Star Fox Zero Wii U

EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper Plat­inum-Games, Nin­tendo EPD Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat Wii U Re­lease Out now

The cul­tural phe­nom­e­non of the sec­ond screen is one with which we’ve all grown un­easily fa­mil­iar. Who hasn’t been so ab­sorbed in the small de­vice in their hands that they’ve missed a cru­cial line of di­a­logue, a twist, a goal? By the same to­ken, we’ve been dis­tracted by 1080p HD dis­plays long enough to lose a life, to have time run out, to ex­pe­ri­ence the frus­tra­tion of be­ing beaten by sec­onds to a zinger whose retweet tally is tick­ing up­wards by the sec­ond. Wii U was con­ceived with the no­tion of reliev­ing this ten­sion some­what, and yet its most fas­ci­nat­ing games are those that choose in­stead to em­brace it. Af­ter a tur­bu­lent start, you can add Star Fox Zero to that list, though it will take most play­ers a while to reach that con­clu­sion, and some may not have the for­ti­tude to get there at all.

In pre­vi­ous Star Fox games your Ar­wing’s lasers were bound to its ori­en­ta­tion. Now, with the GamePad’s gyro sen­sors al­low­ing you to shift your aim by tilt­ing the con­troller, and the sticks ma­noeu­vring the craft it­self, in the­ory you have to­tal con­trol. But in a three­d­i­men­sional space where you’re at­tacked from all sides, a firstper­son per­spec­tive alone isn’t enough. The an­swer is to have the GamePad show the view from Fox McCloud’s cock­pit, and for the TV to of­fer a more fa­mil­iar third­per­son fram­ing. Os­ten­si­bly, this com­bi­na­tion of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal cam­eras is in­tended to give the pi­lot ac­cess to more in­for­ma­tion than ever be­fore. It is, in other words, for Fox’s sake.

Dur­ing the game’s early mo­ments you may be tempted to mut­ter a sim­i­lar phrase. It is, or at least it seems to be, an im­prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion, es­pe­cially since so many other games have al­lowed play­ers to move and aim in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions us­ing dual ana­logue sticks. It’s not so much about solv­ing a prob­lem, then, as cre­at­ing one to be solved: how best to use two sep­a­rate sources to form a com­plete pic­ture. And that re­spon­si­bil­ity is thrillingly con­ferred upon the player.

True, it is more an­noy­ing than in­vig­o­rat­ing at first. But with time and prac­tice, you’ll gain an in­stinc­tive un­der­stand­ing of where you should be look­ing and when. It’s the GamePad where your at­ten­tion should be fo­cused for the most part, since it’s only here that you can ef­fec­tively mar­shal your aim­ing ret­i­cle. But when you need to lock on to an en­emy that’s ei­ther large in stature or in health meter – or to pin­point the po­si­tion of a chas­ing craft – it’s time to look up and re­po­si­tion your­self ac­cord­ingly. Un­til then, it’s tough but for­giv­ing, so long as you’re not too reck­less. Sil­ver rings re­store a large chunk of health; gold ones award you re­tries that send you back to a check­point rather than the start of the mis­sion. But to sur­vive, you’ll still have to keep a calm head in mo­ments of cri­sis, where the screen be­comes crowded with bul­lets, mis­siles, fall­ing build­ings and dart­ing en­emy craft. And, ex­cept­ing a brief ex­cur­sion or two in­side a hover­ing drone where the pace drops and you’re given a wel­come op­por­tu­nity to draw breath, this hap­pens rather a lot. De­spite the fa­mil­iar­ity of the char­ac­ters and the story – which hits most of the same nar­ra­tive beats as Star Fox 64 – this is strange, ex­otic ter­ri­tory. It’s not quite like any­thing else you’ve played, and yet you’ll recog­nise sen­sa­tions from other games. In pre­sent­ing both ex­ter­nal and in­ter­nal views of the Ar­wing si­mul­ta­ne­ously, Zero car­ries a sur­pris­ing echo of the Siren se­ries’ sec­ond­per­son per­spec­tive, which sim­i­larly re­con­tex­tu­alises the player’s un­der­stand­ing of 3D space by show­ing the pro­tag­o­nist from the stand­point of a pur­su­ing Shibito. There’s a sub­stan­tial dose of Af­ford­able Space Ad­ven­tures’ pan­icked fum­bling, as you ad­just to mul­ti­ple in­puts while at­tempt­ing to cope with nu­mer­ous out­side threats. And, in the way you come to rely on au­ral rather than vis­ual cues to avoid dan­ger, we were re­minded briefly of Jeff Min­ter’s Space Gi­raffe. That Zero should call to mind such di­verse, es­o­teric ideas is an un­doubted strength.

Which isn’t to say that it es­chews some old­fash­ioned think­ing. Its struc­ture is lifted from its old­est an­tecedents, with stages de­signed to be re­played re­peat­edly un­til their seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able gold tro­phy tar­gets have fallen, and all their se­crets have been spilled once and for all. But this time around there are still more rea­sons to keep com­ing back. Com­plet­ing op­tional ob­jec­tives reveals in­trigu­ing new routes, lead­ing to op­tional boss bat­tles against the clock, or busy as­ter­oid fields to weave through. Ve­hic­u­lar up­grades of­fer a fresh in­cen­tive to speed through com­pleted stages and, per­haps, try to work out the ar­cane so­lu­tion to earn that fifth and fi­nal hid­den medal. It may seem a lit­tle pre­pos­ter­ous to de­scribe as gen­er­ous some­thing that can tech­ni­cally be fin­ished in an hour, but this is a game with the me­chan­i­cal depth to match its stern chal­lenge, and enough tan­gi­ble re­wards to go with the ev­i­dent grat­i­fi­ca­tion of learn­ing to tame such a pe­cu­liar con­trol setup.

With the spirit of Gerry An­der­son alive and well in the snappy ex­changes that pep­per each stage – keep­ing non-in­ter­ac­tive story beats to a min­i­mum – Zero doesn’t stum­ble too of­ten af­ter its trou­bling start. One or two mildly grat­ing voiceovers are easy to over­look; less so a need­lessly fussy fi­nal boss fight, and the mi­nor but per­va­sive nui­sance of re­cal­i­brat­ing your aim. Oth­er­wise, Star Fox Zero is a warm­ing re­minder of the strengths of its host hard­ware, al­beit one tinged with thoughts of what might have been. Af­ter all, Nin­tendo is un­likely to bet the farm on sim­i­larly un­con­ven­tional hard­ware next time. Wii U might be your last op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence de­light­fully quixotic, off­beat Nin­tendo games like this; all things con­sid­ered, it’s a chance you prob­a­bly shouldn’t pass up.

De­spite the fa­mil­iar­ity of the char­ac­ters and the story, this is strange, ex­otic ter­ri­tory, not quite like any­thing else

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