Many people have been waiting about a decade for a new Star Fox game, and they’ll soon get that in Star Fox Zero, possibly one of the last big games coming for Nintendo’s less-popular-than-it-ought-to-be home console. With that much excitement for the revered franchise, there’s a chance people could overlook a little gem that also bears the Star Fox name.
Star Fox Guard started its life as a tech demo, shown by Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto at E3. Then, it was called Project Guard, but it’s now been given a Star Fox makeover and has been fleshed out, turning it to one of the most delightful smaller games I’ve played on the Wii U.
It’s a little hard to describe really. I suppose at its heart, it’s a tower defence game. You’re given the job of securing Grippy Toad’s bases from a robot invasions. At the centre of each maze-like base, there’s a core. Robots spawn outside of the maze, and do their best to find a way in. Should they destroy your core, it’s game over. To stop that from happening, you’ve got 12 strategically cameras, all equipped with guns, which you’ll use to blast those robots in to bits of mangled machinery.
It all sounds rather simple, but Star Fox Guard is a game that’s designed to push your ability to pay attention to its limits. The trouble, you see, comes in that you’re only directly able to control one of those numbered camera turrets at a time.
The selected camera is shown in the centre of your TV screen, giving you full access to its movement and its ability to fire, using standard (or inverted!) FPS controls. The other 11 are shown on the border, and it becomes quite tricky to toggle between cameras using the Wii U’s gamepad – switching your attention between what’s happening on the TV, and finding the right cameras on the gamepad. Every round begins by letting you prepare, positioning the cameras in a strategic way, best suited to keeping the rascally robots at bay.
It becomes a game of management, as the robots start streaming in, you have to decide which zone poses the biggest threat – all while very probably missing one or two sneaky machines that have snuck in another entry while you’re blasting away at the more immediate threat. It’s often overwhelming, but if you feel the need for a bit of reprieve star Fox and Falco Amiibo can be used once per day to bring in an airstrike, defeating all on-screen robots. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s functionality I’m frankly glad is there.
It’s given an extra layer of complexity thanks to the different robots tat start swarming the bases. There are two main types; combat and chaos. Combat robots are the sorts that go straight for the core and are the ones you absolutely need to take out unless you want to fail a mission. Some of them are straightforward, others have shields, and others still have even nastier ways of destroying your core or avoiding your gunfire. Chaos ones are the ones you very probably want to take out, because if you don’t they’ll cause you unnecessary strife by doing horrible things like temporarily knocking your cameras offline, disrupting your feed or blocking their view.
Thankfully, as you progress through missions you’ll unlock newer cameras that sport better weaponry and help mitigate the escalating prowess of the robot horde. You’ll also unlock extra missions that dial the difficulty up to ludicrous levels.
There’s even a social, multiplayer aspect to it. You can create your own squads of robots using a music-like sequencer, and send them off to challenge your friends.
It’s unbearably tense, and frighteningly stressful. Maybe you’ll recall the scene in Aliens, where Ripley, Hicks and the rest of the crew are monitoring the sentry guns? It’s a bit like that, blended with a dash of Five Nights at Freddy’s. It may not look like it, but its inherent stress is so dread-inducing that it feels like a horror game. I haven’t quite managed the extra missions yet, because my heart can;t really take it. I’m both excited and terrified to jump back in.
It’s a free pack in with the retail version of Star Fox Zero, and is also available as a standalone digital download. It the idea of a tense terrifying tower defence excites you, Star Fox Guard could surprise you – as it has me.