Many Nintendo titles from last week’s Digital Event have come under some heavy fire, and it especially seems Team Star Fox can’t catch stop catching flak. Not to the levels of Metroid’s Galactic Federation forces or the villagers of Animal Crossing, mind you, but enough to render the game’s reception rather dismal. As this is the first totally new Star Fox in nine years, the disappointment for Wii U’s Star Fox Zero is poignantly palpable, especially since Nintendo, Platinum Games, and Miyamoto himself are behind the title.
But how much of the criticism is actually valid? Don’t get me wrong: people have the right to their own opinions and respective disappointment, but when similar criticism greeted the likes of Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze only to melt in the face of later coverage, it’s hard not to be skeptical the same may happen here. Nintendo fanboy logic, you may say, but as someone who was overwhelmingly pleased with the game’s showing, I remain fascinated by the game’s reception more than a week later.
Hence this article, the purpose of which is not to provide an outright defense, but to carefully review the biggest complaints lodged at Star Fox Zero and judge their worth. Star Fox Zero’s showing certainly wasn’t perfect, and while some of the detractors may have a point, I feel it’s important to evaluate the whole context of developer decisions, player expectations, and, of course, what was shown. This can only be accomplished through evaluating the most outspoken points of criticisms, and I feel it’s only right to begin with the most popular one.
“The graphics are terrible. You could play this on the GameCube.”
By far the biggest universal complaint regards Star Fox Zero’s graphics and aesthetic choice, leading to comments such as the quote above. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but let’s review what’s going on with Zero graphically. The game is clearly building off of Star Fox 64 3D’s aesthetic, right down to reusing enemy designs and replicating the familiar Corneria opening. This establishes a “clean” look for Zero; despite some of the more low-poly callbacks (check out the gold rings), much of the machinery and fighters resemble toys and playsets you yourself might’ve played around with as a kid. As I’ve previously discussed in our E3 Round Table, this is well-suited for the series’ trademark cheesiness.
But are they taking it too far? Miyamoto and Platinum’s Hashimoto have gone on record regarding maintaining 60 frames per second on both the core game and the GamePad segments. Upon closer inspection of both the trailer and Treehouse Live footage, there are some shockingly low-poly mountains and low-quality water textures, alongside clumsy “stitching” of ground/grass textures and jarring pop-ups for models coming into view. In other words, there’s a very clear discrepancy between the smooth character/machine models and the backgrounds, which is no good. With roughly five to six months before release, it’s anyone’s guess if this balance can be touched up in time.
But does this mean Star Fox Zero looks no better than a GameCube game? Well…obviously, no. Anyone who watched the planet Titania footage on Treehouse Live can attest to that; in fact, on a graphical level, the entire stage is the antithesis to what we saw in the trailer. The desert is bursting with visual feats of imagination and dangers alike; so much, in fact, that the screenshot above simply doesn’t do it justice. This one level alone depicts what an ideal HD Star Fox should look like.
So what’s to be said here? Can we expect everything to be cleaned up before the holiday release? Again, there may not be much time for Nintendo to do so, as many suspect Star Fox Zero may be more of a low-budget affair. Regardless, Titania alone proves the game can provide enough eye candy, so we may as well wait for another full-length trailer before crying foul.
“It lacks the trademark spectacle of Platinum Games.”
Ever since Hideki Kamiya (Bayonetta, The Wonderful 101) expressed his wishes to design a new Star Fox, fans have been salivating for beloved developer Platinum Games– well-known for its flashy spectacles and thrilling combo systems– to reinvigorate the series. Unfortunately, it seems Platinum’s involvement has fallen short of expectations, as many complaints similar to the above quote describe Star Fox Zero’s current level design; indeed, adjectives such as “slow” and “empty” have been quite common.
The latter word is particularly interesting since the emptiness refers to the lack of action and enemy fighters. This is immediately more distinct in both screens and videos than any hints of slowness; in fact, many have compared the above screen to the first level in Star Fox: Assault, which was another space dogfight jam-packed with battleships and lasers of all sorts. Here, note how while the space colony itself looks fantastic, there’s hardly a ship around, let alone any dogfighting.
Again, the discrepancy between Corneria/The Colony and Titania remains rather jarring. Maybe the former stages aren’t so exciting, but Titania is brimming with activity. As seen on the Treehouse stream, the Landmaster tank is constantly dodging collapsing ruins and windstorms of all sorts, so there’s enough dynamic activity to keep players engaged. Sure, it might not contend with the best of Bayonetta 2’s set pieces, but it’s far more exciting than what we’ve seen in past Star Fox titles (remember, there was only so much both Bayonetta games could do in their own respective shooter sequences!). What’s also encouraging is not only the awesome sandworm boss battle, but Hashimoto’s assurance of more “crazy” boss sequences.
I mentioned Super Mario 3D World earlier. I can’t claim to a big fan of the title, yet there’s no denying how many fans turned their heads at a later Direct trailer. However, while the same could happen here, I can’t imagine any dynamic changes to the Corneria/Colony segments at this point in the game (like, say, more enemy fighters; for all we know, Nintendo might feel the sparse space sequence is just fine). Just like the graphics, we’ll once again need yet another in-depth look at the game before passing judgement on this.
“No multiplayer? No online?”
Once again, fans are not pleased with Nintendo’s handling of online multiplayer…or lack thereof. Unfortunately, Star Fox Zero has been confirmed to lack a dedicated multiplayer mode, so as to focus all effort on building a stronger campaign. Bear in mind, though, that this is all strictly regarding a VS. Mode; those who watched Treehouse Live should already know Miyamoto had already announce his plan of including a co-op mode for the campaign, in which one player steers the Arwing while the other aims and shoots. An interesting concept, although the control schemes involved likely renders it a local-only affair (not that that’s a problem in itself).
Many have cited the quality of Assault’s multiplayer and expected Zero to build upon it. While I myself enjoyed that game’s VS. mode, it’s highly unlikely Zero could’ve emulated Assault’s brand of multiplayer. For one thing, having characters blasting each other on-foot– easily Assault’s VS. highlight– is already a thing of the past. Zero is strictly a mech-only venture, and as cool as the Arwing Walker looks, it’s unlikely it’d provide the same variety Assault’s weapons did.
This isn’t to say Zero couldn’t have a good dedicated VS. mode, but whether it’d be fully satisfying is another story. Nintendo’s varying degrees of quality in its online gaming ventures has been well-documented, and it’s also doubtful that Zero would get, say, the Mario Kart 8 treatment. Not that it has to, but who’s to say it’d be online at all? Remember how Star Fox 64 3D’s cool update of the original game’s multiplayer got shafted in favor of snapping player reactions? While it had bots, it wasn’t exactly a thrilling feature considering 3DS players could see their opponents, like, right in front of them. When considering even Command’s barebones multiplayer had online, that was definitely disappointing.
Considering Nintendo doesn’t properly prioritize online gaming, it might be best there’s no dedicated multiplayer mode. While a fun local experience could be had, Star Fox’s rough history with unsatisfactory campaigns is no secret to Miyamoto and company. With E3’s chilly reception to the new game, Nintendo will definitely need to put in its all to “wow” disappointed Star Fox fans.
“Why a reboot? What about the Assault continuity?”
My final choice for Star Fox Zero criticism is the most personally interesting to me, as it relates to a prediction I’d had all along. The moment Star Fox 64 3D was announced, I knew Nintendo would utilize the title as a springboard to reboot the whole series. Like ’em or hate ’em, there’s no denying Adventures, Assault, and Command disappointed many a Star Fox fan; clearly not every fan, given this section’s title, but enough to muddy the series’ reputation. So if you’re going to remake the most beloved Star Fox game, one that just so happens to take place before the aforementioned titles, why not start back from zero?
I ended up being more or less correct, although I didn’t predict Nintendo actually reference its starting from zero in the title. What we have here in Star Fox Zero is something like Super Mario Galaxy 2: something that’s neither a direct sequel or a complete reboot, but a title that simply stands alongside Star Fox 64 (to clarify in context, the evil Andross hasn’t returned from the grave following SF64; he’s just attacking the Lylat System again, sorta). Given Miyamoto’s lack of emphasis on story, this shouldn’t be too surprising a move, but it’s left some of Assault fan base asking, “Why?”
While I have quite the soft spot for Assault, it’s still far too diluted from all the garbage spawned from Adventures to continue. Why, exactly, should Peppy, with his fan-favorite memes and all, be retired from the team? Does romance really have a place in this series? And speaking of which, hey, remember that time Slippy Toad got hitched? Command is irrelevant as well, its multiple endings confirmed as non-canon long ago (granted, I don’t think anyone was awaiting the adventures of Marcus McCloud, but still).
While admittedly there’s some appeal in Team Star Fox being host to a female member (Krystal) and casting Peppy as the weathered old adviser, story shouldn’t control an on-rails shooter. With Nintendo clearly focusing on most of what made Star Fox 64 work, it’s best for the dialogue and story to accompany the game through our favorite cheesy one-liners. I liked Assault for what it was, but let’s not kid ourselves: Star Fox 64 is the true series masterpiece, and if this direction means we can bring back the Macbeth train conductor and that one monkey that shouted “COCKY LITTLE FREAKS!” at the top of his lungs, I think we’re good.
When considering all the above, my own mantra toward Star Fox Zero is simply “wait and see.” There’s some clear merit in complaints thrown at the graphics and even some of the gameplay display, enough to handwave concerns regarding multiplayer and series continuity. While it’s easy to say the game needs some polishing, exactly how much of it have we seen to confidently declare that? As we’ve learned before from other Wii U titles, what should be done now is not to dismiss Star Fox Zero outright, but wait for more info and trailers while vocalizing our concerns in hopes it’ll reach the ears of the big brass (and hopefully not that of Prince Tricky, assuming the little snot didn’t worm his way in the Great Fox or something. Go find your own Grubtubs, twerp).