No barrel roll will save Fox this time…
There’s a famous saying in the classic Disney movie Bambi: “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. Well, I tried my darndest, but it’s just not possible with Star Fox Zero. This game is like a demo gone bad; a test to see how many gameplay mechanics and obnoxious controls can be tossed into one game before it spontaneously combusts, leading me to toss an expensive piece of technology across the room.
I have had my hands on Star Fox Zero a few times prior to obtaining a review copy, while at Nintendo preview events. Everyone was so excited that we were finally going to see those iconic animals back behind the flight sticks with its motion controls, all in high definition. It was a potential recipe for awesomeness. But when I went hands on with the game demo, I was TERRIBLE at the game… I didn’t know whether to look at the TV or the Game Pad; whether I should be using the motion controls or turning them off; or if the motion was controlling direction I was flying or the direction I was pointing the gun. It ended up being an all out cluster f**k. After crashing and burning a few times, I figured it was just my physical setting. I didn’t want to get too down about the game quite yet. Maybe it was the pressure of having all the people around? Maybe it was because I couldn’t hear the instructions from the game with the party atmosphere? So I put the Game Pad down and walked away, hoping that when the review copy would make its way into my Wii U I would have a better experience.
And now I have the full game.
Star Fox Zero is the perfect example of too many ideas and not enough editing. Just because game mechanics work in one scenario doesn’t mean they will in all cases. Let me break it down into pieces and start with the idea of having dual screens via the television and Game Pad. In theory, this is a great way to get lots of information to the player. The Nintendo DS and 3DS proved that permitting us to have gameplay and menus and other views in different screen help the gamer progress in the game, while adding to the experience. The thing is, the dual screens that make up the DS are separated by mere centimeters of distance and they do not have any distance on the z plane. When you work with the Game Pad and television, you have to take into account the time it takes to switch between both screens: your eyes have to focus on the Game Pad (which is right in front of you) and then move to the tv which is a few feet away, if not more. When you are in the middle of a dogfight, the time it takes for your eyes to focus is just too long, and you end up getting shot or hitting a wall.
Once you are past the battle of getting your eyes to focus, you face the brain-pain of switching points of view. On the Game Pad you have the cockpit view, essentially treating the game as a first person shooter. Jump to the television and it’s a 3rd person view. I find it very hard to switch between the two perspectives on the fly. Add the motion controls on top of that and I was done.
I am an experienced gamer. I have played many different types of games with a multitude of control schemes. But when it takes me four tries to get through the tutorial of a game, something is wrong. I played the first level and started to feel a little better… that level was on rails and I did most of it staring at the Game Pad. “OK… I can do this” I said to myself and moved to level 2. That’s when I broke. The game then switched from an on rails shooter to and open world free for all. Six attempts at what should be one of the easiest levels in the game and I gave up. I don’t have the time nor the self hatred to put myself through that anguish.
Now not everything about the game is a fail. The graphics looks really good in HD. You still have that throwback polygon feel in the design of the ships. The characters look and sound great. I like the amiibo support. But those good moments are not even a drop in the bucket to help save this game.
It’s quite sad in the end. I feel like this installment is going to end the Star Fox franchise, and that is really too bad. News broke today that the president of Platinum Games, the developer of Star Fox Zero resigned, and I am not surprised. For a game company that places such pride in the polish of the games it releases, it shows that Nintendo has zero faith left in the Wii U (get that pun) to be willing to put this on store shelves. This is the proverbial “nail in the coffin” for the Wii U. It’s been nice knowing ya. When are they releasing the NX?