As I usually do with our reviews, I'm bumping this one up into the End of Day thought position. Thanks so much for those that read this review and hopped into the comments. Certainly a lively comment section in this one! Hope you enjoy the review and feel free to dive into the comments and offer up your two cents! See you in a few, short hours!
Nintendo has had both a good and bad time with unique control methods. They certainly worked well enough to make the Wii an absolutely massive success, as well as the DS. The thing is, as those control methods became more commonplace, it seemed like gamers and the gaming press started to turn on them. That brought us to the common happening where a game gets announced, and a wave of people complain about the title not using traditional controls. These complaints come in long before the game actually gets released. Sadly, it seems that complaint often sticks around long after the title has launched as well.
Now that we've moved onto the Wii U, you hear the same kind of things even more. Motion controls started off this generation at a deficit, since such a large group of gamers seem to want nothing to do with them. Not only are they uninterested in the idea of motion controls, they simply don't think they are worth any time or effort to understand. Just knock a game for its motion controls and leave it at that. The term 'motion controls' became a blurb to put into the positive/negative breakdown of a review. It had nothing to do with the controls being analysed, but instead, the controls were simply bad because they used motion.
Now of course, there are games that use motion controls very poorly. I've played them and struggled with them. I don't see those as bad motion controls, though. I just think the game has bad controls in general. Would it have played better without motion controls? That I honestly don't know, and most likely never will. I've also played games that had terrible traditional controls. Maybe those experiences would have worked better with motion controls implemented. Again, that's not something I'll ever be able to know. The point is, traditional controls aren't inherently good and motion controls aren't inherently bad.
That long-winded intro brings us to the case of StarFox Zero. As I've said on our podcast, the motion controls here are going to be the real sticking point in reviews. I'm sure there will be some other quibbles along the way, but you can bet that motion controls are going to be a large focus. I do believe the controls in StarFox Zero play an absolutely major part of the experience. I'm just hoping the other outlets reviewing the game have taken the time to actually learn and understand the controls, rather than just forming a distaste of them right from the start. That's because I feel StarFox Zero's control scheme works extremely well, and actually adds a great deal to the experience.
The StarFox series has always been tied to innovation. It just seems to be the cross the series bears, for better or worse. The original StarFox had extremely advanced graphics for the Super Nintendo. StarFox 64 introduced us to the rumble pak, which became an industry standard. StarFox Command gave us a control scheme that focused on stylus-based controls for a unique experience. Now Nintendo continues that idea by taking the controls in an even more varied direction in StarFox Zero.
There's just so much to talk about when it comes to StarFox Zero's controls. They are extremely detailed and advanced. This is not a game that you are going to pick up and play without taking on tutorials. I mean, you could approach it that way, but I doubt you're going to have a good time. Even if you've played every single StarFox title up to this point, you're still only going to have a rudimentary understanding of how this game works and what it's asking of you. You have to go into StarFox Zero completely open to the idea of learning a new way to play what looks like a familiar game.
StarFox Zero uses just about everything the Wii U GamePad offers up. The game is obviously built around what the GamePad can do. It's extremely clear that StarFox Zero had a ton of development time put into it, with a major focus being on providing a truly new and engaging control scheme. You'll use a collection of motion controls and traditional buttons the entire time you play. You'll be learning all sorts of control schemes for various Arwing transformations. You'll get access to special abilities that bring in different control schemes on their own. You'll be looking between TV and GamePad the entire time you play. There is a TON to take in here.
All this information coming at you means that StarFox Zero is going to be just too much for some people to handle. There are people that will try the experience and just not be able to wrap their head or hands around it. It's a challenging control scheme to understand, let alone master. When I say this, I'm thinking about people that play games regularly. Not what you would deem 'hardcore' gamers, but people that certainly play games often. Out of the friends I know that play games often, I can think of maybe 2 that would be able to handle this setup. The rest would try and just not be able to handle it, or others would give it a go and simply get too frustrated.
There's a whole discussion to consider here as well. Is this how game controls should be? Nintendo takes so much time making games that are family friendly in both content and controls. Simple controls to allow anyone to play. Now they're making a gamer's game, a title that requires a lot of attention and dedication. Is this a step back, a step forward or a lateral step? Should some game be built so that only hardcore gamers can enjoy them? I don't have a right or wrong answer here. I will say that I think it's sad some people will never get to experience this game due to the controls barrier, but I will also say that I believe the control scheme itself is not only perfectly functional, but really amazing once you get a handle on it.
Here's where StarFox Zero really knows its place. The developers are well aware that the controls take some time to get used to. This is for every single player out there, even longtime fans of the series. That's why the game starts you off with a very easy to understand tutorial. You'll get to learn the most basic of controls to get an idea of how things work. You'll learn how to fly around the screen, do some turning tests, learn how to target and fire on enemies and more. You'll also get to see why the game uses two screens during gameplay, rather than just having you use the TV screen like the old games. Again, this is a tutorial that very clearly explains how to tackle basic situations, and it never makes you feel confused or rushed. You're at your own leisure here, so take as much time as you need.
Not only that, but the game also opens up various tutorials after the initial lesson. You'll be able to take on some of the transformations of the Arwing and learn how to handle them as well. I absolutely cannot stress this aspect of the game enough. Do yourself a favor and take on all the tutorials you can handle before you go into the real game. This is going to make sure you feel much more comfortable with the controls before you get into the heat of battle. StarFox Zero isn't afraid to really show you that you need to understand these controls, even in the first level. If you don't pay attention during tutorials or try to just jump into the game, you're going to have trouble. Even with the rest of the StarFox team yelling out tips at you, you'll still end up getting lost in it all. Do the tutorials...take the time to really understand them. It makes the main game much more enjoyable and will lessen any frustration that might creep in.
Here's the best part about StarFox Zero's controls. If you put in the time with them and learn what they ask of you, you could come out absolutely amazed. You can call bullshit or fanboy on me all you want, but all I can do is tell you that my reviews are always honest. I feel that StarFox Zero's controls make for one of the most engaging experiences I've ever gotten from a game. When everything clicks and you start to feel proficient, my lord does the game feel good. We often think of immersion when it comes to graphics or sound, but StarFox Zero may be the first game I've ever played where controls immersed me in the experience.
I honestly don't want to go back to old-school controls. For those that don't know, you'll be using the GamePad screen to get a cockpit view of your Arwing. This is combined with the more traditional StarFox view you see on TV. These two have to be used together to play the game. If you try to use just one, you're not going to be able to play. You're going to miss enemies, crash into everything and just have a terrible time. It's the marriage of the two that makes StarFox Zero so unique.
The GamePad screen will let you shoot at enemies that you can't see anymore on TV. Once you fly past or over an enemy, you can still use the GamePad screen's motion controls to look up, down and all around. Again, the TV screen has the view we're all used to. That view is locked to a certain perspective, so being able to have free-range aiming whenever you want is a real game changer. You can go a step further and use the left trigger to activate lock-on, which will give you a cinematic lock-on view via the TV, but a precision shooting mode on the GamePad. Lock onto an enemy, follow them on the GamePad screen and take them out. Again, something that lets you follow enemies in ways that you could never do before.
This GamePad gameplay becomes even more interesting when you're in free-range mode with your Arwing. When you can fly wherever you want in a space, having the ability to aim freely is extremely useful. You can fly in one direction and basically shoot in any other direction. This lets you take on unique approaches to just about any enemy or objective that you need to tackle. Doing all of this at once, between the TV and GamePad, between motion and traditional controls, it feels like a ridiculous amount of fun. Yes it's challenging and yes you'll have to learn new things, but if you are willing to take the time to do that, I feel you'll come away absolutely rewarded for your work.
You can make fun of me for this as much as you want, but I believe StarFox Zero's controls really make you feel like you're piloting an Arwing. It really puts you inside the game. I felt an intensity that I haven't felt from the series before, or really any other games out there. It made me feel like I was really out there in battle, flying around by the seat of my pants and doing my best not to die. When you pull off a big boss battle or a dogfight with enemies, man is it exhilarating. This is even more fun when you pay attention to the game voices, as they only come out of the GamePad screen. I do understand some people being upset about not allowing voices via the TV speakers, but I will say that the GamePad audio is outstanding. Remember all that talk about pseudo-3D audio to make the StarFox team feel like they're talking right into your left or right ear? Well it's not a load of PR speak. It's the real deal and honestly boggles my mind. I don't know how they made it feel like you were wearing an Arwing headset, but there's no denying that the spacial audio absolutely does what it sets out to do.
So you know I think the controls are phenomenal, but what about the actual meat-and-potatoes of the game? Well, if you have enjoyed any other entry in the StarFox series, I don't see why you wouldn't enjoy this one. As a matter of fact, I feel like this game offers variety in missions that we haven't seen from the series so far. There isn't a bad mission in the group, but there are definitely some outings that feel like a step above the rest. A lot of those end up using various Arwing transformations in some interesting ways.
One of my favorite missions has you using the Gyrowing. This is a vehicle that moves kind of slow, but has really precise multidirectional control. You can hover up, down, left and right, then turn in whatever direction you need. It feels completely different from any other vehicle you control, and it really changes up the the flow of missions. The first real mission you get to take it on involves sneaking into a facility. You have to fly around giant floodlights that are out to detect you, and if they do spot you, a swarm of enemies comes in to take you out. You have to gingerly move about the level to remain undetected, and also switch off certain power sources to advance.
The real fun comes in when you use the Direct-i, which is a little robot that comes with the Gyrowing. At any time, you can drop this little tethered robot down below your ship and let it wander about. If it can touch the ground, you get to steer it around to do all sorts of things. The main reason to use the Direct-i are to find hidden medals and to activate buttons/switches that let you get further into a level. The best part about all of this is, the Direct-i gives you a first-person view on the GamePad. So basically, you park the Gyrowing in the air and lower the Direct-i, all of which are seen in third-person on the TV. Then when you land, you shift your focus to the GamePad screen and drive the sucker around in first-person. I had an absolute blast with it. It felt extremely fresh and also kept the overall flow of the game feeling energetic and engaging.
You already know about some of the other transformations, but there's still plenty of regular Arwing action to take on. As a matter of fact, most of the time you can transform into the regular Arwing and go through parts of missions old-school style. It's your choice, and while the other transformations will let you get access to certain areas the Arwing can't go, there's still plenty of traditional fun to have. You'll take the Arwing through asteroid fields, around giant space battles, through busy cityscapes and much more. The Arwing is just as much fun as ever, and it actually feels like a new experience thanks to the controls, which provide a more nuanced and nimble piloting experience.
For my money's worth, StarFox Zero stands toe-to-toe with StarFox and StarFox 64. Sure, polygons and rumble became industry standards and there's no way StarFox Zero's controls are going to see the same future. What they do do is continue the legacy of innovation that actually matters. We're not talking about gimmicky controls that were shoehorned in simply because they were there. This is a game built from the ground-up to showcase what the GamePad could do. This is about motion controls, traditional controls and two-screen gaming. StarFox Zero shows the promise of dual-screen gaming more than any other Wii U title out there. This is absolutely the game that showcases what Nintendo had in mind for the Wii U. Oddly enough, it's in stark contrast to what Nintendo did on the Wii. Wii was open and friendly to anyone. With StarFox Zero, we see controls that demand your attention and test your dedication. The results end up being something fantastic, so long as you are willing to learn something new.
I know, I've talked a ton about the controls here. Moreso than any other review I've written. I did that because I consider them to be the most important part of the game. They will be blasted as broken. They will be knocked for being too complex. They will be ignored for asking too much of the player. I feel like that's a damn shame. Again, I know some people won't be able to understand how the controls work and simply won't be able to use them. I cannot fault people that try and fail. If you put in honest effort and try, that's all I can ask. For those that pan the controls as broken or non-functional, I am telling you those people are giving you an unfair reaction. The controls are tough, the controls are challenging, the controls are not traditional, the controls ask you to do things you're not used to doing. All of that is very true. The controls are NOT broken. I give you my word on that.
If you can handle the controls, StarFox Zero is a fantastic game. It's a realization of Nintendo's goals on the Wii U. It's also one hell of an amazing StarFox game. You get a classic feel from the characters and voices, but a completely new vibe from the controls. Also, just to be very clear about this, StarFox Zero does not copy StarFox 64. Some locations may be the same, but the missions and level layouts are completely new. Outside of recognizable enemies, you are not going to get a sense of deja vu. I just wanted to clear up any worry that StarFox Zero was a remake of 64 with a new coat of paint and that's it.
StarFox Zero is the most immersive StarFox game to date. This game really makes you feel like you're piloting an Arwing. You're out there in the explosions and insanity of it all, and it's so much fun. Take the time to learn the controls and you'll be in for one hell of an adventure. Good luck!