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Game review: Tricky controls keep Star Fox Zero from taking off

Nintendo’s insistence on forcing us to use the GamePad’s second screen is a stumbling block. It’s like a tech demo for a four-year-old console that’s already past its prime – and a sad tribute to the failures of the fad-ish Wii U.
Star Fox Zero, which relies on Wii U’s GamePad controller, has pretty much the same plot as 1997’s Star Fox 64. Courtesy Nintendo
Star Fox Zero, which relies on Wii U’s GamePad controller, has pretty much the same plot as 1997’s Star Fox 64. Courtesy Nintendo

Star Fox Zero

Nintendo

Wii U

One star

How do you solve a problem like Fox McCloud? The vulpine aviator, sort of a bushy-tailed Han Solo, has been headlining Nintendo games for nearly two decades.

Yet, he will not make many lists of Top 10 Nintendo characters, mainly because his Star Fox franchise has been such a mixed bag.

Over the years, Nintendo has recruited an assortment of outside developers to try to revive the Star Fox brand. This time, the duty falls to Platinum Games, best known for gonzo free-for-alls such as Bayonetta and MadWorld.

The resulting reboot, Star Fox Zero, falls far short of either company’s best work.

Star Fox doesn’t need to be complicated: just strap me into the cockpit of a fighter and let me shoot at aliens. Yet Zero is marred by a terrible design decision, intended to emphasise the Wii U’s clunky GamePad controller.

As a result, you have two perspectives on the aerial dogfights: a third-person view from outside your Arwing combat ship appears on your television screen, while a first-person view from inside the cockpit is shown on the GamePad screen.

In theory, you use the big screen to navigate around three-dimensional space and use the small screen to target and fire upon enemies.

My problem – one I suspect I share with most gamers – is that I have just one set of eyes. Therefore, every time I look down at my controller to target an enemy, I tend to slam my ship into some random piece of space junk. If you adjust the settings so you don’t need to use the small screen, you sacrifice accuracy.

The controls feel a bit more manageable in the sections when you land on a planet and switch to a ground vehicle, such as the bipedal Walker or the beefy Landmaster tank.

There is also a Gyrowing drone, but the stealth missions drag on so long you’ll be dying to get back into the open skies.

As for the plot, it is essentially a rehash of 1997’s Star Fox 64: Fox and his crew have to halt an invasion by the evil Andross. You can polish off the story in about four hours – although the final boss battle is so exasperating, I suspect many players will give up without seeing the ending.

Hidden areas provide some motivation to go back and explore levels you’ve already conquered, so at least there is some payoff for masochists who master the thorny controls.

For most players, though, Nintendo’s insistence on forcing us to use the GamePad’s second screen is a huge stumbling block. It’s like a tech demo for a four-year-old console that’s already past its prime – and a sad tribute to the failures of the fad-ish Wii U.

Star Fox Zero comes with Star Fox Guard, a mini-game in which you control a dozen cameras parked around a maze – your job is to switch between the cameras and shoot approaching robots.

It’s amusing in brief spurts – fans of the tower-defence genre will enjoy it, but it’s hardly essential. You can download it as a stand-alone game if you don’t want Zero.

* Associated Press

Updated: April 25, 2016 04:00 AM

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