Star Fox Zero
One of the more interesting parts about Star Fox Zero is that the game supports co-op play. I’m always looking for games to play with my kids, and Fox McCloud’s latest adventure seemed like a great fit. They love movies like Star Wars, and shooting spaceships has an undeniable appeal. I played through several levels with my 8-year-old son, and it highlighted the strengths – and weaknesses – of this motion-controlled outing.
First, I should get some of the basics out of the way. Star Fox Zero is a fairly complicated game to control, with the Wii U GamePad pulling its share of the load. Pilots have to keep their eyes on both the TV screen and the one in their hand, as each shows a different (and equally important) slice of the action. The main display shows a third-person view of the Arwing, or whatever vehicle is being deployed. The GamePad’s screen pulls the action closer, in a first-person targeting view. Both have their advantages.
Seeing the action from a distance gives you a better sense of where your opponents are, or how close you are to clipping a nearby object with a wing. When you’re looking at targets from the first-person view, you’re in a better position to pull off precision shots. At certain points in the game, usually during boss fights, the TV camera breaks away from a traditional behind-the-Arwing view into what the game calls free-range mode. Players can fly freely in a larger area, which is a departure from the corridor-like environments you get during the bulk of the game. Players can lock on to special targets, which essentially works like the lock-on mode from the 3D Zelda games, allowing players to move around freely while the camera sticks the target to the screen like an axis.
OK. Whew. That’s the gist of it. In co-op mode, which can be selected at the start of individual missions, one player takes control of the GamePad, while the other pilots the Arwing using either a Pro Controller or Wii remote and nunchuk. We opted for the latter. I flew for the majority of our time together, while my son took care of the shooty-shooty parts. There are a couple of different options for the GamePad shooting, both of which use motion controls.
By default, the reticle is moved by moving the GamePad in front of you, like you’re trying to take a photo of the action. The alternative is to have motion controls activate only when you’re holding down the right-trigger to fire. During my solo flights, the targeting required constant recalibration, since the GamePad easily lost its position in space. Resetting it is easy, but annoying. The other option worked better for me, since it essentially reset calibration between each shooting section. My son had the opposite experience. When we started, he had a tough time getting the hang of shooting, and I could tell that he was getting frustrated. I switched back to the default setting, and he said it was much better. To each their own, I guess.
Even though most of my attention was fixed on the Arwing and getting us to our destination safely, I could still fire at enemies. I didn’t have access to lock-on shots, though, so I relied on my son to take on clusters of enemies. Plus, snipers didn’t have to worry about me putting them out of work. There’s a reason the GamePad is used for shooting; it’s way more accurate, since you’re able to fire at things that aren’t 100-percent in line with your ship’s nose. He ended up being a pretty good shot, too, and he said that he liked aiming with the motion controls. The game also keeps a tally of how many hits each player has scored, and he smoked me in that friendly competition. If I had lock-on shots, it would have been a different story or something like that.
At first, I thought it was going to be a pretty relaxed time, kind of like how the second player was mostly along for the ride in the Super Mario Galaxy days. After a few minutes, we were shouting orders at each other, like “Watch out for that thing with the glowing orbs!” and “Get that group on the right!” We managed to beat a few of my solo scores, too, which surprised me.
Fox has several different vehicles at his disposal during the game, and they weren’t all as much fun in co-op mode. The Arwing was simple, and I felt engaged throughout. My son said later that it reminded him of being Luke Skywalker on the Millennium Falcon, which I’d say is pretty high praise. The Arwing’s bipedal mode wasn’t great when piloting and shooting duties are split, since the pilot’s guns are fixed on a horizontal plane. I could hover to reach targets, but I was ultimately at the mercy of my kid’s shooting abilities. It’s co-op, after all, but the Arwing’s flexibility spoiled me. The drone-like Gyrowing fared better in co-op. My son loved firing its powerful missiles, plus he got to control the ship’s cheerful little robot helper, who is dropped from the ship’s belly. It’s on a tether, so he couldn’t go far, but my son said he liked moving around on his own.
He did try to fly for a short time, but the flight controls were too much for him to handle. It was during one of the free-range sections, and he was frustrated when he hit the invisible barrier and was forced to U-turned back to the gameplay area. I enjoy flying, though, so we were a good team in that regard. In fact, we managed to take out Fox’s rival, Wolf, during a dog-fighting sequence, which was something I’d been unable to do solo. It ended up being pretty easy, since all of my attention was fixed on keeping Wolf in my sights, and all my son had to do was keep the target on the target. We yelled so much when Wolf’s ship limped away that it woke up the dog.
Overall, we had a good time with the game together. My son says he liked the characters, and it was cool to learn more about them. Until now, he’s only known Fox and Falco from the Smash Bros. series. He also thought Falco was a jerk, because of the character’s constant sarcastic cries of, “Thanks for the friendly fire.” Maybe don’t shoot your friends then, kiddo? Clearly, we need more practice.
Star Fox Zero is heading to Wii U on April 21.