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Star Fox Zero review

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In the 19 years since Star Fox 64 there have been a handful of new entries in the series, but full-on sequels? Not so much. Rare’s Star Fox Adventures was a famously wayward appropriation of the universe, Q-Games’ Command a noble and enjoyable experiment that put the series back on rails but shot a little past its station while Namco’s Assault found itself grounded by miserable third-person shooter sections. Star Fox Zero, a new outing that has blossomed from a small sketch by Shigeru Miyamoto that was intended to reassert the possibilities of the Wii U’s eccentric GamePad, sees developer Platinum Games sticking much closer to the original script.

Zoom down to the surface of Corneria to see the Arwing’s wing-tips throwing up plumes of ocean spray and you might be convinced you’re not just playing a follow-up to the Nintendo 64 original. The purposefully flat textures, the innocence of its simplistic shooting and the overenthusiastic cries from your team-mates are all enough to make you wonder whether this is Star Fox 64, given the HD treatment and shuffled out the door with a slightly novel control scheme.

Platinum Games goes out of its way to convince you that’s the case. This isn’t a gritty reboot – you’ll see no grim-dark backstory exploring the fan theory that Fox and co, through some godawful command from General Pepper, are all amputees – and it’s not quite a reinvention either. The destinations on the star map that charts your six hour journey from start to finish as well as all those trademark detours carries plenty of familiar names; the same cast returns to voice Peppy, Slippy and Falco. Slippy’s still a squeaking little turd of a toad. Falco is still a jerk.

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It’s possible to switch between views on the main screen by pressing the minus button – so if screen-switching isn’t your thing you’re covered.

And Star Fox, it turns out, is still a pretty neat little shooter, capable of the kind of pure thrill that’s been mostly absent from the front-line for a while. Platinum was always going to be a safe pair of hands when it comes to a game whose focus is firmly on action, and it’s seemingly had no trouble delivering the same kind of tightly engineered levels and quick-paced gauntlet runs that earned earlier Star Fox games their legendary status. Skirmishes through the remnants of space battalions, across the spitting flame of Titania or in the purple depths of Sector Y might feel overfamiliar, but they’re often every bit the equal of their inspiration.

Platinum is able to impart a little of of its own personality, too. The action’s been ratcheted up a couple of notches, the pockets of enemies denser while the star-fields seem busier with lasers. It helps reinforce the link between Star Fox and the hard-edged 2D shooters of the 80s that’s always been there – at its very best, dancing through Star Fox Zero’s more challenging moments feels like a Gradius or an R-Type rendered in evocatively primitive and vibrant 3D. There’s some of that Platinum anarchy, too, in set-pieces that help twist some of the more familiar stages into new, surprising directions (to detail them here would be to rob you of some of Zero’s finest moments).