Earlier last week, I did a run of Star Fox 64 for the first time in over a year and had a great time. So I decided to go ahead and give Star Fox Zero another play to see how it aged and whether I would enjoy the game with a hindsight perspective knowing about its poor reception and heavy reliance on the two screen concept that seemed to have sunk the Wii U.
And I have to say, it’s actually an amazing game. The critics and general population just misunderstood it. The gyro controls work rather well despite what people would have you believe.
In many ways, the game plays like an on-rails version of Splatoon with its gyro aiming. And now that I have become used to gyro-assisted aiming for the past few years, the game really feels “tighter” and there is less to manage from a mental standpoint.
Dogfights with Star Wolf in all range mode feel a bit disorienting, but it’s by design. Tracking your enemy and trying to flank them while they do the same to you feels genuinely exciting.
Using the Gamepad just to occasionally snipe while strafing around targets now feels like second nature. And the level design is actually pretty great. It’s refreshing to have a modern cinematic video game with an arcade focus on racking up high scores for a change.
And the graphics are kind of like a modern take on the N64 visual style. It’s kind of like modern pixel art, but instead of referencing the 8bit or 16bit eras, they focus on the N64 with some added lighting. The look feels very clean. And the framerate feels solid.
When it released, I think people were really down on Nintendo that year. The Wii U was not getting many games from Nintendo anymore as development resources shifted, the Switch reveal was still about 5 months away and nobody knew what to think, Nintendo was radio silent about Zelda which suffered another delay, and then they had just revealed that Zelda would be the only game they show at E3.
I also think that players were trying too hard to use both screens to play Star Fox Zero rather than just relying on the 3rd person viewpoint for 80% of the game and then looking to the Gamepad as needed, resulting in a rather disorienting experience. People just seemed “done” with the Gamepad concept and Nintendo in general and as a result, Star Fox Zero got a very bad rep.
Sure, it’s not as mind blowing for it’s time as Star Fox and Star Fox 64 were for their times. But it’s still a really great game that plays well and is filled with an old school Nintendo charm that is rarely seen in action games today. It’s a bummer that reviewers panned it so hard.
It’s a solid 8.5/10 title. And the two-screen concept works and adds to the experience in my humble opinion. The Wii U Gamepad still feels like a device from the future. And in some ways, the Switch is a step backwards from it. And I think Star Fox Zero illustrates this with its two-screen-action setup.