting game to date, Super Smash Bros., they would implement a leaderboard system like how Capcom is doing it with Street Fighter V. But we didn’t get that. (At least Pokken features a ranking system, though not in-depth.) The servers are almost seamless on all PS4 and Xbox One games. The peer-to-peer system of Smash can often be full of lag, making some battles online almost unplayable. What could be worst however is how the company interacts with its fanbase, which is basically nonexistent. Their secretive policies in Mario Maker for example shows that they have no idea how to communicate with their own fans.

Nintendo is so out of the loop with how to market products that many people still don’t know that the Wii U is completely separate from the Wii. I was talking to someone not too long ago and when I inquired about the U he thought it was just another version of the Wii. The U is one of Nintendo’s worst selling consoles to date for this very reason. While it has stepped away from some of the failures of the Wii, it hasn’t reached the greatness of the Gamecube and its predecessors in delivering consistent, quality content. A running joke which is still going is a lack of third party support. Ubisoft have said in the past they wouldn’t release more exclusives until the system sold more units. Sadly, Nintendo has thrown itself into a hole which could take quite awhile to get out of. The sad thing is that they don’t seem to care!

The Wii U has been out for just four years and Nintendo is already prepping release for their next home console. This is their not so subtle way of saying the U was a failure. The company is so set on Miis and Ambiibo gimmicks that they’ve forgotten what gamers want to play. A prime example of this is the upcoming 3DS Metroid game, Federation Force. Instead of giving us the next Samus Aran installment after 6 years, we’re getting  a 4 player co-op where she isn’t even a focus! (The first trailer received over 25,000 dislikes on YouTube day one.) The company doesn’t seem to understand that this is not something a fan wants to invest hours into.

From the NES to the Gamecube, the company was in its prime. Since the Wii the company has moved away from its earlier practices. The Wii alienated many people a couple of years in as it started to focus on other areas than delivering quality gameplay. That’s not to say every game was bad, because the console houses some truly fine additions. There’s more mediocre than positive however. The continuing usage of a “Super Guide” and “Invincibility Mode” shows that Nintendo isn’t in the same mindset as the Yoshi’s Island days. The Wii U doesn’t look to pick up as already the NX is being released in the near future. Nintendo was once a company which delivered consistent, fantastic games which made the player smile and challenge them to overcome obstacles. Now I’m inclined to say their competitors are better at being video game companies. The sales showcase this too, for Nintendo has been in decline since the Wii U has failed to sell as much as the PS4 and Xbox One. (To put this in perspective, it took the U 3 years to sell 10 million units, while the PS4 and Xbox One only 1 year!)

Wii-U-LogoI don’t think Nintendo is going to regain the respect of gamers anytime soon. Maybe the NX will change things. (That’s the hope anyway.) If the company can start delivering quality content consistently from the start and slowly move away from its Mii, family party-centered practices it can happen. Again, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having gimmick or party-like games. Families should be playing together. The company however should put their focus in making challenging installments for the main buyers of a video game console, the gamers.