This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Star Fox Zero.
Nintendo, you’re making this way too fucking easy for me. What shall we go with, Star Fox: Zero Interest? Star Fox: Zero Gameplay? Ooh, Star Fox: Zero Punctuation, that’s the thing we’re currently doing, isn’t it?
Nintendo have done it again! Ooh, sorry, wrong emphasis. Nintendo have done it again. They’ve made one of their layabout children, who hasn’t worked in decades, come up from the basement and sit at the dinner table with their new stepfather, Hardware Gimmicks, whom Nintendo hastily married in a Vegas shotgun wedding during a time when they were feeling low and vulnerable.
Perhaps Nintendo still imagines that they can find some happy middleground where both the hardcore retro fans and the casual motion control twatbadgers can all play together in harmony. Blissful, highly lucrative harmony. Unfortunately Nintendo are fucking kidding themselves if they think they can please everyone at once. You can try, but you’ll just end up with very sore wrists and a very dry face.
But we get ahead of ourselves. Star Fox Zero is a reboot of a franchise that hasn’t shown its face in over ten years, in which science fiction space battles are enacted by characters in theme park mascot costumes who inspire varying degrees of irritation. Sort of like the logical place George Lucas would’ve taken Star Wars to if he hadn’t been given the restraining order.
You are Fox McCloud, fearless cardboard cut-out protagonist type and only fox in the rather narcissistically named Star Fox squadron, which also consists of a frog, a rabbit and a bird, presumably in case Fox gets hungry during a long space mission, because he certainly doesn’t keep them around for their combat skill. They’re out to save the universe from the evil armies of a giant monkey from another dimension. For you see, all great science fiction has at heart a relevant contemporary message, in this case, make sure not to run out of tasty bananas.
The game is an arcade space shooter with the emphasis on ‘arcade’. Some of the levels are on rails, demanding that you dodge incoming obstacles while not knowing what direction the rails are going to move in, so that’s an adventure in blunt force trauma to the face. And some of them are free roam, to use the phrase generously, as the free roam area is about the size of a cruise ship en-suite bathroom. And you’ll only know that you’ve flown out of bounds when the game wrestles control from you and makes you U-turn directly into the missile you were trying to escape from.
So about those motion controls, just to bring us back to the subject of sore wrists. “Aim your lasers by tilting the screen controller,” went the game’s tutorial. “Press the target button to - hey, what the fuck are you doing in the options menu? Did you really think you could turn off the tilting controls? I’m afraid we’re trapped in this hell together, matey." Sorry, for one blindly optimistic moment I thought Nintendo might have realised that insisting on a single control scheme is unhelpful in our wonderful world of all kinds of people with varied preferences and levels of flexibility. Can I at least adjust the sensitivity, as my elbows are still sore from stabbing a policeman to death and I’d prefer not to have to make large movements? “No you can’t you uppity sod. Here’s your options: you can turn a thing that makes aiming controls somehow even worse. Or you can soak up your little vagina spillage and come and join us in the real world. Now here’s how the fucking targeting controls work.“ Um, sorry to be picky again, but do you have any other targeting systems available? Like, say for example, one that fucking helps? One that could maybe target the enemy ship that’s closest or that my aiming reticule is pointing at, rather than the one wearing the prettiest dress?
Just when I think the Wii U might have finally accepted that human beings aren’t going to evolve chameleon eyes that can independently swivel anytime soon, we have a game that tries to make the screen controller and the TV work together. The screen controller is the cockpit view which has the peripheral vision of a one-eyed horse on a subway train, and the TV has the third-person camera, so you have to use the TV to find the thing to shoot at and the controller to actually aim at the thing. And what bothers me is that there really doesn’t seem to be a reason for it except to invent a purpose for the hardware gimmick. It’s like the game really, really wanted to justify its purchase of a seeing-eye dog, so it gouged its own eyes out.
Going back and forth between the screen and a much smaller, shittier one covered in dusty fingermarks and blood is annoying enough even when you’re not expected to do it throughout a pitched high-octane laser battle. But even if you do get bitten by a radioactive switchboard operator and the controls become halfway decent, the learning process is severely hampered by the constant switching of gameplay style and vehicles throughout the campaign, all of which have shitty controls in subtly different ways.
You could almost justify using the screen controller to aim from a spaceship because moving and aiming in three dimensional space is a pretty complicated business it turns out, but not from a tank. There’s a perfectly good right analogue stick I could be using to aim with, but the game would prefer I use that to make the tank perform gymnastics.
Of course, there’s plenty besides the control to pick on. The controls would have been entirely moot if my cartoon-voiced sidekicks had made just one more unhelpful comment, because I wouldn’t have been able to reach my controller after I’d shoved it up their arse. And I should mention that when the campaign proper began and I saw the map of eight or nine planets representing upcoming levels, I assumed that this was world 1, Super Mario 3-style. Imagine my surprise to discover that this was in fact the entire game. And it was all over in about two and a half hours. But I suppose that works in its favour, because I remember thinking that if the game went on much longer after that fucking robot gorilla boss fight then I was going to kick it down a flight of stairs. Perhaps it should have aspired to be even shorter. Hell, if it had melted as soon as I opened the box it might even have gotten five stars.
Still, seventy bucks for two and a half hours would bring tears to the eyes of an investment banker as surely as a kick in the trust fund.
Normally at this point I’d get my nark on about the modern games industry’s on-going habit of reducing the actual meat and potatoes of the games for the sake of a shinier plate, but Star Fox Zero’s graphics look like fried shite. The models and level design look like something from two or three generations ago with the textures buffed up a bit. I can’t think how this game could possibly be taking up the whole disc. Maybe this is all part of some sinister master plan to smuggle illegally downloaded episodes of Keeping up Appearances into the country. No that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but then neither does the publisher's thinking the game held up alright.
The only positive I have is that the final dogfight with the evil animal flying squad across the across the surface of totally-not-the-Death star was alright, otherwise the broad impression of Star Fox Zero Effort is that it’s just not trying hard enough where it counts and too hard where it doesn’t. And I’m only asking to be met halfway, Star Fox, ‘cause I’m trying not to punt you off a bridge.
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