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'Star Fox: Zero': Shiny new controls, same old story

Your rating: None Average: 3.3 (8 votes)

starfoxzero.jpgIt's time to return to the Lylat System and step into the Arwing cockpit as the latest Star Fox game, Star Fox: Zero comes out for the Wii U system. After a decade absence from the Nintendo console game lineup, will this reboot of the franchise give new hope to the fans, or will disappointment strike it back? Here are my thoughts on the latest adventure of the space faring mercenaries.

Story

The Lylat Wars are to the space shooter what World War II has been to the first person shooting genre. It has been done to death. We've stormed the virtual beaches of Normandy just as frequently as we have staved the Andross invasion of Corneria. The events that lead up to those events are typically glossed over. Unfortunately, there seem to be interesting things that lead up to the events depicted, but we're handed the information, once again, via exposition.

Yes, this game is indeed a reboot of the franchise. And this is befitting of a game whose logo is essentially a fox chasing its own tail. It is the conflict between Corneria and Venom that many gamers are familiar with.

In some pre-game interviews done with Shigeru Miyamoto it sounded like there was going to be some reveals in this. Some more depth into the relationship between fox and his father. Some more understanding into the events that created the conflict between the canines General Pepper represents and the monkeys that Andross leads into battle. However, I am loathe to report that we are not told anything that we didn't already know. Fox's father had died. Andross went evil. These aren't spoilers in any regard, as there is nothing to spoil.

Luckily, they do bring back the tradition of branching paths on the journey to Venom. Unfortunately you won't be able to access most of those branches the first time you play. Most of them require unlocking something before being able to go down the branch, which is more like Pokémon Snap than Star Fox 64.

To me, this means one of the greatest purposes of the branching paths is lost. The feeling that you are creating the story. Sure, the beginning and the ending are fixed, but the journey to get there was completely up to you.

Not only is the biggest branch, the one in Corneria, not accessible the first time through, but it is also has a humongous plot hole in it. The final boss on both paths is piloted by the same creature, and in the more difficult version you had to access via the walker you unlock in the second level, he acts as if he has seen you before.

From the context of Fox's perspective this makes no sense. The only way he would have seen Fox before is if you stayed on the main path. But Fox didn't go that route, he went off to the side, meaning he never saw this monkey and they wouldn't be able to recognize him as a result.

It ruins the illusion that you chose this path, and that you never went down that first one. It reminds you you played this mission before in a different way and destroys the illusion that this is just a game, not a journey.

And the whole "space time warp" wormhole mechanic was completely wasted. They could have done anything with it. They could have turned the whole traditional telling of the Lylat Wars on its head. It could have had you visiting places in the Star Fox series future before returning him to the past. It could have given people something to talk about other than the controls. But it didn't, and that's unfortunate. The only side mission people really talk about is one where you get to play as another member of Star Fox, but they could have done that without this mechanic. In fact, why not do that more often?

Control

Interestingly this has been the aspect of Star Fox: Zero that has received the most coverage from the press. It is certainly the most controversial part of the game. There are some out there that love it, others out there that loathe it. I can say I lean toward the former. However there are little hiccups here and there.

My inability to pilot the Arwing like an ace when first starting the game was, ironically, the most nostalgic aspect of the game to me. I mean, sure those of us in our thirties are masters at button mashing at this stage of our game playing lives. But were we always? Star Fox was one of the first games I played on the SNES, and those shoulder buttons were weird, man! I thought to do a barrel roll I had to tap both of them at the same time based on the instruction on the game. How foolish did I feel when I learned that double tapping either would work?

In both games, my inability to grasp the control did me in for a bit. But over time, I got better at handling it. There are things I especially applaud in the new motion controls and that is being able to get creative with how you approach attack and defense. In most of the earlier Star Fox games, if someone is behind you, you had one option: do a loop/somersault. Basically dog fights would feel boring as you feel as if you're just looping like a mad dog until you win.

You can certainly still do this here, but given your ability to change into a walker you can also consider doing what I ended up calling a "dead duck drop". When an enemy is behind you, you can transform into a walker which will cause you to sink straight downward. At that point you can either point your nose up and shoot at the enemy, or change back into an Arwing and give pursuit.

Coming up with such creative maneuvers kind of reminded me, however, that one would never be able to perform this kind of stunt of in any multiplayer dogfights, which stinks. The AI only provides so much challenge.

One of the major hiccups, though, is some of the joystick shortcuts for u-turning and looping can sometimes be triggered when you are trying to pull off other maneuvers. It's kind of a big deal given the controls were the foundation of the game's creation. It's also kind of obvious that the motion controls were designed with the Gyrowing in mind, as that's the machine it worked best with. It is my guess is that was the ship that it was designed for before Nintendo made this a Star Fox game.

In the end, this new mechanic was at least a reason to keep playing this through. I wanted to challenge myself to see what kind of crazy maneuvers I could pull off. And super bonus points to doing the flyby camera slowdown when fighting in close quarters with Star Wolf. It can be said that having the game control split like this can make the game enjoyable for spectators who get a more cinematic view on the TV while the player gets a more practical view for themselves.

I hear that co-op mode is pretty fun, it allows on player to focus on flying while the other focuses on manning the guns. Unfortunately, I didn't have any opportunity to test it. Yes, I am a loser who goes to work and then goes home and plays video games alone, what of it?

Conclusion

The Zero in Star Fox: Zero must be shorthand for zero-sum. Any gains made by introducing this new control scheme and allowing the player a new experience in piloting these spacecraft was lost by the sense of familiarity of the scenario evolved around the Lylat Wars. So much to the point where if you could just make the controls back to completely button based as many other reviewers wanted, then at that point one could argue "Why shouldn't I just pick up a remake of Star Fox 64?

It baffles me, quite deeply, why Nintendo has such a hard time doing anything new in the Lylat System. Of all the franchises the big N has, this one seems to be ripe for great stories ready to be told, for allowing us to view the wonders of the universe, to feel like explorers. This was what the originals did so well. You wondered what planet or nebula would be just around the corner and what new perils it would bring.

At this point, you know what you have: Titania, Fortuna, Corneria, Venom, probably some asteroid field. How about bring us to a new system? How about some actual development in some of the stories untold? What was the Star Fox team like under James McCloud? Could we play the missions leading up to Andross's banishment to another dimension?

I'm throwing out ideas for this particular franchise, because Nintendo's current staff has clearly run out. Or perhaps they weren't good story tellers to begin with. They make games, that's a different thing, and they are danged good at that in the very least. The gameplay here is great.

But I can say this: when are we going to get a Star Fox game that started off as an idea for a Star Fox game? Instead of waiting for some other game to come up with an idea that we pin a fox tail to and call it a day?

In the end, I feel if you took the strengths of Star Fox: Assault, with a story willing to take risks, and tied them with the strengths of Star Fox: Zero, a fun and intense journey across a hostile universe that the player feels they have some agency over, then you'd have a great Star Fox game. But for now, all we have is a game whose strengths and weaknesses combined put it just above mediocre.

Comments

Your rating: None

Y'know what I'd like to see in a Star Fox game? More variety, more enemies, more story. Even the Mario and Zelda series try some experimentation every so often, but the SF series seems stuck. BTW, the controls for Star Fox Zero sound like they're a major sticking point for many people - there was a lengthy rant I heard on a Kotaku podcast about how difficult it was to use the controller scheme.

Anyways... going to go on a tangent with something I'd like to see in a Star Fox game :)

Here's my idea, and I would love to pitch it to Nintendo if they had open ears for fans that want to see them succeed: Star Fox Academy.

I'm looking at some inspiration from the Star Wars games, or basically any established franchise that came out with a game where you create your own character - usually a low level recruit climbing the ladder, who has missions and interactions with the established characters.

You'd create your own character, play with his/her traits, strengths, weaknesses. You'd be joining the Cornerian army, building up your character starting with low level missions until you eventually are playing a key role with the Star Fox team - at least in story mode. Story mode would allow one overall threat which you would confront however your decisions built up your character - maybe you're more about ground warfare or tanks, have missions and story take you through that, or the more traditional space battles - maybe one of your missions is a distraction to help out Fox's team take out the main threat (or vice versa).

You'd have the main 1-player storyline and then also offer a sort of MMO environment for players online to interact with each other, go on missions, maybe stage wars against each other.

Oh lastly, I'd add in some new enemies. What about if it starts with the usual Andross vs Fox but then a third alien army appears out of nowhere? Maybe like a Borg, Tyranids, or whatever species of conquerors that just comes out of nowhere. You could mix in possibly teaming up with Andross, or maybe trying to thwart a team-up between him and the new foes, or an all-out battle. Something different!

Ah, another idea I've had which could be incorporated into maybe a more standard SF game - replace the animations of the characters with the puppets we've seen in their more recent promotions and advertisements. I think it'd be cute and different. Maybe make the game a little more light-hearted, like maybe a short story game that is a diversion rather and priced cheaper than a full-blow $60 price tag.

Anyways, my two-cent tangent :P

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

Star Fox fans are feeling the pain that Paper Mario fans felt when Sticker Star came out a few years ago. The Sticker Star developers revealed that they had designed a game with the tried-and-true gameplay of Paper Mario 2 but a new world to explore. But then Miyamoto threw out the design, made the devs create new gameplay (just because) and forced them to use the old Mushroom Kingdom setting and characters. The result was the worst Paper Mario game to date.

I've never really enjoyed a Star Fox game but I have to agree that the series has a fantastic aesthetic that really makes you want to explore this setting and its characters. The problem is that Miyamoto has no appreciation for world-building or fiction in general and actively fights attempts to expand the fiction in his pet series. And as much as I'd like to say he's just disconnected from his fans, the opinions I've seen him express about "casuals" lead me to believe that Miyamoto does know what customers want; he just doesn't care. He doesn't care about world-building, so his games don't have world-building. Simple as that.

Your rating: None

The only possible way to make Nintendo change is to hurt them in the pocketbook. As long as they're making money selling essentially the same game over and over again (and if it's their Virtual Console then you probably are buying the same game over and over again if you want it on multiple systems) they'll never change and Miyamoto's entourage will continue to hold too much influence on what they'll sell.

And I'd like to add to the list of disrespect Nintendo has shown its customers by bringing up the recent announcement that Zelda has once again been delayed - this time until 2017, around same time their next system will be released (and the new Zelda is now being advertised as for both the Wii U and the NX). The Wii U has sold fairly abysmally, I believe only beaten out by the Virtual Boy for worst selling system released by Nintendo.
So they're apparently following the failed business plan of the old Sega company - when a system has been outperformed by its competitors just jump to a new system... who knows whether Nintendo has reached the point of no return where fans stop shelling out dollars giving them the benefit of the doubt that the system will release enough quality games to make it worth their time and cash. So much wasted potential for that system - they never did justify that gamepad controller.

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First off, I want to apologize in advance for the incoming wall-o-text....

You complain about wanting a Star Fox game that started out AS an idea for a Star Fox game, instead of "pin the foxtail on the video game".... well, we have the reverse of that: NintendoLand's Metroid minigame was planned to be a Star Fox minigame, but was switched instead early on because they thought Metroid would be more recognizable. Unfortunately, if you're ignore Zelda or Mario or Donkey Kong, most ideas for game franchises don't stay as ideas for that particular franchise for too long.

As for the "Nintablet" (GamePad)... I believe it's more of an issue of committed costs: they already spent the money designing and making the GamePad and bundling it with the console, and since it's integral to its design and user interface, it's not going anywhere, so it may as well be put to use... I could write up a whole article on why I think the Gamepad was both a blessing and a curse (mostly a curse :P) for the console...

~ The Legendary RingtailedFox

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I love Shigeru Miyamoto and think of him as the father of modern video gaming, but I do agree, I think it's time for him to retire if he's out of ideas, out of creativity and letting his obsession with motion controls rule the day with his games. He's unrivalled as conceptual artist or "idea factory" for unique and original games, but Nintendo needs to break out of its hyperconservative shell and explore some world-building if they want to succeed... but no more innovation/gimmickry just for the sake of being different... the three big franchises they have that encourage this world-building, story-telling and exploration (The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and our beloved star Fox) are often given the "back-burner" treatment. I know few people will play Nintendo's games for their stories but that has to change.

I never did understand why Nintendo insists on chasing after the uninterested casual gamers. The Wii was a total flash in the pan, and lightning will NOT be striking twice. However, their new CEO (Kimishima, formerly of The Pokemon Company) has stated there will be a change of course in how things are done... so, the Nintendo that walks to the beat of its own drum is probably no more for the forseeable future, and may very well play "catch-up" and follow-the-leader like Sony and Microsoft in an attempt to regain marketshare.

Nintendo going the way of SEGA? AHAHAHAHAHA! Thanks for the laugh.... but no. They'll be fine. Thanks to the Wii and DS, Nintendo's built up a hefty warchest of something like $40 BILLION dollars. SEGA's fortunes went into an absolute nosedive: from a modest profit of $55 million USD in 1997 to a loss of $358 million in 1998, worsening to $429 million in both 1999 and 2000, and bottoming-out in 2001 at a whopping $521 million USD. They were still hemorhagging even after killing the Dreamcast in 2001, with 2002's losses of $180 million, and only posted a meager $30 million profit in 2003. Nintendo, in comparison, could stand to have a straight 20 years of WiiU-type performance before starting to sweat bullets. Hell, in 2012, they even considered BUYING SEGA from Sammy Holdings. That would've cost them basically all of their $40 billion dollar stash (despite being a total failure in video games, SEGA does still make awesome pachinko machines, and that's where 90% of their profits come from), so they declined to buy their Tokyo competitor. However, the NX very well could be their make-or-break console. If they screw IT up, then they may have to give up on consoles like SEGA did, but at least they can fall back on their handhelds like the 3DS (or, if the NX is a hybrid console, it may very well be immune to that). Even if they went handheld-only, they'd be alright since their handheld offerings are still surprisingly robust (in comparison to their consoles). Nintendo has stated that if they bow out of hardware entirely, they'll bow out of software too.. but that's only maybe in the extremely-long-term, like... 50 years from now. They've been around since 1889 and they'll probably be around long after we're all dead and gone :P

TL;DR version: Nintendo has more money than god and will be just fine. :D

~ The Legendary RingtailedFox

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"I never did understand why Nintendo insists on chasing after the uninterested casual gamers."

Because those casual gamers are the only reason that Nintendo "has more money than god" at all. The Nintendo 64 and Gamecube were both relative commercial failures and taught Nintendo the important lesson that their hardcore fanbase was not large enough to sustain their console business. So they designed the Wii to attract both lapsed gamers who stopped playing after the NES/SNES days and new players who were too intimidated by modern game design. AND IT WORKED! Nintendo made bank off of the Wii.

But ironically, it wasn't the casual gamers that abandoned Nintendo, it was Nintendo that abandoned the casual gamers. The biggest casual sellers on Wii (Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Wii Party, New Super Mario Bros. Wii) were given cheap, half-hearted sequels on Wii U whereas all the money and advertising went to the Gamecube sequels that casual gamers weren't interested in to begin with. It was really no surprise that the Wii U sold as badly as it did; it was targeted at the old hardcore audience that had already proven to be unable to sustain a console business.

Three times now, Nintendo have banked on the same core series (3D Mario, 3D Zelda, Mario Kart, Smash Bros.) to sell consoles and each attempt has resulted in increased failure. If the NX lineup revealed later this year turns out to be just more of these games again, then the NX is pretty well doomed. People buy video game consoles to play video games. If people don't want the games, they're not going to buy the console.

Your rating: None

The reason the N64 was a big failure (aside from its eight-month delay) was the fact that everyone else (developers and the console makers) moved on to the vastly-superior and cheaper (if slower) CD-ROM storage system, while Nintendo stuck with cartridges for the N64... the wonky space-alien controller did it no favours, either. I remember the PS1 taking up 50% of the market, the N64 taking 35%, and the Sega Saturn taking just 12% in that generation.

The Gamecube was actually the most-powerful of its generation (in terms of graphics power.... play Star Fox Adventures: Dinosaur Planet and just watch how the breeze in the wind moves Fox's fur as he runs... and that's with a console that can only do 480i or 480p output!), but it too was basically screwed before it was even released, thanks to the juggernaut that was the PS2 (which commanded a mind-boggling 70% market share and sold something like 150 million devices). Having a Mini-CD-type format for the Gamecube was an odd choice... but Nintendo explained that and the N64 cartridge as being its ways of preventing piracy, something that was rampant on the PS1 and Dreamcast.

I think the gamers are getting "franchise fatigue" from all the constant Mario games. Nintendo seems shocked that the franchise is all worn out, now. Smash Bros. is a fun diversion, but the gamers want action and stories, too... Nintendo needs to adapt if it wants to survive. Sega's franchises have been collecting dust... maybe they should re-think their decision on buying them... lol

~ The Legendary RingtailedFox

Your rating: None

While the relative cheapness of optical media might have given developers an incentive to make games for Playstation, it's not a be-it-and-end-all explanation for the N64's demise. After all, developers had no problem making games for Nintendo's cartridge-based handheld systems. There were even Metal Gear Solid and Perfect Dark games on Game Boy Color. Developers will bite the expense of cartridges in order to reap the greater rewards of a console's large install base.

The problem for the N64 was it didn't have a significant install base to begin with. And it was the job of Nintendo's first-party games to build that initial install base. Well, actually, it was the job of one specific first-party game to build that install base; Super Mario 64. Super Mario Bros. built the NES install base from day one, as did Super Mario World on the SNES. But Super Mario 64 did not have that effect; it didn't sell nearly as well as prior 2D Mario games and, more importantly, it didn't sell consoles nearly as well as prior 2D Mario games. As Nintendo released more Mario platformers, the pattern repeated. Wii and DS console sales spiked when a New Super Mario Bros. game was released, while Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy had barely any effect on the market. Of course, the NSMB sequels on Wii U and 3DS failed to sell consoles, but I think that can be attributed to their cheap "rom hack" design rather than a market shift. 3D Mario still fails to do much of anything.

Nintendo and their fans like to moan about the lack of third parties but it's ultimately the job of first party games to build that customer interest first. What the failure of N64, Gamecube and Wii U ultimately represent is a lack of customer interest in Nintendo's first party games. It can't be "franchise fatigue" because that wouldn't explain the early and immediate disinterest. I personally like the argument that Nintendo lives and dies by how closely it stands by its arcade heritage. NES, SNES and Wii brought arcade game design into the living room, delivering simple reflexive games that have an immediate appeal to a wide audience. Nintendo 64, Gamecube and Wii U strayed far from the arcade game design and were largely ignored by everyone except the Nintendo diehards. The problem is that Nintendo neither understands nor really likes its arcade heritage, especially Miyamoto. Miyamoto has said he doesn't want to make 2D Mario anymore. Aonuma has said he doesn't like the original Legend of Zelda. As much as Nintendo likes to promote its retro heritage to the fans, it's disingenuous. They only do it because their more recent passion projects have failed to generate any real passion in customers. It's a sad state of affairs that will create a lot of problems for Nintendo going forward.

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The problem with the N64 was that it lost to the PlayStation, following a previously unbroken winning streak. It didn't fail; it came in a respectable second place that looked bad because it was the first Nintendo console to not win.

Now, the GameCube, that one failed.

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About the author

Sonious (Tantroo McNally)read storiescontact (login required)

a Kangaroo from Syracroose, NY, interested in video games, current events, politics, philosophy and writing