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‘Star Fox Zero’ – A Game Is Only as Strong as the Sum of Its Parts

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Its been well over a decade since that last big Star Fox release on a Nintendo console. Answering the cries of fans, Nintendo teamed up with action-game developer Platinum to deliver a second reimagining of the Super FX rail shooter from 1993. Star Fox Zero is a collective remake of the entire series, it adapts elements from almost every Star Fox title before it, even those left unreleased, and attempts to unify all these design choices under one banner; however, it is not without its share of criticism.

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Star Fox Zero looks great on the WiiU. Its colors are vibrant and pop out.

Everything about Star Fox Zero’s aesthetics is beautiful and on-point. Graphically, the game looks very crisp and clean. The designs of the various spacecraft and robots are simplistic, yet detailed. The series flagship, the Arwing, is a nice clean coat of white and blue but features so much detail throughout. Ships can become damaged during combat, chipping away at the paint job and metal hull to show detailed engine-work underneath. Character designs make use of the same approach, retaining a lot of clean and vibrant colors with nice visual touch-ups, and it really makes the game feel like a proper visual reboot of the franchise.

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All of Fortuna feels like a beautiful reimagining of the SNES Star Fox’s visual design.

The sound design of Star Fox Zero can also be described as “updated nostalgia.” A healthy portion of the game’s themes are remixes of classic Star Fox tunes from 64 and the original SNES title. It sounds great, but it also harkens back to the fact that the game is trying to build its success on the laurels of its predecessors. The same can be said of the game’s voice cast. For a good chunk of the game’s promotion, it was pushed that a lot of “original voice actors” would be returning, but the voice work and writing fits well on its own. A lot of lines are lifted from other games (Falco drops some Super Smash Bros. quotes every now and then), but the short and cheesy lines of Star Fox 64 fit well when combined with the cartoon aesthetic Zero is reaching for. The game really does feel great when you are looking at it or listening to it.

Sadly, when actually playing Star Fox Zero, that feeling is lost. If aesthetics are what could carry Zero, then gameplay is what shoots it down. The combination of a forced first-person view on the WiiU tablet and a third-person view on the television is an absolute mess. Despite there being an aiming reticle on the television screen, it’s not accurate in showing the player where their shots going. The TV reticle is instead supposed to give an idea of where the view on the pad is centered, which means there’s a lot of room for shots to completely miss, even when the TV reticle is clearly focused on a target. The idea is to quickly swap back-and-forth from TV to tablet, with the player using the third-person view to figure out where they are spatially, and using the tablet to accurately shoot down enemies. For regular targets the player can ignore the pad completely and still do fine, but for boss battles it is integral to know how to accurately use the gyro-controls to aim and shoot. There is no option to play with a “classic” control scheme.

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It’s no longer fully clear where you’re aiming without jumping to the tablet and away from the TV, but then you can’t tell where you’re flying.

Probably the worst aspect of the new controls is the ZL-targeting system. By hitting the left trigger the TV will focus in on a key enemy or objective. It violently re-focuses the camera on the TV but doesn’t align the reticle since Fox’s ship can still be flying in the opposite direction. This awkward camera system replaces the radar systems of old. In all previous Star Fox titles, there was a radar to help the player locate where enemies were without making them look around frantically. It was simplistic, it worked, and it’s baffling why Zero couldn’t employ a system like this other than to just push the wonky tablet controls.

Over the course of playing the game these controls will never feel natural. Even after well over five hours of play and clearing every story mission, it’s still very annoying to try and steer the Arwing where it needs to go in the off-rails parts of the game. Where the poor movement and awkward aiming stands out the most is in the alternate vehicles. In Star Fox 64 there was the Landmaster and the Blue Marine, alternate vehicles for a few special levels in the main campaign that operated much like the Arwing. In Star Fox Zero, neither the Landmaster nor the Gyrowing share much in common with Arwing, and the latter actually breaks away from the normal Star Fox formula. The Landmaster truly operates like a tank, it’s clumsy, cumbersome, and is downright infuriating to pilot with motion-controls since the player almost never wants to tilt the reticle (tablet) downward while crawling along the bottom of planet. The Gyrowing has almost no combat capability, and instead operates like a puzzle solving tool. Making use of a tiny deployable remote control robot, the Gyrowing brings gameplay to a screeching halt as the player now tries to navigate the robot in 3D-space from the first-person perspective on the gamepad.

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The real kicker is that both of these vehicles are outclassed by the Walker. Inspired by a similarly designed vehicle in the unreleased Star Fox 2, the Walker combines the ground-based combat of the Landmaster with hacking-based puzzles of the Gyrowing. Even better is that the Walker is a transformation ability of the Arwing, meaning the player can deploy it whenever they want as opposed to the other two vehicles that are limited to certain missions. It’s very clear that the Arwing/Walker combination could serve the purposes of the Landmaster and Gyrowing while still retaining the fast and fun gameplay of the previous Star Fox arcade-like experience. The Landmaster is clearly in for nostalgia-grabbing purposes, but the Gyrowing doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Despite the poor gameplay and controller implementation, the game’s progression is clearly well-designed. Each stage is built in a way that eases the player into whatever new mechanic the game wants to force on them, and concludes with a boss battle that then tests the player’s mastery of said mechanics. It’s exactly how great level design is supposed to work, but rarely does it feel satisfying because of how often the player has to fight the controls while also keeping track of where they are going.

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There’s plenty of incentive to replay Star Fox Zero over and over again. Collectible medals unlock special trail modes and alternate Arwing styles. The Arwings can also be accessed via Amiibo, but it’s nice to see a Nintendo title that doesn’t lock out its playerbase with their sometimes hard-to-find collectible toy line. There’s also an unlockable arcade mode, another throwback to the Star Fox games of the past, where the player advances in a linear path from beginning to end. There’s no backtracking or replaying of earlier levels aloud. It’s a fun inclusion, but it doesn’t feel like much of a bonus.

Star Fox Zero is a mixed bag of good level design coupled with bad controls. It’s a love letter of everything the series stood for, but it’s written in crayon with several misspellings throughout. Even the most diehard of Star Fox fans will probably have trouble getting through this one.

Taylor is a writer from Atlanta, GA. His passion for games extends across genres and generations. When not playing or writing about games, he's probably reading science fiction.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. John Cal McCormick

    April 26, 2016 at 7:56 am

    Those controls looked like hot garbage from the second they announced this game. Shame.

  2. richeymanic

    April 26, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I adjusted fairly quickly to the controls. My problem is the dual screen mechanic. If they mapped camera swap to L trigger instead of the minus key, this would help the flow significantly. I rarely use the gamepad screen, only a few instances. I mainly play off the TV screen.
    All that said, I really enjoy this game. The SNES classic Star Fox will always remain my favorite, but this easily takes spot 2.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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