Star Fox Zero is a spectacular video game, but maybe you should rent it first

The Star Fox franchise has been on a bit of a bumpy road for the last couple decades. The first two games in the series, Star Fox and Star Fox 64, are generally considered classics, however all the rest of the games aren’t looked upon as fondly. I’m a bit of an outsider to those opinions though, as there hasn’t been a single Star Fox game that I didn’t enjoy at least a little bit. That being said, even I will admit that none of the games quite captured the magic of Star Fox 64, a game that despite being only a couple hours long, dominated a large chunk of my childhood. Enter Star Fox Zero.

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Star Fox Zero is a throwback to the first two games in every way possible. Gone is the Legend of Zelda style adventure of Star Fox Adventures, the on-foot third-person shooter missions of Star Fox Assault, and the turn-based strategy of Star Fox Command. Instead, you get on-rails missions and occasional “all-range mode” missions. So, basically Star Fox 64 2. And it’s fantastic.

A lot was said about the quality of the visuals before the game came out, but personally, I think they look great. I’m not going to tell you that people are wrong when they say that the models are fairly low-poly or that everything looks a little too boxy, but I am going to say that I don’t think it’s a problem. Instead, I think it adds to the overall experience. The game looks like how you remember Star Fox 64 looking. Obviously, if you put a screenshot of each game next to each other, you can tell which game is which very easily. But almost twenty years ago, Star Fox 64 looked mind-blowing, and Star Fox Zero looks like how my eleven-year old mind perceived the game. It’s detailed, retro, and very nostalgic all at the same time.

Even though it’s trying very hard to recapture that old Star Fox feeling, that’s not to say that there isn’t anything new. The two major additions are motion controls and transformations for your vehicles. There’s a good chance that you’ve already heard some things about the motion controls. If I had written this review after only having played for a couple hours, I probably would have agreed with all the negative comments. However, I found that once I got used to the controls, they actually work as intended and allow you to be more precise than in previous games. There definitely is a learning curve, especially since the game requires you to look back and forth from the TV and the gamepad, but once you get it, it’s very satisfying. Certain enemies can only be defeated by hitting specific points, and by moving the camera with the motion controls while continuing to move in a different direction adds some much needed complexity to the combat.

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The transformations are pretty cool too. The main one you’ll use during the game is the Walker, which is a new form of the classic Arwing. As the name implies, the Walker walks. this lets you enter small, indoor areas that a space ship simply couldn’t get through. The Landmaster tank also gets a transformation, called the Gravmaster, that’s basically a hovercraft. I found it to be a lot less useful than the Walker, but there are some specific moments where you need to use it, like during a boss fight or to finish a level with an alternate path.

Speaking of alternate paths, it’s probably time to talk about something I’m not so crazy about. Alternate paths have always been a thing in Star Fox games, but they’re handled quite a bit differently in this game. In Star Fox 64, if you know what you’re doing, you can get any of the hidden paths in one run through the game, but that isn’t true in Zero. For example, in the very first level of the game, there’s a very obvious button you have to press in order to get a different route. Problem is, you haven’t unlocked the Walker yet, so there’s no way to push the button. In a really weird design choice, you keep everything you unlocked in later levels when you choose to replay them. This forces you to go down one path the first time you play and come back to get the obvious other path. Also, unlike the past games, you can choose to replay any level that you’ve unlocked at any point instead of committing to a path. It really lowers the stakes, and it’s kind of a bummer.

There’s another big problem with the game, and I already talked about it a few weeks ago. The game is about the same size as Star Fox 64 and is a full priced product. Part of me wants to tell you that that doesn’t matter. It’s a really fun game and I think you should play it and that’s all that matters. But, it’s 2016, and the way people play games is different than they did in 1997. People don’t play the same small game over and over to get a better score anymore. Instead, kids are spending fifteen bucks on Stardew Valley or Minecraft and getting almost limitless amounts of gameplay. With that in mind, sixty dollars just seems a little ridiculous.

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However, when I said that I think you should play this game, I meant it. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a pure action game in years. I’ve made a conscious decision to not include scores in my reviews, and writing this made me glad that I did. This game deserves your attention, but it’s one that I can’t easily recommend that you spend so much money on. So, if there’s a a game rental store near you, maybe give the game a try before you buy. I had a blast playing it and think you will too.

But seriously, why is it called Star Fox Zero? It’s not a prequel, it’s a reboot. Why would you call a reboot “zero”?

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