My pre-ordered First print edition of Star Fox Zero (Wii U) arrived through the post yesterday, and I decided to see as to whether the game was really as bad as Arthur Gies made it out to be. It’s not nearly as bad by any means, and I really do think that Arthur Gies allows his subjective feelings on Nintendo to cloud his overall opinion on the game.
Whilst I do agree with Arthur Gies that the beginning levels are great at capturing the classic Star Fox vibe, not least because the Fox McCloud amiibo allowed me to unlock the retro Arwing and fly it in the Corneria level with the classic SNES soundtrack, I do however wish that Nintendo had earnestly capitalised upon the game’s SNES origins by ensuring that Fox and his wingmen used the “Dadabadadab, dadab” dialogue. Still, that’s an incredibly small bugbear when one realise that the game runs at a silky smooth 60fps and looks absolutely gorgeous in the process.
So far so good, and the game really does continue its pulse-pounding action as you’re thrown into the thick of a giant space battle on the second level that brings to mind some of the very best moments of the Star Wars movies. It’s just a shame then that these moments don’t last, with the third level paving the way for what quickly devolves into a slower and more methodical approach towards shooting enemies. This is also when the Gamepad’s forced gyro controls become an integral aspect of the game’s design (even though I had turned them off earlier) and when Star Fox Zero trades its arcade roots for a slightly more cumbersome approach towards blasting enemies.
I understand that the Wii U’s Gamepad allows Nintendo to carve out “unique experiences”, and whilst I don’t necessarily agree with Arthur Gies that the game “channels everything bad about Wii U game design”, I do however believe that the manner in which the Gamepad has been implemented has ensured to stifle some of the inherent fun that could have been gleaned from the title. Part of this stems from Star Fox Zero‘s shifting focus away from controlling the fast moving Arwing, to when the player has to control the Walker during sloppily controlled third person corridor shooter sections, as well as the Gyrocopter controlled sections where the player has to traverse puzzle-themed environments using stealth. Needless to say, the manner in which these sections are shoe-horned in as part of Star Fox Zero‘s main campaign, whilst interesting in their own right, dilute the game’s overall essence and appeal. These schizophrenic play styles also prevent the game from confidently charting its own identity, and because of this, Star Fox Zero comes across as very much like Nintendo’s own Wii U console – ie it fails to nail what it stands for and is a confused mess. Which is a shame really as underneath its Frankenstein-style play mechanics, there really are some interesting ideas that probably could have been more successful if Nintendo hadn’t insisted on making the Gamepad a mandatory feature as part of the overall gameplay.
People will be quick to blame Platinum for developing the game, but the real reason for why the Gamepad is unconvincingly incorporated into Star Fox Zero‘s design is because Shigeru Miyamoto (as Supervising Director) insisted that the game demonstrate what kind of software titles are possible only on the Gamepad. An odd argument to make in 2016 – not least because the Wii U has effectively failed as a console, with Nintendo now focused on the forthcoming NX.
It’s software development approaches like this, where Nintendo insists on infusing its titles with the gimmicky ramifications of questionable hardware design choices, that the company has struggled so earnestly since the Wii era to establish credibility amongst certain gaming demographics. And with these practices having the alienating effect of making the company become increasingly unpopular amongst third parties, the only games that Nintendo can reliably release on its consoles are its very own.
In recent times, it has often been said that one only buys Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games, and that one should consider Sony and Microsoft consoles for third party content. But what if one doesn’t like Nintendo games? What if one prefers the staple diet of high quality third party titles that offer comparatively fresher gameplay experiences that are more in line with one’s own tastes?
I thought about that yesterday, as I powered my Wii U console on for the first time since 4th July 2015 – over 9.5 months ago. I came to realise that there are very few Nintendo franchises that I am personally interested in. And whilst I would consider the latest Zelda and Mario Kart games as being sufficient reason to owning a Nintendo console, I am also hesitant in being wholeheartedly convinced that purchasing a Nintendo console is a wise idea going forward.
I rarely have more than a few hours per week to play videogames now. This is partly due to having more responsibilities as one grows older, but also because my taste in gaming has changed. Nowadays, I generally prefer games with a heavier emphasis on story, and this is a style that Nintendo simply does not excel in. It also doesn’t help that Nintendo games (on average) retail considerably more than their third party counterparts – with certain Nintendo games increasing in price mere months after. Because of this, and due to their intrinsic lack of appeal as well as high retail price, I simply don’t consider Nintendo to offer a good value proposition when it comes to comparing their hardware / software services in comparison to the competition.
Just think… If it wasn’t for Star Fox Zero (First Print Edition – which retailed for around £50), I would have bought Ratchet and Clank on PS4 – a game that (on its own merits) is roughly half the price and is also (allegedly) a far superior title. And that’s the problem with many of Nintendo’s games – they’re simply far too expensive for what they offer.
After I had played Star Fox Zero for a decent amount of time, and knowing that I hadn’t turned my Wii U on since July 2015, I decided to take inventory of how many hours I had spent on my Wii U since owning the console in May 2014 (nearly two years ago) – even though my Wii U records bizarrely state that I was playing on my console in September 3013. I discovered that the Wii U (and its catalogue) only appealed to me sufficiently enough so as to encourage me to invest 66 hours 41 mins on it. That’s certainly not a lot of time, not by any stretch of the imagination, to warrant a console purchase. And judging by my own 2 year track record, Nintendo will have to try a lot harder in future to convince me that the NX will be worth the investment. Although, to be honest, the company doesn’t owe me anything.
Maybe I need to play more Nintendo games in future, because Star Fox Zero certainly isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It’s actually quite fun, if a little underwhelming at times. But then again, maybe I should stop trying to convince myself that I actually like Nintendo games sufficiently enough to warrant investing in the company’s future endeavours. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.