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Don’t let your guard down

Over the course of Star Fox’s history, whenever the decision is made to deviate from the space combat the series is known for, it’s often led to disaster. Even with Fox McCloud and gang being revered and lauded amongst Nintendo’s great original characters, when the Star Fox team steps out from their Arwings, it usually spells trouble for the series and a lack of fun to be had by gamers. Well, never one to be deterred, Nintendo has again tried to branch out and expand upon the Star Fox universe in the form of Star Fox Guard, and again it seems they’ve failed to create a compelling game.

Star Fox Guard sees players take on the role of a security guard at Corneria Precious Metals, Ltd. The company has been expanding exponentially to all corners of the galaxy due to war raging in the Lylat System, and so company owner Grippy Toad, uncle to famed Star Fox pilot and mechanic Slippy Toad, felt he needed more help. Players must use each security camera—conveniently equipped with a laser blaster—in every CPM facility to find and destroy the evil robots that want to disrupt the mining operations (by decimating each plant’s power core, thus bringing their metal output for the war effort to a halt). It’s not the deepest story, but you don’t really need a lot of setup when it comes to a tower defense game.

I typically enjoy the tower defense genre, having many in my collection ranging from South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play! to Ninjatown. However, I can say, without a doubt in my mind, that Star Fox Guard is one of the most shallow and downright boring tower defense games I’ve ever had to play.

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Every level gives you a dozen cameras to place around each CPM facility in order to destroy all of the invading robots. Your TV acts as a sort of security monitor bank, with the screen broken into 13 segments—one for each camera along the edges, and a larger one in the middle signifying which one of the 12 you’re controlling at that given moment. Using the gamepad touch screen, you can switch from camera to camera, changing which one you control to better fend off incoming threats. And right here is where the problems start.

When first looking at Star Fox Guard, the controls appear downright simple. The analog sticks move the camera you’re controlling, and every other button on the controller fires the camera’s laser. The issues arise from the fact that you can only control one camera at a time, forcing you to look down at the Wii U GamePad in order to switch between them. Instead of giving us an easier option to rotate through the cameras, forcing us to use the GamePad leads to something I always despise when Wii U games make me do it: taking my eyes off the TV screen. During more frantic moments, when a half-dozen robots are rushing the facility core, looking down at the GamePad’s display and then back up—taking a second to re-focus your attention—is valuable time wasted in a tower defense game.

This also touches on the second issue with Star Fox Guard’s gameplay, and why it fails short as a tower defense game: the cameras aren’t automated whatsoever. The best tower defense games are meant to test your ability to strategically plan both before a match starts and on the fly. Star Fox Guard only tests your twitch reflexes as you bounce from GamePad to TV and vice versa, and from camera to camera. There is a minimal amount of strategy involved, since often the default placement of the cameras is the most strategically sound, and you’re given them all before each encounter. Some of the game’s challenge missions—extra levels with unique win conditions that make up half of the included 100 levels—get away from this, allowing you to slowly build your defenses up. Unfortunately, those mission types are few and far between.

Since there are only 12 cameras, there are also very limited upgrades. As you continue to successfully defend Grippy’s metal processing plants, you’ll level up your security clearance. At certain levels, you unlock a multi-shot cam, a freeze cam, and a slow-time cam. You only unlock one of each, however—so, at most, you’ll have nine regular cameras, and then three specialized ones. It adds a little bit of strategy, but not enough to really give the game the depth it so desperately needs.

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Not everything about Star Fox Guard is a complete bust, though. The game offers up some challenge with the variety of enemies it throws at you. Fifteen types of enemy will mess with your cameras, including some that steal them away or knock them offline for an extended period. If the cameras are offline or gone, obvious holes can start to appear in your defense, which the remaining 11 enemy types will take advantage of. That’s 26 types of enemies total, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, making you wish even more you could do more with the cameras.

The other nice aspect of all those enemies is Star Fox Guard’s Squad Mode. Once you beat the first 20 or so stages, you unlock the game’s online component, which allows you to put together your own robot horde and send it after a buddies’ processing plant core, or reverse the situation to defend your own personal core from their army. Successful attacks and defenses increase your online rank, while losses will knock you down the leaderboards. As you face new enemies in single player, you’ll unlock them as options for your multiplayer horde, giving you at least one reason to grind through the game’s 100 lackluster and repetitive stages.

There’s a reason why Star Fox Guard is a free pack-in game bundled with the first run of physical copies of Star Fox Zero. It’s not a broken game, but there’s really not enough to grab your attention and hold it for more than a few levels. It’s a shallow cobbling together of tower defense parts that relies too much on the Wii U GamePad, one that doesn’t do anything interesting beyond Squad Mode. If you should tire of Star Fox Zero at some point, I could see you devoting a couple hours to it just because it was there if you get the physical version. On the other hand, if you’re going the digital route with Zero, there’s little reason for you to chip in and pick up Guard along with it.

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Developer: Platinum Games, Nintendo EPD • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.22.16
5.5

Every time Star Fox tries to do something out of its space-combat comfort zone it fails. Star Fox Guard sadly continues this tradition of games that make you go “meh” when Fox and the gang step away from their Arwing cockpits.

The Good There’s a lot to do and the online component adds some surprising replayability.
The Bad Shallow, repetitive tower defense play that relies too much on the Wii U GamePad screen.
The Ugly Slippy’s uncle is nothing but a war profiteer.
Star Fox Guard is a Wii U exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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