Video Game Thoughts: Star Fox Zero + Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Zero was a 2016 shooter game for the Wii U by PlatinumGames and Nintendo. While Nintendo avoided saying it, Star Fox Zero was pretty much a remake of Star Fox 64. Due to its long development time, I think this game was probably going to be a sequel to Star Fox 64, but in the end, they decided to remake the old game for new audiences. I played Star Fox 64 extensively as a kid, so it was nice to see all the improvements they made to the gameplay.

In Star Fox Zero the player, as Fox McCloud, piloted one of several vehicles to destroy enemy robots and ships. Most of the enemies could be destroyed by a few laser blasts, but bosses could usually only be damaged by hitting the marked weak points. It was always fun slowly destroying parts of the boss before it finally blew up in a giant fireball. About half of the levels were space battles while the rest were land battles. Most levels started in Corridor mode to travel through an area before switching to All-Range mode to defeat a boss. In Corridor mode, the level was constantly scrolling, so the player had to shoot enemies and complete objectives under time pressure. The could not turn around or stop. In All-Range mode, the level took the form of an arena, where the player got a chance to explore their surroundings. I enjoyed All-Range mode a little more just because the Corridor sections could sometimes be too fast and stressful to me.

There were a total of 20 missions in the Main Mode of Star Fox Zero, but only 12 were available before beating the game. The other 8 missions were bonus ones. They were fun to unlock, requiring hidden objectives be completed on certain missions. I had a blast with all of the missions, but some of them took me several tries to beat. Luckily, this game allowed me to start right back at the same mission instead of having to start the missions over from the beginning as Star Fox 64 required. Despite my occasional frustrations as I learned the enemy patterns in a mission, I had fun with all the missions.

There was a large learning curve in Star Fox Zero because it made heavy use of the Wii U Gamepad’s motion controls. Some basic aiming could be done looking at the main TV screen, but precision shooting required the player to angle and turn the Gamepad to keep enemies in the crosshairs. While doing this, the player could not see much of the surroundings near their ship, so it took a lot of practice to learn when to look at the TV screen and when to use the Gamepad. For me, it took about 6 hours before I started feeling comfortable with the controls. Once that happened, my enjoyment of the game greatly increased. Where before finishing a level seemed like a matter of luck, now the outcome was based on my playing ability.

Even with the controls mastered, it still took me a lot of tries to beat some of the levels. I think Star Fox Zero was just a challenging game in general. Even with normal button and thumbstick controls, I would have struggled to win consistently. Once I played a mission a few times though, I always figured things out enough to complete it. I didn’t always excel at the level but did well enough to move on to next level.

Star Fox Zero was a pretty short game just to “beat”, but there were many optional tasks to take on if the player chose. In the Main Mode, 8 bonus levels had to be unlocked by completing the first 12 levels in special ways. On top of that all 20 Main Mode levels had 5 rare medals to collect. Many of these required completing hidden objectives. The Training Mode included 8 optional levels to complete. Then there was Arcade Mode.

Arcade Mode was the same as “hardcore mode” in other games. This mode followed the old Star Fox 64 style of the player having to start at the beginning if they lost all their lives on a mission. I could be at the final level, lose all lives, and have to start at the beginning. This made it even harder to beat the game, but it was all optional. Still, an additional challenge was available for the real Star Fox fans. Arcade Mode recorded the total enemies destroyed and the time to beat the game as an incentive to keep trying for higher scores. On top of that, it kept track of a separate enemy kill count and playing time for all possible mission paths in the game. There was a lot of gameplay here if the player was interested. Arcade Mode was so difficult, I have not finished it with all the mission paths but maybe someday.

The additions to Star Fox Zero compared to Star Fox 64 included a few new craft to pilot, several new missions, new takes on original missions, better high score tracking, an expanded Training Mode, and Arcade Mode. The remake, of course, also had better graphics and sound quality. One annoyance was how all the speaking voices came from the Gamepad instead of the TV. Their intent was for the Gamepad to feel like a real cockpit being able to hear the wingmates there, but I still would have enjoyed it more with the voices coming from the TV. There are probably some other minor additions too, but I was pretty satisfied with all the content here. It only took me around 15 hours to beat all the missions the first time, but to do almost everything easily took me to around 40 hours due to how many attempts I needed on each level to succeed.

Early on, the fast-paced gameplay in Star Fox Zero was a shock to me. I just don’t play games like this much anymore. My reflexes are slower, my hands get strained quickly from all the tense button pressing required, and I become frustrated more easily by failure. As I kid I didn’t have trouble with those things, so I enjoyed Star Fox 64 more. I think objectively, Star Fox Zero is the better game, but it was not the typical game I would play these days. Still, I greatly enjoyed my time playing it. I had read about it before playing, so I knew what to expect. It turned out how I expected. I actually did better than I expected at the game, but I will probably still avoid this type of game in the future. It was a lot of fun revisiting a game like this, but I have had my fill tense gameplay for now.

Star Fox Guard

Star Fox Guard was a 2016 tower defense game for the Wii U by PlatinumGames and Nintendo. It was a bonus game included with Star Fox Zero. The gameplay was quite a bit different from the main game. Instead of piloting spaceships and destroying enemy ships, this game took place all on land with the goal being to defend a small base from waves of enemy robots. To do this, the player got access to cameras with turrets called AegisCams. These allowed the player to see the enemy robots and fire at them.

The TV picture was split up into 13 segments. Twelve of the segments showed cameras 1 through 12. The 13th segment was the largest and showed whichever camera had been selected. The player could only fire from the selected camera. On the other hand, the Wii U Gamepad showed a top down view of the the base with the locations of all the cameras. The player could tap a number to switch to that camera, allowing them to shoot from that location.

The gameplay in Star Fox Guard involved watching the camera feeds on the TV for invading robots, then switching to the appropriate camera to destroy the robot with the turret laser attached to the camera. There were two types of robots: Chaos and Attack. Chaos robots only disrupted the player’s cameras, making it hard to see and shoot other robots. Attack robots were capable of destroying the center tower, which instantly failed the mission. Attack robots were almost always the highest priority, but Chaos robots could be higher priority in some moments when they were causing too much disruption.

Star Fox Guard was thus about multitasking between several important activities. For one, the player had to watch the cameras for robots. They also had to keep track of the Gamepad to switch to the right camera. The player then had to aim the camera and shoot any robots in view of the selected camera. This process was repeated as necessary until all the Attack robots were destroyed. The robot didn’t just come one after another though. Late in the game they could attack from multiple sides at once, forcing the player to juggle the defense of multiple fronts.

At the start, the player had just basic turrets, but over time, they got access to more advanced types from freeze turrets to flying turrets. New robots were continually introduced to give the player a need for the unlocked turrets. In these later missions, the player could also move the camera around in the base by tapping and dragging them with the stylus. Another feature of the touch screen was quickly turning cameras around. When a camera had to be turned all the way around, it was faster this way than using the normal thumbstick controls.

As far as content, there were 100 missions in the game: 50 normal and 50 bonus. The missions were split evenly between 5 planets. Each planet had 3 unique bases to defend, with 3-4 normal and bonus missions each for a total of 20 missions per planet. Bonus missions could be unlocked by finishing normal missions and gaining ranks in the level-up system. Destroyed robots in a mission dropped precious metals that went towards the rank system, with 50 ranks to earn. In addition to bonus missions, ranks also granted turret upgrades and the ability to use more than one upgrade per battle.

About halfway through the Main Mode, a fun online mode became available. In this mode, players could take on the role of attacker and customize a squad of robots, including which robots would appear, the direction they would come from, and their path through the base to the center tower. Other players could then test themselves against that player’s squad by trying to successfully defend the base.

Unlike most games, the online mode was asynchronous; players did not have to be online at the same time to attack and defend. Players could, on their own time, create squads of robots with a battle plan. After finishing, custom squads could be saved online. Other players could challenge the squad even while that player was away. Each player got a number corresponding to how well their squads did against other players. The best player squads became featured, where everyone in the world could try to beat them. Each squad was assigned a unique code, which players could share with their friends or post online to link to their particular squad. It was a cool system to me. I wasn’t the best at the game, but I enjoyed trying to beat other players’ squads.

Even in single player, the game could be enjoyed by more than one by having other people watch the TV screen and call out cameras with robots in view. This made the game a lot easier but had the side effect of making Star Fox Guard a great party game. Even if someone couldn’t play, they could still participate. I think this is an unexplored idea. A lot of people don’t like to play video games. Games could be more appealing to those people if there were more that let them help out just by watching and talking about the game.

Star Fox Guard had much more content than I expected. It was a nice surprise. I was thinking it would just be a little tacked on game to the main Star Fox Zero game, but there were a lot of levels. I had great fun with pretty much everything. It required using both TV and Gamepad screen just like Star Fox Zero, but I found it to be a little more relaxing to play. It was a nice game to play when I was taking a break from Star Fox Zero’s stressful gameplay. Even when the single player content was complete, I had fun creating squads and trying to defend against other players’ squads.

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