Well, I 100%’d Star Fox Zero the other day. My full thoughts, with some story spoilers in the last few paragraphs (will warn before these start):
Overall I really enjoyed this game. I feel those who threw a tantrum over motion controls and decided not to buy on that basis alone are missing out - ESPECIALLY if you can tolerate the motion controls in Splatoon or the Zelda remakes. Yes they have a difficulty curve, but the payoff is what matters - you feel much more like you’re piloting a vehicle than in any of the previous games, and aiming in one direction while moving in another to make the most effecient use of your time feels really great when pulled off. It’s not an easy game, but it is rewarding.
The soundtrack is phenomenal, and while I adored hearing Star Fox 64′s soundtrack performed by an orchestra in Assault, I’m really glad they didn’t nostalgia-pander here. There are re-arrangements of past songs, but the majority is new, even in the stage locations that aren’t. While the orchestrated music of Assault was fantastic, I always found the techno stuff a bit awkward and too upbeat or quirky for the franchise’s tone. Granted all that stuff was tucked away in multiplayer so it mattered little, but nonetheless. This time, the techno stuff is sublimely integrated with orchestral style throughout the entire game. The whole thing feels fresh but VERY Star Fox.
Stage design is great. Unlike Assault, which had mostly boring all-range stages, the all-range stages here have a great variety of objectives. Assault only had 3 linear on-rails stages to 7 all-range stages, whereas, from my count, Zero has a very satisfying 6 linear stages to 3 all-range stages, with 3 additional stages that have a significant combination of linearity and all-range. There’s also a couple of mini linear stages and a fair few mini non-linear ones. All of them are well put together.
My biggest surprise was playing through Zoness with the Arwing in a secret stage. An all-range mode stage with linear progression that requires you to switch back and forth between the Arwing and Walker on a regular basis to navigate the playspace. This was actually incredibly fun and it’s a shame this was the ONLY stage in this style. I’d have liked a bit more of this, and perhaps some of this action with the Landmaster/Gravmaster too. There are also barely any moments during the linear on-rails stages where it is beneficial to switch to the Walker other than to slow down or complete lone, specific tasks to reach alternate routes.
So, flowing on from that critique of “this thing was so good there should have been more of it!” let’s move on to the general downsides - while I didn’t find the game itself disappointing overall, there are some definite dissapointments mixed in to my overall enjoyment.
Firstly, there is a complete lack of on-rails boss battles. Several of the boss battles almost play like them with the simple fact that you have to swerve off every time you engage the boss and circle/u-turn around to do so again, and it feels like the boss would have been a tighter experience if just kept on-rails (series veteran the Attack Carrier is the most noteworthy example of this).
Secondly, the game’s layout feels a little imbalanced. When playing in Arcade mode, it is very easy to take a route that skips every single gimmicky stage, which somewhat hurts replayability for me. Unlike Star Fox 64, when I replay Zero, I’ll likely just play through every stage in order rather than use Arcade mode.
Thirdly, branching out from above, most of the alternate routes are very easy to obtain, and simply become available when returning to a level later on. Locking on to a passing ship or taking a route that is simply a case of changing your vehicle mode (which you weren’t able to do on your first visit) rather than being challenged to complete a task that can be failed. Most of the alternate routes whisk you out of a satisfying stage mid-level too to fight a lone boss instead, which is rarely as fun as what you left behind. These work in the context of the main game as nice bonus stages to discover, but in Arcade Mode I have to conciously ignore the hidden routes on most stages.
Fourthly, 100%ing the game would have definitely been impossible for me without a guide. Some of the medal requirements are stupidly vague and require experimentation that throws logic out the window, such as turning off searchlights and then turning them back on again. One medal is hidden in a storage container, on a map with about eight identical storage containers, and the medal only appears IF you enter the container, which otherwise is empty and does nothing to communicate anything to gain from doing so. There is nothing unique about the container with the medal. The medals for beating the par score/time are often brutal, but you know what you’re up against there. But the amount of hidden medals in the game that require you to interact with particular non-unique stage elements in unusual ways is really silly. Some kind of hint system should have definitely been included here, perhaps one where it’s features become available as rewards for finding medals by yourself.
(Skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want any story spoilers)
Fifth, the story is definitely having an identity crisis. Most of the time it’s as basic as Star Fox 64, which honestly does feel slightly off in this day and age. Sometimes though it occasionally wants to branch out and do something new, but rarely amounts to much. The long monologue Pepper has with Fox before the last stage seems to want to be impactful, as if everything he’s saying is some dark secret that no-one should have known, but Fox expresses no surprise at it - there’s no controversy about it before, no reason for Pepper to have kept it secret (from anyone except Peppy, for some reason, according to the animated short). Fox has no issue with anything that went down and is just like “yep okay well let’s go” after Pepper’s big reveal. And the finale, regarding Andross and James McCloud, almost seems as if it’s hinting at something bigger going on, but again, lacks of the nuances or emotion behind how James was handled in the N64 game.
Finally, the final boss was a definite disappointment. It plays great and is a satisfying and challenging send-off for the game. But the majority of it being fought as the Walker just seems “off” somehow. Combined with it’s common ground with Star Fox 64′s “fake” final boss, and the fact that Zero is so happy to repeat scenarios from Star Fox 64 for the rest of the game, makes it no surprise that nearly everyone thought there was a bigger finale to uncover later. I enjoy the finale more now for knowing it was the finale, but the discovery that I had played the only final boss in the game without realising it was definitely unpleasant. To top this all off, the ending sequence is lifted nearly shot for shot from Star Fox 64. It’s as great an ending as it was in 1996, I’m sure the newcomers to the series will dig it, but how boring and uncreative.
So yeah, there is some definite missed potential here, but for the most part, it is an excellent and satisfying game
, even if the overall experience
is a little lacking. If anything, my biggest disappointment is somewhat of a presumptious one for the future - that is that despite some solid gameplay with a variety of stages and vehicles and objectives - I can’t imagine Nintendo making a direct sequel using the same game engine or additional add-on content for the game, considering how long it took to get Zero itself due to Nintendo’s insistence on innovation and new ideas etc. I’m hoping they announce something later, because it’d be great to have some more of what they did present us here, with even more original scenarios that don’t just repeat Star Fox 64 with new stage design.
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D
Star Fox Zero Soundtrack
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