The Star Fox series started over 20 years ago with an excellent on-rails shooter for the SNES. It was actually Nintendo’s first use of polygonal graphics. I really enjoyed the action-adventure GameCube entry Star Fox Adventures despite it’s complete difference from prior Star Fox games. Sadly, though, there have been few games in the series since. Star Fox Zero and Star Fox Guard are the first new entries in the franchise in 10 years. I wonder how many people even know who Star Fox is outside of being a Smash Bros fighter. While Zero is a more traditional Star Fox game, Guard is a tower defense spin-off.
For $15, is it worth your time? It’s time to double my count of Wii U reviews.
- TL;DR: Unique dual-screen gameplay makes Star Fox Guard an interesting tower defense game
- Platform: Wii U (reviewed)
- Time Played: 5:30
- What I Played: All 50 regular missions and a few challenge missions
The only bit that makes Star Fox Guard a Star Fox game is the loosest bit of story. You are hired to help Slippy’s uncle, Grippy, in defending his mining operation. There’s a scene within the first five minutes of Slippy peeling off the Star Fox squad to help you out. That’s about where the similarities end.
I’ve been a fan of tower defense games going back as far as custom StarCraft maps like lurker defense. I’ve played countless hours of Android games like Fieldrunners, Bloons TD, Kingdom Rush, and others. Something about the tactical setup and feeling of controlling everything from a command center just gets me. That is exactly how Star Fox Guard is set up in that you control 12 cameras from an HQ far from the fight. Each of the 12 feeds is laid out in a grid on the screen with the one you’re currently highlighting taking up the largest portion in the middle of the screen. You simply have to point and shoot the laser mounted on each camera and destroy each robot in a level to clear it.
Those robots come in two categories. First up are the combat robots which, as you’d expect, are trying to damage the core of the base you are defending. One shot from any robot and it’s game over. Each robot has it’s own distinct trait, whether it be the Shieldtron that is immune from forward-facing shots or the Jumprella that bounces over walls. Chaos class robots are support for the combat robots, some of which can really mess you up. For example, the Dishrupter hijacks a camera and plays fake video on it, rendering it useless until you destroy it with another camera. The biggest pain of them all has to be the M.A.G. unit, which has a giant magnet on it’s head that draws all cameras in an increasingly large range to face it, leaving you blind.
Each mission starts with a setup phase where you can move each of the 12 cameras to your liking using the GamePad. Even during a mission, you can use the stylus to pick up and move a camera, which you will need to do if a key one is damaged and leaves an area undefended. A quick flick of the stylus can be used to turn a camera quickly, as well. The GamePad doubles as a map, showing you where enemies are in your base. It’s a lot to take in at once — the 12 camera feeds and the map in your lap — but it’s a fun time, a different take on the typical tower defense game.
Most levels, the vast majority of which I completed on the first try, aren’t particularly difficult and can be cleared in less than five minutes. Every level ends with Re:bot, Grippy’s trusty frog-like robot, gathering all the precious metals that the robots you just destroyed were made of. His chirpy sound gets pretty annoying, so I recommend mashing A after completing a level. These precious metals act as your experience and unlock a few things, mainly challenge missions. There are a few different special cameras to get along the way, like a slow time camera or a camera that can charge up to blast in a large radius. The multi-targeting camera is super useful as it can target enemies that typically take many hits and hit them many times at once.
Gameplay stays varied through a steady pace of new robots and map changes. The 50 missions are split across five planets, each with three maps of three missions each and a final mission on a fourth map. While one planet may have random blinding dust storms and another has growing plant life to block your vision, the planets themselves don’t play much of a role. The changing maps do, though, as once you finally feel comfortable with a map after it’s third mission you are moved to a new one. The pacing of newly introduced robots is great, too. You never quite feel overwhelmed by having to take on too many new things at once.
Missions can get pretty hectic. You’ll be hammering a giant damage sponge of a robot while scanning the other 11 monitors, trying to keep everything in check. Suddenly, camera trained on an entrance is blacked out, so you move one from the core of the base out to the edge. But, a stealthy robot has snuck in and is about to strike the killing blow, so you frantically fire in it’s direction. All of this is happening while sirens are blaring and monitors are rebooting themselves. Levels are intense and occasionally challenging, yet always satisfying.
In all honesty, I haven’t tried the online mode for Star Fox Guard. It sounds like a take on Clash of Clans, as Kotaku pointed out. You can create your own set of robots to unleash on a level while others can download and play your set. Curiously, though, there is no way to create your own base. You would think with Super Mario Maker being such a hit that similar functionality would be a no brainer here.
Graphically, Star Fox Guard is just about what you’d expect out of a Wii U game. It’s nothing mind blowing while still coming across as sufficiently colorful and cartoony. Most of the robots have big, glowing eyes to help drive that home. A nice touch is when Slippy or Grippy talks to you with the classic Muppet-style flapping mouth portrait on the left of the scree while text scrolls, just like in the original Star Fox games.
It may be billed as a Star Fox game, but Star Fox Guard is far from that. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, though. Tower defense games are typically pretty passive, but the constant scanning of two screens helps keep the intensity up. New enemies and changing maps ensure the game stays fresh as you play it’s roughly five hour campaign. Between challenge maps and online play, you could squeeze a lot more out of this $15 title. Star Fox Guard is a fun and interesting game, that’s for sure. I’m glad I played through it.