The release of Star Fox Zero has been met with mixed reactions from both critics and fans alike, but it’s not hard to see why. In many ways, Star Fox Zero is the Star Fox game we’ve all been wanting. The on-rail sections and all range dogfights are back in full force, just as we enjoyed it all those years ago on the Nintendo 64. Star Fox Zero does re-purpose a lot of the same locales and moments from other games in the series, but there’s plenty of new mechanics thrown in for good measure.
Assuming you haven’t taken the time to download and emulate a ROM for the unreleased Star Fox 2, running around in the Walker stands as a novel addition to the series, and while the Gyrowing is decidedly less speedy in how it handles, it is a nice change of pace through the game’s main story mode. Star Fox Zero sticks very close to the design of its Nintendo 64 counterpart, which doesn’t do it any favors. While the short campaign and focus on replaying levels might have worked in the past, the appeal of chasing high scores and unlocking alternate routes has lost its shine in the last two decades. Gamers today place a high premium on replayability and value when it comes to their purchasing decisions, and Star Fox Zero disappoints on this front.
Still, when it comes to the minute-to-minute gameplay, Star Fox Zero falters in a much more significant way. Replay value and level structures can be overlooked, but in a rather odd move for Nintendo, Star Fox Zero features the least user-friendly control scheme in any of their games, which is a bit confusing, seeing as how the big N traditionally places an emphasis on making their games accessible for a more casual audience.
For the uninitiated, Star Fox Zero requires players to control their ship using the Wii U Gamepad, with the Gamepad’s gyroscope in charge of the aiming, while the physical buttons and thumbsticks are used to move around and shoot. It’s needlessly complicated, and while the most ardent of players might be able to get a hold on it with hours of practice, it’s by far the biggest barrier of entry to enjoying the game in the first place. Having to focus on two screens at once is difficult enough, and there are a few articles floating around the internet that experiment with different ways of holding and propping up the Gamepad during play.
It’s fitting then that the most unadvertised feature in the game is the one that ends up rectifying its inherent issues. While it certainly wasn’t designed with it in mind, Star Fox Zero features a co-op mode, which is by far the best way to play the game.
Nintendo has a tendency to put co-op or multiplayer into most of their titles, and Star Fox Zero is no exception. Granted, it’s not exactly explained very well in-game. In order to even play co-op, you’ll need to first start a level, back out, and then re-select it with co-op. It’ not exactly intuitive, and colors the mode as a more of an afterthought than something that was built from the ground up from the beginning. Still, the reason co-op works so well is because it splits up the tasks of shooting and piloting, which makes playing the game a much less daunting task.
Playing co-op still necessitates the use of the Gamepad, but in co-op the Gamepad only controls the aiming and shooting. The other player (who has to use a Wiimote and Nunchuk, or a Pro Controller) controls the piloting and movement, while also having the option to shoot where they are aiming, much like in the original Star Fox. Having tried to play the game solo, I quickly gave up after a brief thirty-minute session. The second time around, I opted to try playing the game cooperatively with my girlfriend, and the difference was night and day. Being able to focus all my attention on one task was a godsend, and taking down bosses in tandem was infinitely more enjoyable. There’s also a light competitive aspect, as both players can shoot, and the game independently tracks each player’s number of hits.
Star Fox Zero is a disappointment when it comes to its single player outing. While I’m sure enough practice might allow a basic level of proficiency of shooting and piloting simultaneously, the amount of time required to reach this level of skill isn’t worth the reward and will most likely take you more time than a single playthrough of the game would provide. If you have the opportunity to play the game in co-op, I’d recommend it, though the same can’t be said for those who have to take to the skies solo.