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Don’t Believe the Hype. ‘Star Fox Zero’ is a Great Game and the Controls Aren’t Bad

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Star Fox Zero Wii U Review

Star Fox Zero is perhaps the last big game that will be released exclusively for the Wii U and it is a shame that it has endured such unfair criticism. Fox McCloud’s long-awaited comeback has faced a wall of skepticism ever since it was first unveiled at E3 two years ago and mainly because of the divisive control system. Critics haven’t been kind to it and some have been straight up lazy when reviewing the game. Take for instance a review published over at Polygon, which didn’t include a score because the author “didn’t have the patience to play it to completion”. The game certainly isn’t without its faults, but don’t believe the hype, it isn’t bad as they try to make you believe. The game is blessed with a loose, anarchic B-picture soul that encourages you to enjoy yourself even when you’re not quite sure if you’re in control. It’s exactly the sort of rousing space adventure that McCloud and his band of anthropomorphic allies have become famous for. There are aspects that may be messy, but it’s an extremely good-natured mess, full of humor and warmth. More surprising still, the very elements that seemed most likely to ruin the game, account for much of its improbable charm.

The big issue with Star Fox Zero is that everyone has been harping on is the controls, even before they’ve had a chance to play the game, but in all honestly, the learning curve of Star Fox Zero’s control system is no different than another Wii U title, Splatoon. Remember how the motion controls in that game caused quite a bit of fuss among some players at launch, and yet it went on to sell millions of copies and win awards worldwide? That’s not saying that everything in Star Fox Zero’s control scheme works perfectly, because it doesn’t, but the hatred is severely blown out of proportion. And, anyone telling you that you need to constantly look at the GamePad is not playing the game right. Yes, the GamePad offers a cockpit view, while the TV screen shows the Arwing in the field, but you don’t have to look down on the GamePad if you don’t want to. You can easily switch back and forth between the traditional third-person perspective and the cockpit view on your television screen by simply pressing the select button – thus eliminating the need to have to look down at the tablet controller (they explain this in the tutorial, which I’m guessing most critics skipped). Aside from the motion controls, the GamePad isn’t needed for much more than sporadic interactions, such as the viewpoint of the Gyrowing’s little robot and the dialogue which is transmitted through the GamePad’s speakers.

Star Fox Zero Wii U Review

As for the rest of the controls, Star Fox Zero’s control system is very similar to the N64 classic. The left analogue stick controls your crosshairs and the direction of your Arwing while the second stick is in charge of accelerating, braking and of course, doing those barrel rolls. Using a combination of the two analogue sticks allows the player to pull off somersaults and U-turns which become essential during dogfights – and if you don’t want to use the analogue stick, these are also mapped to the X and B buttons as well. Meanwhile, the Y button allows you to re-center the crosshairs and the R shoulder button deploys your missile attack. And if a player is lost or confused the ZL will change their view to show where the target is located. The new control scheme does require you to aim with the GamePad’s motion controls, but once you start to master it (which shouldn’t take long), you’ll come to appreciate the artistry behind it.

Like all of Nintendo’s best games, Star Fox Zero gives you the tools you need and then presents you with a series of challenges which requires you to master these tools in order to succeed. Yes, the motion controls can be daunting at first, but they are not nearly as frustrating as, the camera implantation in Super Mario 64. Remember how frustrating it was to learn how to manipulate the various camera options in that game?

Star Fox Zero Wii U Review

If we can glean anything from Nintendo’s 126-year history, it’s a willingness to experiment. The original Star Fox took full advantage of the polygon processing prowess in the Super FX chip, in an era when three-dimensional polygons in a console game were very unusual. Star Fox 64 was built with the Nintendo 64’s analog control in mind and it was the first Nintendo 64 game to have included support for the Rumble Pak, with which it initially came bundled. Nintendo has always used The Star Fox games to flaunt the unique features in their consoles, and Zero is no different. A sense of familiarity pervades all of Star Fox Zero and not just because the story of Star Fox Zero is essentially a retread of Star Fox 64 (which, in turn, was effectively a retelling of Star Fox) – but because Zero shares so much DNA with the 64 classics, it might as well be called a remake.

Star Fox Zero appears to remember what made its predecessors so much fun, where when the credits are over, all you want to do is get back in line and play it again. It’s too bad some critics and fans can’t do the same. To see an expensive, triple-A title freed from creative constraints and directorial cynicism is always a rare and wondrous experience. In an industry of bloated indulgence, it’s also fair to call it great!

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. ex fact0r

    May 1, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    I haven’t touched the game, but while doing my typical rounds on the internet, I’ve read/watched more than a handful of reviews/opinions on it, and everyone has been pretty unanimous in saying that the controls are terrible. Tim Gettys (of Kinda Funny Games), who is a known Nintendo apologist and Star Fox fan, said that the game is so bad he fears it may be the death of the franchise. Even those who defend the game state the controls have an obscenely steep learning curve. When you consider that you can beat the game in 2~ hours, it’s really not a good thing that the player probably still won’t be comfortable with the controls by the time the credits role.

    I think your comparison to the Super Mario 64 camera is a bit off. The camera in that game was frustrating at times, but it was intuitive in how it operated. SM64 revolutionized gaming by letting the player control their avatar and camera independently… and despite being something completely new, all it took was a couple of minutes with the game for most users to grasp how it worked. Sure, it was annoying how the camera would jerk around or get stuck at times… but that still happens in games coming out today, and those types of issues don’t make the game fundamentally un-enjoyable, where as the control scheme in Star Fox clearly ruined the game for many people (like that Polygon reviewer).I think most developers would love to apply the mantra “easy to pick up, hard to master” to their games, and I think that saying can be applied to most Nintendo games, but it seems this time around they simply messed up, and badly.

    If your going to judge something, you should have first hand experience with it, and like I said I haven’t touched the game so I’m in no position to hand out any criticisms, but when I look at the opinions of industry veterans, and they’re all saying the same thing, which also happens to coincide with my gut feeling… well, lets just say I believe the hype.

    • Ricky D

      May 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm

      A- Saying Star Fox Zero is the death of the franchise is further proof that the criticism is overblown and a ridiculous statement.

      B- I never said I beat the game in two hours. It takes roughly five hours if you are really good and don’t bother to100% complete each stage. If you want to %100 complete the game, it will take at least ten hours depending on how good of a player you are.

      C- Given that most players can beat the game in a short period of time, I would argue that this prove the controls can’t be as bad as some people like to say it is, otherwise people would either give up, or it would take much longer to finish.

      D- I left a link to my Super Mario 64 review with my thoughts on that game. I feel that camera is far more distracting and infuriating than anything in Star Fox Zero. In fact, even after all these years, I get angry playing Super Mario 64.

      I don’t have to write about how Super Mario 64 was revolutionary. We all know why it was and it is stated in the article I link to, but I never felt rage while playing Star Fox Zero. I did feel that rage while playing many other classic Nintendo games from the past .. like Mario 64. I made a point above … maybe you missed it.

      E- I’ve read about a dozen reviews now and in each review they talk about how frustrating it is to continuously have to look down on the game pad. As I stated in my article, you DO NOT have to look at the game pad other than when you control the little robot, which lasts no more than a minute each time.

      I wonder if some of these critics actually played the latest version or if the review is based on a demo they played last year.

      I noticed something years ago. I was reading reviews of Toy Story 3 on Rotten Tomatoes and all twelve reviews said the exact same thing, to the point where I wondered if they were just reading each other’s reviews before sitting down to write their own. I mean, each review made the exact same points, and used the exact same wording. Each review was so similar that it couldn’t have been coincidence. Over the years, I kept noticing this happening across the internet. One writer publishes a 2000 word think piece about something, and within 48 hours, dozens of other similar articles are released, saying the exact same thing.

      I read a 4000 word review of Star Fox Zero on Nintendo Life and about 3000 words was about the problem the writer had with having to look down at the Game pad. I thought … wow buddy, you could have saved 3000 words, and two hours of your time writing this if you were smart enough to realize that you didn’t have to look at the Game pad the entire time.

      As I stated above, the game is far from perfect but nowhere near as disastrous as many claim. The problem isn’t the gamepad … the problem is the motion controls … but again, it isn’t so bad that you can’t enjoy the game, unless you simply have no interest in playing it.

      You can listen to our podcast for more of my thoughts.

      • ex fact0r

        May 1, 2016 at 11:24 pm

        I never said YOU said Star Fox Zero is a 2~ hour game, but most of the reviews i read pegged it at around that time. And these reviewers beat the game because it’s their job to beat the game… it doesn’t mean they enjoyed it, or that the controls weren’t bad, lol. They beat it that fast because, like its predecessors, its simply a really short game. If the game had the worst controls ever conceived, but was beatable in an hour, would you say “oh you beat it in an hour so the controls cant be that hard to master”? because that argument makes no sense…

        I think you missed my point about Super Mario 64: it introduced brand new things into gaming, which fans grasped in mere minutes. Star Fox Zero has controls that industry vets aren’t comfortable after hours of play… that’s bad design. Plus, whether the issue is the game pad or the motion controls, either way it still results in the game having bad controls.

        Again, this isn’t really a matter of my opinion… its just what the masses are saying. And its not one site or half the sites or even 60% of the sites… it seems like almost every relevant critic has the same comments. I really doubt they all banded together and decided “hey guys lets be harsh on this game for no reason…”. Theres obviously valid reasons for their gripes.

        • Ricky D

          May 1, 2016 at 11:37 pm

          I did not miss the point in your Super Mario 64 comment but as per usual, you take an article I wrote, and bring up points that are not addressed in my article simply because that is not what the article is addressing. This isn’t a review of Star Fox. We already have a review published on the site. This is simply an article discussing the controls AND FOR THE LAST TIME … most reviewers discuss their problem with looking down at the GamePad … AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Thanks for reading.

          • ex fact0r

            May 2, 2016 at 4:27 am

            I honestly don’t know what you’re even talking about anymore LOL. What did I bring up that wasn’t addressed in the article? That SM64 was revolutionary? If so, you misunderstood the point of that sentence. I was in no way trying to imply that you can’t hate on SM64, and I was in no way saying that you need to mention how good it is every time you bring up the game, because you obviously don’t. I was saying that the game did something so new, that it in turn revolutionized gaming in the process, yet even while making such a huge leap forward, gamers were easily able to adapt because it was implemented well… thats a sign of good game design. Why did I bring this up? Well, YOU brought it up by making the comparison between Star Fox Zero’s motion controls and SM64’s camera, and I simply pointed out that thats a flawed comparison. I didn’t bring up anything unrelated to this article or the subject at hand…

            But anyways, it seems like my comments aren’t welcomed and thats fine, I’ll keep them to myself going forward, lol.

          • Ricky D

            May 2, 2016 at 4:56 am

            The sentence says that the feeling of frustration you get when playing Star Fox Zero is like the feeling of frustration you can get when playing Super Mario 64 and the camera gets in the way.

            Frustration is frustration and Super Mario 64 pisses me off even decades later. I played it from start to finish last year because I had to review it on the podcast and I wanted to play it again till the end. I am never playing that game again. The camera makes me rage. It is a flaw in the game, regardless if the game is revolutionary or not. The camera in Super Mario 64 caused me to die over and over again. Super Mario Galaxy which some argue was groundbreaking never gets in the way of enjoying the game and that game uses the Wii remote. So Super Mario 64’s flaw has to do with the controls. It is bloody frustrating to control the camera.

            The MOTION controls in Star Fox Zero are frustrating but they never once caused me to die.

            Your problem is you can never accept that people have their own opinions. And worse, you take that one sentence and twist it to your liking as if you are a lawyer trying to convict me of a crime.

            As I stated in our podcast, Super Mario 64 is not even close to being the best Mario game. I don’t care what it did for the industry … that game doesn’t hold up as well as many of the other Mario games, and it is all because of the camera system.

            I don’t care if you comment. It is just annoying how you always seem to miss the point.

          • ex fact0r

            May 2, 2016 at 7:21 am

            I never missed any point. I’m saying that the camera in SM64 is a lot less frustrating, proven by the fact that the game is adored by millions, and I’ve never heard anyone, aside from you, claim it to be more than a minor annoyance, whereas the controls in Star Fox Zero are hated by the majority, so AGAIN, the comparison is bad.

            By the way, the irony is palpable. The entire purpose of this article is that you don’t like the general opinion of the major media outlets who are saying the game is bad, yet you say I don’t accept other people’s opinions. You keep saying that every reviewer played the game wrong… but the funny part is, most of the reviews I’ve read/watched have clearly stated how the game controls, and no one (that I’ve read or seen) is saying “you have to stare at the game pad all day”, so I don’t know where you even got that from.

            Seriously though, I’ll keep my thoughts to myself going forward (for real this time).

    • John Cal McCormick

      May 2, 2016 at 12:11 am

      I saw Tim Gettys talking about how bad it is and I thought if he’s ragging on it they must really have fucked it up. He’s one of the staunchest of all the Nintendo apologists.

      Jim Sterling absolutely annihilated it on the Jimquisition too.

      I haven’t played it though. Shame since I really liked Starfox.

      • Ricky D

        May 2, 2016 at 4:32 am

        Yes but they also played the game staring at the game pad . If I did that too, I would also hate it. It isn’t great but I still enjoy it enough that I played it twice from start to finish but never once did I use the game pad to steer the ship.

        • John Cal McCormick

          May 2, 2016 at 6:40 am

          I thought you steered the ship on the tv and used the Gamepad to shoot?

          • Ricky D

            May 2, 2016 at 10:39 am

            Did you read my article? I even highlighted the text in bold and purple. You do not have to use the gamepad. Miyomoto adjusted the game so all you have to do is press the select button to switch between third person and cockpit view on your tv set. They explain this in the tutorial which is why I believe many of these critics didn’t play the new version and/or simply do not know they have this option. Something else I didn’t talk about in this article: This is a great co-op game which is what it was meant to be. I played 90 % of the game on my first try using my pro controller … not the Wii U GamePad.

            Again the controls aren’t perfect and I can understand someone complaining about the motion controls but what I keep hearing is that you have to constantly look at the GamePad which is not true.

            The point of this article is to simply state that I believe the criticism has been blown out of proportion, as if to say, the game is unplayable because the controls are broken and yet nobody seems to have a problem finishing the game. I just don’t like it when people exaggerate like this.

            Nintendo made a huge mistake showing off the game when it wasn’t ready and because of this, there has been a negative reception before the game was ever released. I honestly believe had they now shown it off too early, the feedback wouldn’t be as harsh.

            Finally – I’ve since read a few articles from other writers defending the game as well so I know I am not alone.

          • John Cal McCormick

            May 2, 2016 at 10:58 am

            Nope. Just read the headline and then looked at the comments. It’s interesting that, if I’m understanding this right, the terrible controls that everyone is moaning about are optional and nobody seems to know.

          • Ricky D

            May 2, 2016 at 12:20 pm

            Lol … yes. It is no different than The Wonderful 101. You need to only look at the gamepad when the little robot enters the interior of a complex you can choose to play the entire game by constantly having to look at the Game pad but that would be stupid. That said… I’m pretty sure you would still hate this game.

        • ex fact0r

          May 2, 2016 at 7:33 am

          It’s really not good to put words in people’s mouths. Maybe you did read a review where the author said they were staring at the game pad the whole time, but neither Jim Sterling or Tim Gettys said that you need to do that. Their main complaints are the gyro controls are terrible, and the game does not allow you to re-map the buttons.

  2. Trevor Humphrey

    May 8, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Are you kidding me? the problem is the disconnect between the two views, not where you look. Pressing minus and having the dumbass first person switch to the tv instead of the gamepad isn’t gonna fix anything. Hell, for me it’d make it worse since moving the gamepad while the tv tracks the motion is extremely uncomfortable and disorienting to me. It’s why I don’t use the motion controls in splatoon. that coupled with the games constant flip-flopping between trying to be something completely new and trying to piggyback off of StarFox 64 Nostalgia makes me think that this game will either be extremely hated or forgotten 10 years from now. meanwhile people will still be playing 64 because that game still has an identity and knows what it wants to be, Zero feels like a confused mess in every facet of it’s design.

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