NS Review – Star Fox Guard (Wii U)

Shigeru Miyamoto first showed us his “Project Guard” creation two years ago at E3, and it was a wonder how this little game would develop into a full experience for the Wii U. It ends up feeling right at home as a side-game in the Star Fox universe, and as a bundle bonus for the main attraction Star Fox Zero.

What is Star Fox Guard all about? In essence, it’s a tower defence game. A toad named Grippy has seen an opportunity to make some money during the war with Andross, by mining precious metals used to make important weaponry and robots. You are a new recruit in Grippy’s company, required to defend whichever mining site Slippy’s war-profiteering uncle sends you to.

He knows a thing or two about game design though

He knows a thing or two about game design though

Grippy isn’t all that bad. He’s simply ensuring the good guys get the precious metal before the enemy does. You are tasked to protect a mining contraption located in the middle of a maze-like structure. To do this, you’re equipped with multiple cameras mounted with weapons. It’s a rather tense experience. An assault usually begins slowly by picking off the first few invaders, before it descends into chaos as the cameras get attacked and the enemy numbers become overwhelming.

The Gamepad screen displays an overhead map, which allows the player to see enemies that have penetrated the outer walls. The touchscreen is also used to switch between cameras. The camera monitors themselves are shown simultaneously around the TV screen, with the current camera being centred in the middle. A wonderful touch to the game is the fact that the monitors relay their picture at a very slow frame rate, except for the camera being controlled. It gives the game an edge of tension as it becomes difficult to notice a robot approaching until it’s too late.

There are plenty of different robot models, grouped into two primary classes. The Combat Class targets and destroys the mining site. The Chaos Class lives up to its name, aiming to disrupt and disable the cameras through various creative ways. They won’t destroy the mining site, but can cause enough chaos to allow the Combat bots to get through. Each robot has an HP and Speed rating, with high-HP bots being capable of receiving more damage before being stopped. There’s a satisfying variety amongst the enemies, and the player often needs to prioritise destroying particular bots when they start approaching in numbers.

The controls are as simple as can be. Both control sticks can be used to aim the cameras, and any of the command buttons can be pressed for shooting. However, since the touchscreen is vital too, the player’s two hands need to go between three different places on the Gamepad. This means it could take longer than necessary to switch between cameras, aim, and fire. There are no gyro controls, and it may have been possible to implement them here to ease the problem for some players. In the later missions I ended up with one hand spread across the touchscreen and fire buttons, tapping both as though I was playing a piano.

Makin' my way downtown

Makin’ my way downtown

Speaking of music, the soundtrack is brilliantly dynamic. What starts as a laid back electronica piece suddenly picks up pace as robots close in, with a rapid string section urgently alerting the player that the mining site is about to be destroyed. When the invaders are down to the last few robots, the dynamics are overridden by a ‘last attack’ piece, so you can no longer rely on the cues to detect an approaching attack.

Star Fox Guard‘s main mode is made up of standard missions that take place on several planets, with three stages to play through on each planet. It’s well-paced, with enemy types being introduced slowly throughout the campaign. The game explores its concepts, and the standard missions don’t wear out their welcome. Alongside the standard missions are an equal amount of extra missions, offering bonus challenges that require the player to strategise and play differently.

Before a round begins, the player can customise the camera positions. The map shows where each enemy will approach. It’s a great feature for a chaotic game like this to have, as players will feel comfortable with their own setup; some may prefer a more defensive layout with plenty of cameras surrounding the mining site. Others will want to focus on keeping the inner walls clear by having more cameras around the border, letting nothing inside. Either strategy is a legitimate choice with pros and cons, and the game should be commended for allowing customisation. Cameras can even be moved after a round begins. There are also special cameras that offer more powerful weaponry, unlocked as the player’s level increases.

The game’s level-up system is a great way to keep players hooked, and each rank unlocks something new. After each online or offline round, a cutesy robot gathers precious metals from the map that convert into experience points. However, the amount of points needed to rank up becomes quite demanding only halfway through. I found myself playing a good 10-15 rounds before leveling up. For a simple game that contains a lot of repetition by design, the play time needed to reach the top level – needed to unlock all extra missions – comes across as padding. This is a minor problem and one that’s very subjective, but only the most dedicated players will maintain interest in Star Fox Guard long enough to reach the top.

It's me

It’s me

That being said, the tedious grinding is mostly alleviated thanks to the online mode: World Rivals. On each map, players can access ‘My Squad’ to create their own robot team that can attack other players. It’s about as deep as it can possibly be, and there’s a wide range of combinations and strategies. The squad can then be uploaded and put up against defending players seeking a challenge. There’s a separate points system used for online battles, meaning players can passively earn or lose points based on how their squads perform. Replays are featured too. It’s a smooth, interesting system, and it’s the mode that will increase the game’s lifespan.

Despite the inevitable issues with tedium and repetition, Star Fox Guard is a satisfying spin-off that’s entertaining in short bursts of play. There’s a great sense of tension that can escalate into frantic firing and switching between cameras. It has the expected amount of polish, with lovely visuals and music, and the online mode will keep interest alive after the main missions are completed, at least for a little while. As a lower-priced game that makes good use of the Gamepad, Star Fox Guard is worth a shot.

Star Fox Guard was released alongside the highly anticipated Star Fox Zero. Be sure to check out Boots’ review here!

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