Beginning life as a lowly tech demo at E3 2014, Star Fox Guard was a definite surprise when it was announced as a free pack-in with every physical copy of Star Fox Zero. The game in its original form of Project Guard was already a bit unique, utilizing the Wii U Gamepad in new and interesting ways. With a bit of Star Fox paint thrown on top, the game has been expanded into its own experience. The final surprise might be just how fun, and robust that experience is.
Star Fox Guard is sort of a new take on the tower defense genre. Grippy Toad is a simple businessman trying to manage his mines across the Lylat System. Unfortunately the system is at war with Andross and his forces. Of course, one man’s war is another’s business opportunity, so Grippy Toad has seen a massive rise in sales. Along with this has come random and strange attacks from robot forces though. This is where you come in. Using the Aegiscam system you will protect and defend Grippy’s mining cores from these seemingly evil robots.
The key gameplay concept of Star Fox Guard is centered around the Wii U Gampad. On it you have an overhead view of the entire facility, showing you potential threats, and your network of cameras. These cameras are what you will use to find and destroy any robots that make their way into the mining facility. You can place them anywhere in the facility, and all of their feeds are shown on the TV in real time, but you can only control one at any given moment. You’re main objective is to keep checking through all twelve cameras, figuring out which deserves your attention at that time, then switching to it, and eliminating the threat.
It’s a simple concept, but one that really shines once you dive into it. Keeping an eye on twelve separate video feeds is tough enough, resulting in very tense moments, and frenetic gameplay. The camera’s field of view is only so wide, and robots can move past them without you catching them sometimes, so figuring out where to look, what to do, and executing it quickly is all-important, and can be truly challenging at times.
Making things even more complex, there are multiple subsets of robots to deal with. Two main categories are used, with Combat Class Bots being the most important. These guys will end the game if they get anywhere close to the mining core. Then there are the Chaos Class Bots. They won’t cause a Game Over, but they will do various nefarious things to your cameras, which can end up getting you the same result. Among these two groups there is further variation, with simple robots like the A.T.K. Unit, up to bigger, and burlier enemies like the Big-G. But this variation isn’t just in strength, it is also in abilities. Some bots will cover up your cameras, feeding you false info, while others are more stealthy, allowing them to sneak by without triggering your radar.
Dealing with these foes can vary from utterly simple, to truly complex. For example, the Shieldtron can be a bit frustrating, as you cannot fire on it and kill it head on. Instead you need to figure out which camera it is facing, then pick the one that gives you a shot at its vulnerable backside. In the moment it might feel exasperating, but it’s the good kind that only difficult and engaging games can elicit.
If the only variety in Star Fox Guard was from the enemy types then it would be pretty disappointing. Thankfully that is not the case, with the game offering different map designs and unique challenges. As you progress through the game, you’ll begin to unlock new levels, pushing through the system, and altering your environment significantly. While the different setting might just feel like a new coat of paint, the map designs can really alter the way the game plays out, and your strategy against it. Will you scatter your cameras, pointing them all in different directions, or can you focus in on key areas of the map, and use some cameras as backup for others.
Within these individual maps are different challenges, with three main objectives following the usual format, with a concluding boss fight to really shake things up on occasion. Then there are additional challenges that shift your objective, or alter the way the robots act within the level. It’s a nice bit of variety, though the overall gameplay does still remain largely the same.
This is Star Fox Guard’s only true major fault. The core gameplay concept never really strays all that far from its base of using twelve cameras to defend a central core. Sure, objectives and enemies will change, and the difficulty ramps up at a steady but satisfying pace, but if you don’t become enamored with the base concept of the game you will be bored quite quickly and likely abandon it entirely.
If it does grab you though you’ll find yourself putting a lot more time into Star Fox Guard than you might have initially anticipated. The game has a lot of elements to it, with the aforementioned mechanics, as well as leveling up your capabilities, and some online components. Leveling up is a factor of just playing the game, as you collect XP throughout. This will unlock items within the game, including different weapon upgrades for your cameras. You can only use one at a time though, so it doesn’t change things up all that much, but it’s a nice bit of extra strategy tacked on.
As far as online goes, it would have been better if Star Fox Guard had some real time action, pitting two players against each other, with one spawning enemies for the other to fight. Instead it is more passive, though the concept is the same. Players can create a set of robots for enemies to take on, deciding what types spawn at what time, and where. Then your friends can go against them to see how well they fare. It’s doubtful that Star Fox Guard’s multiplayer will eat up a ton of your time, but it is a nice little addition that requires some real thought and strategy.
Star Fox Guard is a game that is full of surprises, from its engaging gameplay, to its surprising depth and variety. The twist on the tower defense genre works quite well, and gives you something very new to do with your Wii U Gamepad. However, the game doesn’t branch off all that much from its base, so if managing cameras, and fighting off waves of enemies doesn’t sound intriguing for you, then it doesn’t add much to the Star Fox Zero package.