The first time you turn into a chicken during Star Fox Zero, you'll undoubtedly be a little confused. It's not a real chicken, of course, but the ability to transform Fox McCloud's Arwing into a poultry-like vehicle that can run about on the ground is bizarre. And not just because it looks like a hen fleeing for her life...
The real issue is how it controls. Clumsy and difficult, it's a constant source of frustration every time the game asks you to use the damned thing. Oddly, though – especially given early impressions of Zero from last year – this isn't a universal problem throughout. In fact, when Star Fox finds its feet, it's really rather decent.
As you would expect, a large portion of your time is going to be spent in an Arwing while engaging in numerous space battles. For the most part, these are all pretty damn good. Following the Nintendo remit of making sure games are fun first and foremost, any problems you'd get from a typical plane vs plane duel don't exist. Even when someone is on your tail it's usually just a matter of performing a well-timed acrobatic maneuver to gain the upper hand – the rest comes down to how well you can aim a reticule. It may not be the most taxing experience in the world, but that's not the point. It's the feeling of satisfaction and, on occasion, relief that's the major draw here. Games are meant to be entertaining and this certainly is.
Such craftsmanship makes the earlier control difficulties all the more baffling. Zero may not be the most well-polished title in existence but it does work, even with its insistence that you use motion tech. Split into either having it switched on for all movements or just for when you're shooting, neither is too difficult to use, the latter in particular proving very easy to adjust to.
That's a big plus, as is the fact that what you're doing with said controls is of quality. Not much here strays that far away from the Star Fox you remember, but it has been tweaked enough so it doesn't just feel like a remake. Levels will often switch between on-rail-like sections to more open areas, adding a touch of diversity to proceedings, whereas occasional bosses serve to be an enjoyable distraction. You'll still be flying through rings, whipping out the odd barrel roll and having to put up with that idiot Slippy Toad – who never shuts up – and it all comes together to prove the classic formula still works today.
Nintendo and development teammate Platinum Games have also put suitable time into making each level feel suitably grand. None are particularly long – which works in Zero's favour given there's a clear emphasis on replaying them – but they do pack one hell of a punch when they need to. Jumping from being tasked with destroying a few enemy cruisers to an outright space battle that Star Wars would be proud of, you can't help but feel like you're involved in a huge scale tussle on occasion, even if a lot of that is smoke and mirrors. It cements what's here and allows the series to justify its reappearance in a totally different era.
Star Fox is keen to add variety, too, coming in the form of the already mentioned chicken fiasco and another vehicle that switches out combat for a more tactical approach. A hovercraft by any other name, missions that ask you to use it slow the pace right down as well as give you the ability to deploy a miniature robot to hack terminals. These also fail to match the highs of darting around the place in the Arwing, but serve their purpose well enough. If the thought of precisely avoiding search lights and bypassing massive lasers gets you excited, then put another tick in the yes column.
Just to round things off there's also a medal system that represents your success rate at the end of every mission. Again, you don't have to be a gaming whizz to do decently enough on your first try – I managed to silver most without too much bother – but it's more evidence that Zero wants to be toyed with more than once. You'll want to return to some of these stages, especially those that rely on over-the-top set pieces. Although probably not the ones where you play as the chicken...
So, Star Fox Zero is a pleasant return for Fox McCloud and his merry squadron, albeit one with a few flaws that stops it from sitting alongside the Wii U's best.
The oddity that is Star Fox Guard
'You wait an age for a bus and then two come along at once' is a popular saying that serves as a good fit in regards to the fact that Star Fox Guard is being released alongside Star Fox Zero. The adage would be more apt, however, if it finished by informing you that the two buses were going in entirely different directions. And that one of them was on fire.
Maybe I'll be alone in my thinking, but Star Fox Guard is awful. A mini-game that's deliberately meant to be a short and sweet experience, you're tasked with jumping between numerous cameras in order to shoot anything that moves. Fail and the enemy will infiltrate your base and you'll lose.
Given that there's 12 cameras, though – and that you're meant to constantly switch between them while also adjusting your hand to shoot the assholes – the whole thing just feels like a mess. Even on the earlier levels it's not all that much fun, so when the challenge ramps up you may as well hurl your gamepad at the wall before you even begin. It's where it's going to end up anyway.
Is there a chance some people will get a kick out of it? Of course, in particular those who lean towards the tower defence genre (though take note that this is far more streamlined than most). But given how simple the concept is, it's a shame the execution doesn't match.