So I finally decided that I really have to get my thoughts out there. For the longest time I haven’t been sure how to start this. Maybe more importantly my own thoughts on Zero. As a series fan and as someone who wants to see the series become more popular it hasn’t been easy to objectively look at the game.
The biggest difficulty I have with sorting my thoughts on Zero is partly the disappointment of it not being a new Star Fox game. I don’t want that being an issue clouding my judgement. Enough people miss out on games purely because it wasn’t what they expected. Although to be fair that can come down to quality of final release as opposed to the content. In those situations it is understandable. As a series fan however I don’t want to hide certain aspects of the series just because I don’t like it or wished it was different. In order to truly be a fan you have to face both the good and bad aspects of what you like. Otherwise you only like the idea and not what it really is. So I’m going to try to put those thoughts of disappointment to one side.
For all intent and purposes versions of the first Star Fox game are basically a beginning and end type of story. Zero doesn’t do anything to change this. While it does change certain things up it also keeps exact same beginning and ending. So ultimately it highlights that no matter what Fox does during that time the game will always start and end the same. Since Zero is officially not a reboot it makes no sense to really change the beginning and end since it will still lead onto the rest of the series. So in a lot of ways this makes me happy. The middle part of the story however isn’t so nice.
The teleports which were hyped up are largely just a plot device to explain alternate routes. Throughout all of it there isn’t a huge focus on the teleports. It doesn’t help with The Battle Begins promotional anime hyping up a supposed huge secret which is basically the very obvious teleports. Now it was implied during an interview part of the reason for the inclusion of teleporters was to add depth to Andross. That battle between the two opposing side in Star Fox is really a clash between using and not using the teleporters. Now that sounds like a good idea but Command did a far better job at implying Andross wasn’t entirely evil. I still ended Zero by defeating an evil mad scientist Andross. This is the case of creating hype for the wrong thing.
For a game like Zero part of the appeal is the variety of missions and locations. Now while there is some variety in the game it also reuses locations way too much. One of the main story missions is basically a harder difficulty version of the same missions isn’t a good sign. Far too many alternate missions have a bonus mode feel to them. Something you would do as an extra challenge.
While I use the word mission to describe each level in reality majority of these so-called missions are in parts throughout different levels. Very few I would call proper missions. Most lacking in boss fights which is probably a good thing. The re-imagined and new bosses aren’t exactly difficult but very awkward. Majority of battles comes down to keep your distance or move in and out approach. It puts me off replaying missions with those types of boss battles. They are repetitive and not that exciting or fun. There are some boss battles I don’t mind and do enjoy more. They aren’t that many though. None of the bosses come across as memorable. At least not for the right reasons. Which is a little sad because most other Star Fox games the boss battles are the more fun and memorable aspects of them. On the bright side some missions do connect to one another better in comparison to the previous version of the game. In a sense you could say some levels are part of a bigger mission.
Vehicles are arguably the most important part of Star Fox. Zero has given us a new vehicle and “new” modes for vehicles we are familiar with. Biggest new vehicle addition is a helicopter accompanied by a little robot. The helicopter is slow and moves as you would expect it to. Which is a good thing the mission it is on isn’t a fast paced one. The biggest issue with it is that the little robot is attached by a tether to the helicopter. So for parts you need to use it you literally have to land the helicopter to get enough tether. Otherwise you run the risk of the helicopter bumping into a wall and the little robot bring forced back. The reason you need to use the little robot is well to press a button. Well they say it hacks a computer but the computer is a great big button.
With the arwing they added the walker mode. This basically means at times you can have the arwing run around on the ground. It also gains the ability to hack into computers or to press a button. pretty much making the whole helicopter and little robot redundant and not necessary. But that is the general feeling I get for a lot of the “new” upgrades to vehicles. Like the Landmaster tank upgraded to allow for hovering/flight. Basically Zero makes all the vehicles do as much as possible without realising part of the reason Star Fox has different vehicles is because they need them for specific jobs. It feels a little silly and pointless when Fox bothers to switch vehicles in the middle of a mission.
However with all these new additions the weirdest one not to return is on foot. With the huge success of Splatoon one would expect newly released Star Fox to take that opportunity to have an amazing on foot multiplayer similar to one in Assault. Seems an odd choice not to have either implemented in Zero. odder still is that a number of the missions seems to oddly cater for on foot too. They provided the on foot level styles but decided to keep Fox in a vehicle. It leaves me feeling a bit annoyed. I’m certain at times it would be far faster and easier to complete the mission on foot instead of being forced into a vehicle all the time. Part of this is preference. I know some would prefer Fox never leave his vehicle. For me it sticks out as one of the weirdest choices made during Zero’s development. Alongside the lack of female characters. Just seems odd to me that there is only one female character during Zero. I won’t really go into that for variety of reasons.
Finally we move onto the controls. Potentially the most talked about aspect of the game. The controls themselves aren’t standard. I won’t go into specifics since it is a heavily commented aspect of the game. The biggest issue I had with controls is the location of the settings. Placed only within the pause menu requiring you to actually play as a vehicle to alter the settings. Not the best idea in an action game. Pretty sure most people would go straight to shooting as opposed to pausing the game to make the controls more comfortable.
The biggest enemy of the controls is actually the third person camera. Zero is a third person game with first person controls. The third person camera is very badly set up most of the time. That is what will throw most anyone off. You may think focusing on first person screen would make it easier but the game requires you to know what is happening in a third person perspective. Majority of boss fights require both screens in order to fully understand what is going on. Even worse during Star Wolf battles. Where focusing on one screen can either throw you’re aiming off or you lose sight of Star Wolf.
What this means for the controls is that they belong on a different game. Star Fox is primarily a third person series. The controls would suit a game developed solely as a first person game. Metroid is the first series that comes to mind. Even so with patience you can learn the controls. Not fully understanding the controls will not prevent you from potentially enjoying the game either. With Switch moving back a single screen format it is unlikely we will see the controls used on a game it would suit better.
This leaves me wondering why so many debates on the game’s quality comes down to the controls. I think the answer itself lies with the rest or the lack of rest of the game. You see Zero doesn’t really have any reason for you to learn the controls. Unlike cult games which also suffer from odd controls Zero lacking in amazing other aspects. There is no point playing the Zero purely for story. There are no real multiplayer modes you could master the controls for. The only reason to learn the controls is for the sake of enjoying the one thing Zero really has. The missions. Which basically means enjoyment of the game comes down to the controls and levels. That on its own is a poor reason to give to others to learn the controls. Majority of gamers will master the controls of games they already enjoy and not ones they aren’t enjoying or aren’t sure about. If they aren’t keen on Zero telling them to learn how to play properly or that they need to get good at the controls won’t help. If anything that will probably turn off more players. Unfortunately not many who defend the controls realise this.
I guess all that is left now is to summarise my thoughts. With all said and done Zero itself isn’t the worst game ever. Nothing is hugely wrong or unplayable with the game. I may moan a lot about what Zero lacks or what it should have done but this is because I want a Star Fox game I can show to others. Hopefully getting them invested into the series. Zero is far from being that game. This isn’t a game I can suggest to others. Not because of the controls but because it lacks so much and has no stand out amazing aspects to it. However even with that some fun can still be had with the game.